Generous

 

It’s a compliment to be described as generous. Generosity is a universally recognised positive characteristic – a quality virtually everyone aspires to. But what actually is it?

1. What?

According to the dictionary, generosity is ‘liberality in giving‘. It’s giving above and beyond. The bible agrees and says that the person who follows the Lord ‘is always giving generously’ (Ps 37:26), with followers of Jesus urged to ‘sow generously and reap generously’ (2 Cor 9:6).

With this understanding in mind, it doesn’t take long to realise that generosity can’t be quantified, because describing an act of giving as ‘generous’ will very much depend on the resources available to the giver. For instance, it’s kind, but not generous, for a UK millionaire to give £50. But for someone who’s poor in the UK to give £50 would almost undoubtedly be described as ‘generous’. The bottom line is that only God truly knows! He knows our circumstances better than we know them and he sees the heart attitude behind every act of giving.

2. How?

Generosity is most obviously seen in the way we give money. Generous financial giving is intrinsic to the life of faith because all our resources, including finance, come from and belong to God. So when disciples give we’re giving away what isn’t really ours in the first place! We’re only redistributing resources.

Generous financial giving starts with tithing – that is, giving away our first 10% of income to the church in which we worship. But for most Christians, certainly in the affluent west, financial generosity should stretch further than a tithe. Giving a tithe is a great thing to do, but it can become legalistic – giving 10% to the penny and no more! Sometimes people who tithe can also forget that the other 90% also belongs to God too!!! 

God says that when we tithe he will look after us and bless us. He also knows that giving your first 10% of income is a step of faith. He understands that we might wonder if we’ll have enough to live on for the rest of the week or month. That’s why he unusually says that we can ‘test him’ in this, to see if it works (see Malachi 3:10). It does.

3. Why?

Living generously is the best way to live. The more you give, the more impact you can have. And the more you give, the more the Lord provides, so you can give again (see 2 Cor 9:10-11). So it’s a win-win! The recipient receives and so does the giver.

Sam and I have given away at least the first 10% of our income to our local church all our married life. On top of that we give to various charities and support the education of two children in developing countries. We also give when the church has a gift day and sometimes give spontaneously to a particular need, if it seems right and we can help. There are no doubt many people who are more generous than us, but we certainly aim to live generous lives. That’s because we know that generosity is a core biblical value. And we’re convinced that living by biblical values is the best way to live.

4. When?

Generosity is a life-style. We’re not just called to live generously every now and then, but all the time. Obviously there’ll be key moments when we’re challenged to dig deep, but in the end it’s about who we are, spilling out into what we do.

At The Belfrey we ask worshippers to renew their financial giving annually. This helps us all plan our giving (which the bible says is important – 1 Cor 16:2; Prov 21:5; 2 Cor 9:7). It also helps the church plan too. At present we ask the church to do this in January.

5. Who?

Everyone who wants to live well should be generous, whether you’re a Christian or not. But for the follower of Jesus, it’s basic and core. In fact it’s a command (Luke 6:38; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy. 6:18). Being generous is what disciples are called to be.

So how do you spot a generous person? Well, they’re normally the ones giving, not taking. Serving, not being served. They’re normally looking out for those who are struggling, sad or vulnerable. They’re thinking more of others and less of themselves. They’re normally happy enough in who they are to give themselves to building up others. Truly generous people have learned the secret that life is best lived by giving.

In the end, generosity springs from grace and is all about grace. Grace is the way God loves us – with an undeserved, unending and unconditional love. His grace is seen supremely in Christ – in the way he lived his life and the way he sacrificially died for our freedom. Grace is how the Lord gives to us. And that’s how we’re supposed to live too. Living gracious, generous lives.

The Diocese of York (of which The Belfrey is part) get this. That’s why the Diocese’s strap-line is ‘Generous churches, making and nurturing disciples’. Generous churches. Generous people. That’s what the Lord calls us to be. 

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5 Fasting Questions: 5. WHO?

