Well what a fruitful, busy and bustling last couple of months its been. You can't have helped notice the buzz of new people still trickling into our little community (ok, now quite big at over 200!) but it's amazing to be refreshed by the reality that GOD is moving.
Reflect on what is actually happening: God is calling, and people are coming. It's easy to forget that behind a face there's a different story, sometimes we all look the same, but we're each very different. It can be painful to start to dig a little deeper, and listen. It's usually more painful when we realise that we don't know how to respond - how to even think. "What's my theology on this?". But there's encouragement to be taken by knowing that in His hands we rest. In His arms we find peace. In His presence all fears will be stilled. All pain will stop.
Now on that occasion he failed to live that, he failed to do the Jesus thing and love (even when it hurt) and he displays the pain of that decision, even to this day. But here's the good news that reminds us of where we're at:
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God showed His love for us that whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us" Rom5v6-8
I take encouragement that I am not the only one to make the wrong decisions, but I don't revel in it. I take hope from the character that is built in me as I face challenges that bring out perseverance. I rejoice when God deepens my heart for Him, stretching me like tough dough. But I don't always enjoy it. And you know what? That's ok. I always think of someone being rescued from being hit by a bus, and me standing at the bus stop, watching in slow motion (it always slows down when the inevitable is about to happen) and I stand, watch, and wonder: what will I do? Do I risk my life to save the good person? I could weigh it up in the millisecond; consider how valuable they are, how loving and generous they are, if they're attractive, and if they make me laugh: if I generally like them.
But you know Jesus did just that. He stood there, watching in slow-mo, then just as it seemed like death had scored again, He ran over and pulled the man out from the path of the bus. But the difference is that person, that's us. And instead of the likeable, funny, charming person, who deserves saving, it's us. And we know us. You see Jesus knew us before He made us, He had us in mind from the start. And He knew how we'd turn out. But we stand in this gap of time where the consequences of Jesus actions to save undeserving people don't fully look like they've lived up to expectations. It isn't always snowy and festive at Christmas, it doesn't always smell like mulled wine and Christmas trees, and sometimes this time of year just really hurts. But appearances can be deceiving.
Just like you and I don't deserve to be pulled out from under a bus and someone risk dying because of our foolishness in crossing the road, Jesus actually lovingly offered His life to take our place. When He hung on the cross the crowd cheered; His mother and family wept; and the scum said "if your God, then get yourself down you idiot. Rescue yourself".
But thank God He was obedient in that moment and put me first. Thank God that you can have hope because Jesus thought of you, yes you .......... (insert name) in that very moment about 2k years ago. The heat of the day was on Him, the dust in His eyes, blood dried to His face, and still with eyes closed He thought "I am doing this for you". Incredible. To me I don't need presents, a white Christmas and a fine bottle of French wine to make Christmas happen. What I want instead is to actually thank God with a genuine, earth and reality grounded heart.
Let's take moments to do that this Christmas. Maybe you're going somewhere to see family, or maybe you're staying put and have no special plans. That's ok. It's ok for this not to be the best Christmas yet, if that's how you feel. There's no reason it should be. But a freedom comes when we look behind the masks, welcome the neighbour and love. Its a small expression of the power of God. I encourage you to take up that opportunity because life is short and fleeting, here today, under a bus tomorrow. But the saving grace of God doesn't come wrapped in festive paper, it comes as a flesh and blood human - grace & love packaged for us to easily unwrap, in a shape we recognise.
(Don't keep it bottled up)