Saturday, 31 December 2011

Songs for the new year

And so, another year down (another year closer to seeing Jesus face to face!) I find myself looking back over 2011, which has been full of work and play. Highlights have included New Word Alive, turning twenty one, Dorset Venture, a month in London, new housemates, holidays and hundreds of cups of tea.

Although I’m done with new years resolutions, I do have hopes for 2012; all being well, this is the year that I finally graduate, take my driving test and start a grown up job. I’m both sad and scared about leaving the university bubble behind, but I am also genuinely excited about the future. I often struggle with this, (finding a fine line between expectant hope of heaven and absolute flat out apathy), but I’m forced to recognise that God has good places and plans for me.

When I think about 2012, if I’m honest I’m excited about finding the dream job, the move to Nottingham, the prospect of possibly getting my degree, improving my baking skills, extending my glassware collection or buying a car. However, what I want to want more than anything else this year is this; to love Jesus wholeheartedly and to align my priorities with the kingdom of God.

Yesterday I stumbled across Psalms 70 and 71, finding myself both captivated and challenged. The writer fully trusts God as a mighty, righteous, redeemer – his exclamations so accurately describe the awesome combination of God’s love and perfect justice displayed to us at the cross! In a hymn I’ve been enjoying recently, there is a line that proclaims; ‘Jesus, all my trust is in your blood!’. I love it - but inside my head, I have to ask ‘-Jesus, is all my trust really in your blood?’, ‘Am I really wholeheartedly aligning all of my priorities with the kingdom of God?’ The Psalms present a similar challenge – can I really sing from the same hymn-sheet as a writer who says to God ‘I have no good apart from you’ (Psalm 16)?

In answering these questions, inevitably, I realise that I fall so far short. I don’t want God more than anything ever, but I want to want God more than anything ever. However, I was helpfully reminded recently by a visiting speaker, that Jesus is the perfect psalmist – he is the one who can truly say that his priorities are in line with the kingdom of God. What’s more, it is his righteousness I inherited when he cancelled my sin and paid for my unbelief at the cross. We can praise God then, that he is our mighty, righteous, redeemer!

Knowing Jesus, we are free before God to join in with the awesome words of Psalm 70 and 71, in which God is refuge, rock, salvation, mighty, righteous and worthy to be praised for all of our days. Here is an encouragement to forget everything else and proclaim, in the strength of the Lord, His righteous deeds alone.

Note to self - forget shoes, baking, degree classifications and moving house. Here are some resolutions for 2012 and beyond. Happy New Year!

Psalm 71 verse 14
But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.

Psalm 70 verse 4
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Lullaby

For me, Christmas means that God is with us. Christmas means that God, the creator of the universe, came to live on earth as one of us. Not to show us how to live, or teach us God's rules but to die so that we might live. Thirty three years later it was all about God's ultimate self-giving love, shown through a sacrifice which, for those who will believe, swapped darkness, slavery and sin for light, liberation and new life in Christ.

This Christmas, Mary (Jesus' mum, that is) is my new favorite person to read about in the bible. I'm sure that as a normal girl, she was as far from God's absolute holiness and as imperfect as I am. Yet, her swift willingness and obedience in response to God's word and work is amazing to me.

If we think the nativity is a cosy christmas bed-time story we'd better re-read, briefly, what happened to Mary, my latest bible heroine, who was incidentally still a virgin (despite her engagement to Joseph, a carpenter). According to Luke, Chapter 2, this is what happened...

Angel: Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you *Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be* Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end

Mary: How will this be, since I am a virgin?

Angel: The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 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.

I am down with miracles, angels and seeing God make impossible things possible, but I have to be honest - if I were Mary, I would be absolutely bricking it, pinching myself and waiting to wake up. I've been wondering what made Mary so cool with the virgin birth.

Fair enough, the bible says that Mary is scared when the angel arrives. She also asks an entirely logical and practical, question. But, what amazes me, is that she actually doesn't seem to question the legitimacy of God's message at all. Although overwhelmed and confused, Mary doesn't disbelieve that the impossible is possible with God. Although scared, Mary fully embraces the part God has etched out for her in his mighty plan. She simply says 'I am the Lord’s servant, let it be to me according to your word'.

Perhaps Mary's unswerving desire to trust God's word for her future (and the future of the world) stemmed from an understanding of his faithfulness in the past. Perhaps the angel's final words to her, 'for nothing is impossible with God' reminded her that God's word is unfailing. Almost certainly she had read the old testament scriptures (eg. Isaiah 7vs14), God's promises about a coming king. Whether or not she understood the gravity of it all, she trusted him fully for the future.

I am excited because I believe Christmas means God with us, come to die so that we might live. This is God's mighty plan fulfilled through Mary, but ultimately in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. Also exciting is that God today chooses people to be part of his work on earth.

For Christmas, and forever, all we need is Jesus. Lets pray for Mary's unswerving desire to trust God's faithfulness for the future and her unwavering belief in God's possible impossible. We need this swift obedience and readiness to respond to God's word and work.