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The fifth of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have is: WHO? What kind of people should fast?

Is fasting for all believers, or just mature Christ-followers? Nowhere in the bible does it suggest that fasting is part of the advanced manual for especially mature or devout believers. In fact when Jesus teaches on fasting in Matthew 6 he’s giving basic discipleship teaching, placing it alongside basic prayer as he teaches the Lord’s Prayer.

Is fasting for all ages? No. Fasting is normally for healthy adults and should not be imposed on babies or young children or the elderly who are frail. There is evidence that short periods of fasting is not detrimental to pregnant women or their babies, but if in doubt on any medical matter you should consult a qualified doctor.

Is fasting for dieters? Well yes … but dieting shouldn’t be the goal. The main aim of fasting is to help you draw close to God. If you happen to slim down in the process then that might be a great spin-off, but if dieting is your real aim, there are other and often better ways of doing it that fasting!

Is fasting just for Christians? No! There is good medical evidence that fasting is beneficial to your body, whoever you are. Timed periods of fasting gives your digestive system a rest and can energise your metabolism to burn through calories better. It can have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity allowing you to tolerate sugars better. It can help regulate the hormones in your body, improve brain function, the immune system and improve skin condition. The fact that most religions encourage fasting means they know that it has further benefits too – not just for the body but also in sensitising the soul. 

For the last two thousand years, followers of Jesus have fasted. So unless you are physically weak or have a medical condition where fasting is not recommended, then fasting is for you.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you that your call to fast is for ordinary people like me. As you teach me about fasting, may the benefits be many – even if I don’t always see them immediately. Most of all, use fasting to attune me more to your presence for I want to know you more. Amen.

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5 Fasting Questions: 4. HOW?

  
When a disciple thinks they need to fast, how should they do it? This is a fourth of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have: HOW?

The most basic and simple way to fast is to eat no food and drink only water. This is particularly good for shorter fasts (eg. 1 or 2 days). If you’ve never done that before, your body might feel a bit strange at first, but unless you are diabetic or have some other medical issue, your body should be able to cope with this. Should you choose to intake only water for longer than a few days it’s wise to research well and even take medical advice first.

After that, there are lots of other ways to fast. At the moment at The Belfrey we’re preparing for 7 Days of Prayer & Fasting, with some already beginning 21 Days. We’ve offered 3 options to people, which many are finding helpful:

  • DANIEL FAST: this is a specific diet of fruit and vegetables taken from Daniel 10. For more details go to daniel-fast.com and for a list of suggested foods click here.
  • PARTIAL FAST: replace one meal a day (eg. lunch) with prayer.
  • SIMPLICITY FAST: cut out certain activities (eg. technology, social media) to focus on God.

These kind of fasts are especially helpful for longer periods of 7+ days.

It’s good to prepare for fasting. If you’re only going to drink water and you normally drink a fair amount of coffee or tea you’ll probably get a headache reaction for a day or so. Cutting down your caffeine intake for a few days before can make this easier, and drinking lots of water can help relieve this kind of headache just before and once your begin your fast. If you’re going on a Daniel fast it’s useful to research what foods you’re going to eat and even plan your diet. If you’re going to cut something out of your life for a season and this affects someone else then it’s good to explain or talk that through first (eg. a social media fast might require a short post of explanation; a sex fast will undoubtedly affect your spouse and require a conversation!)

It’s important to listen to your body. You will learn a lot about our body through fasting. Be attentive to what is happening. To how it feels. To its aches and groans. To its desires and urges. As you fast you are beginning to take more control of your body and not allowing its natural urge to eat to dominate. This can be a really good thing. However fasting is not meant to make you sick or ill. If you sense that happening, stop and/or consult a doctor. 

If you want to know more about how to fast, there are lots of online resources for people who have questions, so don’t be afraid to use those. And finally, don’t forget the very practical words of Jesus in Matthew 6, which remind us that fasting is not about showing off our religious maturity to others – it’s to draw close to God. The Message paraphrase helpfully puts it like this:

‘When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normally outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you in full.’

PRAYER

Lead me Lord, so that when it’s time to fast I may do so appropriately. Teach me not only about fasting but about self-discipline. Help me to know my body better, but most of all enable me to know you better for you are the great and loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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5 Fasting Questions: 3. WHEN?

  
If the voluntary giving-up of food is a good thing to do, when should I do it? This is a third of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have: WHEN?

As we look at the bible and also the wisdom of the saints who’ve gone before us, we find that there are many times and periods in life when fasting might be appropriate.

Sometimes people fast through force of circumstances. They don’t know what to do, so they fast. They are grieving, so they fast. They are in crisis, so they fast. They are sorry for the wrong they’ve done, so they fast. They need healing, so they fast. They want to pray fervently for a situation, so they fast.

Sometimes people fast because the Holy Spirit particularly guides them. This is true of Jesus, who ‘was led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness for a long fast (Lk 4:1-2). In this case, circumstances do not force the fast – in fact quite the opposite! Jesus is already full of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1) having had a dramatic encounter in his baptism and seemingly ready for ministry. Yet the Spirit knows he is not yet ready. More preparation is needed, aided by fasting. That’s why it’s important that we listen to the prompting of God’s Spirit in our lives. Sometimes, for reasons that we may not always understand at first, God calls us to fast. At such times, fast.

Sometimes people fast as a regular habit or discipline. They build it into their calendar. In New Testament times Pharisees fasted twice per week (Lk 18:12). Many in the early church fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, although it was not obligatory. Some chose to fast for one day per month or on particular holy days. In the early church some fasted for 40 hours up to Easter morning, reflecting the time Jesus was in the tomb. The Roman church later encouraged a 40 day fast of varying sorts during Lent, which some still practice today. In recent years a number of churches across the world have sensed the Spirit calling their communities to fast in January, with churches fasting for 7 or 21 Days as a sign of dedicating the year ahead to the Lord.

So there are many times and seasons in life when we could fast. How do we decide? For me, I aim for a balance between the planned and the spontaneous. I want to be flexible enough so that I am ready and willing to respond to circumstances by fasting. But I also want to build in a regular fast into my life. When I was Vicar of St Chad’s Church in Sheffield I fasted every week on a Thursday as part of a weekly day of prayer in the church. I am challenged to develop a similar, planned pattern as part of my spirituality again. Why? Because, as Mahesh Chavda says, there is ‘hidden power’ to prayer and fasting.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your incredible love for me – whether I fast or not! Thank you Jesus that you modelled a life of discipline and spontaneity. Help me to learn from you, and strengthen me to develop good habits that will sustain and equip me as a disciple, so I can serve you and those around me effectively, and see your kingdom come on earth as in heaven. Amen.

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5 Fasting Questions: 2. WHY?

  
People fast today for all sorts of reasons. In fact it’s a common practice in many religions. It’s as if there’s a good and natural tendency inbuilt into human beings to explore this discipline. For followers of Jesus, fasting is assumed and encouraged in the Christian Scriptures. Indeed, it’s part of discipleship. If you want to grow as a disciple, it’s good to fast.

So a second of 5 Fasting Questions is this: WHY? Why fast?

Here’s 12 positive reasons why people in the bible fasted:

1. as a sign of humility (Ezra 8:21)

2. as sign of repentance (Joel 2:12)

3. as a sign of grief (Judges 20:26)

4. when seeking protection (Ezra 8:21-23)

5. when seeking guidance (Judges 20:26)

6. when seeking healing (Ps 35:13)

7. when choosing leaders (Acts 13:2-3)

8. in preparation for spiritual warfare (Mt 17:21)

9. to avert war or national disaster (Jonah 3:6-10)

10. for general spiritual growth (Daniel 10:2-6)

11. for leadership formation (Mt 3:13-4:11)

12. as a good regular practice – weekly, or more monthly, or seasonally, or annually (Lk 2:37)

In all of these examples, fasting is linked to prayer. Prayer is communication with God, so fasting is done to help and enhance this communication. However, in the same way that we don’t pray only to twist God’s arm, neither do we fast just to win God’s favour or persuade him to act. We fast because it’s beneficial and brings the Kingdom of God – helping us know him more. Discover his will. Align ourselves with his purposes. And make a difference in the world. 

There are other reasons to fast – such as detoxing the body and identifying with the poor. But as we shall later see, we must also take care when fasting. We’re not meant to make ourselves ill. That’s why knowing why you’re fasting is important, as is making sure you’re doing so wisely and prayerfully.

So there are lots of good reasons to fast, but in the end of the day, fasting is good because it releases God’s power. It just does! Not always immediately. Not always tangibly. But it does. And that’s why I’m convinced this is an ancient practice that needs to be rediscovered by disciples today. 

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you that there are many benefits of fasting. Next time I fast, may I know the reason why and see the kingdom come in greater power. Teach me. Help me. Guide me. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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5 Fasting Questions: 1. WHAT?

  

 

‘When you fast…’ (Matthew 6:16)

Jesus assumed that his followers would fast. It’s a basic discipline that Jesus taught and practiced. But as I talk with Christians in the UK, I find very few fast. It is a neglected discipline. It is time to recover this practice and discover the benefits.

In two weeks time at The Belfrey we begin 7 Days of Prayer and Fasting. To prepare and encourage us I’m going to write a series of blogs to help those who are new to fasting and/or have questions about it. I hope they’re useful not just for Belfrey folk, but for all who want to grow as disciples of Christ.

Today we look at the first of 5 Fasting Questions, by asking the question: WHAT? 

What is fasting?

The best and simplest definition of fasting I have found is this: ‘fasting is the voluntary giving-up of food’.

It is ‘voluntary’. That means it’s a conscious choice. So if circumstances force us to stop eating – like illness or a lack of food due to war or famine – that is not the kind of fasting described in the bible. Biblical fasting involves a human decision. It may well be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but in the end, a disciple is fasting when they have deliberately chosen to do so.

It is ‘giving-up’. It involves stopping something. Ceasing. Abstaining. Saying ‘no’. This is counter-intuitive as when we get hungry our bodies want to replenish our stomachs. To deny feeding our hunger – even for a short period time – can be a challenge, especially to those who aren’t used to it. But the benefits can be great.

It normally involves not eating ‘food’. Eating food is basic to human nature; it’s how we’re made by God. Fasting involves deciding, for a time, not to eat food. 

It’s possible to fast from things other than food. For example the bible describes people temporarily abstaining from alcohol (eg. priests on duty – Lev 10:9) and married couples from sex (eg 1 Cor 7:5). For some these can become permanent fasts – like the Nazarites (Num 6:1-21) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) who never drank alcohol, and the people Jesus describes in Matthew 19:12 who choose long-term celibacy. In fact there are all sorts of other things we can fast from too – and there can be many benefits of this. However the main, basic kind of fast that the bible encourages is fasting from food.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, you taught your disciples to fast. So teach me about fasting. Help me to understand what it is and over the coming days and weeks help me to practice this discipline and see the many benefits in my life and the life of others. Amen.

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Christmas Love

  
Read John 3:16

It’s all about love.

When each of my children was born, I remember looking down as they slept peacefully in their mother’s arms and my heart was filled with love. Love for this frail, fragile little one entrusted to our care. Love was the emotion. Of course that love required practical expression. Time, energy, money and more needed investing in this tiny life! But as every parents knows, in the end it’s all about love.

When God sent his Son that first Christmas, no doubt Mary and Joseph felt a similar love. We know this worked itself out in practical care (Lk 2:7) and committed devotion (Lk 2:48). They loved their baby.

But what’s easily missed is that the love that caused baby Jesus to be born is a love like no other. This isn’t just the passionate, playful love of a wife and husband that bring most babies into the world. This is the deep, committed, forgiving and gracious love of the Great Father, lavished on a broken world! Love is the emotion. Love is the motive. Love is the reason. It’s all about love.

John’s gospel describes it like this: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son’ (Jn 3:16).

The hymn-writer Christina Rosetti put it like this: ‘Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine.’

This is Jesus Christ. The God-child. The love of the Father. All wrapped up in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.

We love babies, but we don’t normally worship them. But we do today. We do this baby. Because this baby is the embodiment of love. The love of God. The greatest love in the whole world.

So celebrate the love. Share the love. Care in love. Give in love. 

It’s all about love.

Respond

ACTION: Go to church on this Christmas Day and celebrate God’s love in sending Jesus. And share much love today. Even if someone says something out of order today, or something happens that frustrates you today, chose right now to love. To love the person in front of you. In thought, word and action.

PRAY: Pray that today the Holy Spirit would fill you with the same love that sent Jesus into the world. Pray for the people you’re going to meet today. Pray that they would experience the love of God through you today. And pray that the world would know the love that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Advent Time

  

Read Luke 2:6

It’s nearly time. Time for Christmas. Time to rejoice and celebrate. It’s nearly time.

Every mother remembers that feeling when it’s nearly time. Baby’s head is engaged. Joints are feeling looser. Cramps are just stirring and your back is starting to ache. It’s nearly time.

Mary knew that feeling that first Advent. She and Joseph are staying in the strange town of Bethlehem. There’s no room at the inn. And her baby is coming. It’s nearly time.

Then, according to Luke, ‘while they were there, the time came’ (Lk 2:6) and the baby was born.

What time was it? It almost definitely wasn’t 25th December! (That was a date later adopted by Christians so that an annual celebration of Christ’s birth could take place). We don’t know the chronological time. But what we do know, is that it was just the right time.

St Paul, some 50 years or so later, is reflecting on all this as he writes to new disciples in Galatia and says that ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’ (Gal 4:4 KJV). God knew the time. And sent Christ ‘in the fullness of time’ – ie when everything was perfectly ready. At just the right time.

Business consultant and teacher of leadership Jim Collins says that ‘Not all time is equal. Life serves up some moments that count much more than other moments’. That’s why timing is important.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is an expert at timing. Especially at big events that change the world. Few are bigger than the birth of his Son (apart from perhaps the death and resurrection of his Son – which Scripture similarly says took place ‘at just the right time’ [Rom 5:6].) 

That gives us confidence as we approach Christmas. 

There is much to be done but we don’t have to rush. We can enjoy our time. Savour time. Especially those significant moments that become precious memories. Because God is in charge of time. He is the ultimate Time Lord. So let’s not allow the phrase ‘God’s perfect timing’ to become a cliche, because it’s actually true. God knows the time.

This Christmas my you be able to say with the psalmist, ‘My times are in your hand’ (Ps 31:15) and trust him for your present and future. 

It’s nearly time.

Respond

ACTION: Look back on your life and think of two occasions when you can now see that things happened just at the right time. Write them down in your Notebook and why, with hindsight, the timing was perfect. People love telling stories at Christmas, so consider sharing these stories at a family occasion this Christmas.

PRAY: Give thanks to the Lord for his perfect timing in your life. And then be thankful for sending Jesus at just the right time. Pray for our world today – choosing a war-torn, troubled nation. Pray for peace; for good to come out of evil, and for God’s perfect timing in all this. Trust yourself, your loved ones, your community and our world into his hands today.

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10 Books to Inspire for 2016

  
Francis Bacon said ‘Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.’ As I present my annual offering of some books that I’ve recently read, I hope you’re able to discern some tasty offerings to nourish you in the coming year.

1) Walter Isaacson’s ‘The Innovators’

This is a great book. It’s about the history of the digital revolution – how we got here, and the key people who have helped us, including Charles Babbage, Alan Turring, Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Jobs and many others. Whilst new advances are carefully explained I have to admit that I didn’t ‘get’ the science behind every advance, but what I did get was a sense of how we’ve got here and who’s led us into this digital age. Isaacson is a gifted writer and biographer. I loved his epic on Steve Jobs and this is another excellent book that set films like The Imitation Game (about Alan Turing and the Enigma programme) in context.  

2) David Adam’s ‘Aidan, Bede & Cuthbert’

Having enjoyed a short retreat on Holy Island in Northumbria with my prayer partners this year, I read this short book which briefly tells the stories of these 3 great Northumbrian saints of the 7th Century who reshaped the North as they brought the good news of Christ to our region. We see their humanity, their sacrifice and lives devoted to Jesus. Simply and clearly written, Adam helpfully ends each chapters with some exercises to do in response.

3) Niall William’s ‘History of the Rain’

I was pleased to devour this latest Williams novel this year. This gifted Irish Roman Catholic continues to write so beautifully and lyrically, picking up themes of fatherhood, family history, literature, the importance of story, grief and – especially in this story – water. This is not a light-heated happy read, but a thoughtful book with the odd comic moment, that gets you inside the mind of a young woman, Ruth Swain, who is confined to bed with a blood disorder. If you’ve never read any Williams, you might want to start with his first novel ‘Four Letters of Love’ before this one, but this is still good, classic Williams.

4) Alok Jha’s ‘The Water Book’

Continuing the water theme, I stumbled across this fascinating book whilst browsing at Bangalore Airport! This is a book about the importance of water. In it Jha takes us on a dual journey: firstly with him on an actual expedition he took to Antarctica, and secondly on a scientific voyage showing how water is key to life, has shaped civilisations and is affected by global warming. Well researched and written for the lay-person, this book will expand your mind and challenge your heart.

5) Max Lucado’s ‘Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe’

Although probably appealing more to women than men, I really enjoyed this easy-read fictional novel about Chelsea Chambers who inherited her mother’s cafe and discovered a huge debt. Struggling in her marriage, this is a story about relationships – with her customers, her family and with a God who breaks in to her life and business in unusual ways. Some will find this over sentimentalised, but I read it as a story about the beauty of faith, about forgiveness and how God can turn difficult situations for good.

6) Alex Ferguson’s ‘Leading’

If you like football, read this book. If you like to read in the field of leadership, read this book. If you like or are interested in Manchester United, read this book. If, like me, you like all three, then you will love this book! It’s really well written, not as a biography (like previous books by Ferguson) but in themed sections (eg. Discipline, Teamwork, Motivation). It is also very clear and offers a no-nonsense guide to leading well. Ferguson writes honestly and at times shows real vulnerability and humility. Probably my book of the year.

7) Samuel Chand’s ‘Leadership Pain’

This book should have been written a long time ago, and Chand has done the church a great service by writing this wise, honest and inspiring book. Whilst written with church leaders mainly in mind, it’s wisdom can be applied to any organisation or business. Chand’s premise is simple and correct: there is no growth without change, no change without loss and no without pain; so if you’re not hurting, you’re not leading. It’s not as depressing as it sounds, and includes powerful stories of people who have grown through pain. It even includes some exercises to help apply the principles being learned. A must for all leaders.

8) Bill Johnson’s ‘Releasing the Spirit of Prophecy’

Bill Johnson, Senior Leader or Bethel Church, in Redding, CA has written many books. This is one of three I read of his this year and is all about the importance of testimony. It was timely for me and helped me realise how important it is to tell the stories of what God is doing. It helped me see that the sharing of such stories not only honours God and builds faith but also releases the Spirit of prophecy and creates a culture of faith and expectation. It includes some great stories from Johnson, but in the end it’s his helpful, practical teaching and spiritual insight that’s so helpful. 

9) Jarrod Cooper’s ‘When Word & Spirit Collide’

This is a wise book with a clear message that the church (especially the charismatic and Pentecostal stream) needs to hear. Jarrod Cooper, a gifted church leader and church planter in East Yorkshire, writes with mature understanding about staying rooted in the bible and welcoming the presence of the Spirit. Laced with humour and fascinating stories, we’re pleased to be welcoming Jarrod as a guest speaker at The Belfrey in 2016. With helpfully short chapters, this book will encourage you to pray and work for revival in our day.

10) ‘The Bible’

Last but never least, I’ve continued to find the Bible to be the book. I read the Bible every day and it helps sustain my life and faith. Many times this year a word in season has lept from the page and spoken into my situation. Blogging every day in Advent has been a challenge recently, but time and time again I’ve seen fresh insights and practical application as I ponder on the words of this most wondrous of books. Whilst I still default to the New International Version (NIV) I’ve enjoyed reading other translations this year, especially the English Standard Version (ESV). Whichever translation you use, just read it. Every day. Like no other book, the Bible will transform your life.

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Advent Presence

  
Read Matthew 2:11

With Christmas approaching we had a family get-together yesterday. It was great spending time in Stoke-on-Trent with my brother William and his wife Karen and their children, Joshua and Sarah. All 7 of us went from York and my Mum too. As we drove home last night I was thinking how good it is to spend time with loved-ones. Catching up. Telling stories. Playing games. Eating. Going for a walk. Just being together. Enjoying their company. Appreciating their presence.

When talking with someone whose spouse has died I sometimes ask them what it is that they miss most about them. The answers are always interesting and moving. The most common is ‘their presence’. 

At the first Advent the Wise Men journeyed hundreds of miles, taking many months to go and worship the new-born King. Eventually they found him. What must it have been like for them to finally be in his presence? To discover that which they’d sought after for so long? I imagine they were full of joy and wonder. I suspect it was one of those awesome moments that they would cherish for the rest of their lives. To be in the very presence of divine royalty. 

Throughout Scripture – including the Advent stories – we see two things normally happen to people when they experience God’s presence. 

One relates to worship. People worship. Like the Wise Men. This is the most natural thing to do in the presence of greatness – to bow and worship. CS Lewis saw this and commented in his Reflections on the Psalms that there’s a close link between God’s presence and human worship. 

The other is assignment. In his presence, God often calls people to particular tasks. A number of years ago I was at an event being led by John Wimber. He introduced the meeting, prayed and then we worshipped. And as we worshipped the presence of God came very powerfully. I remember Wimber later asking how many people, whilst experiencing God’s presence, had felt the Lord speak to them about some aspect of their calling and at least 60% of people raised their hands. This is often the case. In God’s presence he speaks and gives us assignments to do. Often seemingly impossible ones! But they’re not impossible because not only are we called in his presence, but his presence goes with us, making all the difference (see eg Mt 28:19-20).

I love sharing gifts at Christmas. They’re a sign of love – of grace. But other than those of the Wise Men, gifts are not particularly prominent in the Advent stories. Instead there’s a much greater emphasis on people experiencing God – worshipping him and being called to serve him in some capacity. We see ordinary women and men being changed and commissioned as they meet the Lord himself in the person of Jesus. So the emphasis of Advent is less on presents and more on presence.

Presence, more than presents. 

May his presence be our true delight this Christmas.

Respond

ACTION: Are all your presents ready and wrapped yet? If not, write in your Notebook who you still need to buy for, and be determined to do that today as Christmas is nearly here! Below that write in your Notebook 2 or 3 examples of times you’ve experienced the presence of God. Find a few words for each that describe what it was actually like. Think about whether afterwards you sensed there was something you should do in response (ie some kind of assignment to do/fulfil)? If so, write that down too. Did you do it? 

PRAY: If you didn’t do the assignment you felt called to do, pray and ask the Lord if that is something he still has for you. If so, ask him to commission you again and give you his Spirit to help you fulfil it. Also spend some time worshipping Jesus today – right now if you can. Give him your thanksgiving and praise, your adoration and devotion. Give him your life today. And pray for his presence this Christmas.

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