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What and how do you plan to celebrate this Christmas season?

Joy to the world!

I wonder what and how you plan to celebrate this Christmas season. Here’s some things and ways we’ll be celebrating.

Family

We’ll be celebrating with wider family, enjoying family traditions, and just generally slowing down. Just being together at this special time is more important than gifts. Our family has grown in the last year, too, and it will  be Reuben’s first Christmas.

Life

There’s a special significance to ‘life’ at Christmas, as we consider the new life that Jesus was born to herald in. In a very practical way we have experienced the joy of new life this year in Reuben. Do you have specific highlights of enjoying (new) life this year?

Goodness and gratitude

God has been so generous to us, and I’m mindful of  millions around the world who have much less, and those for whom this is not a time of peace and goodwill. I want to think about this a bit more, and consider how advent can be a time of celebrating God’s generosity, and pondering how to live a life of generosity to others.

Faithfulness and beginnings

Lots has happened in the last 12-18 months, with a number of new beginnings such as moving house, changing job, and getting involved in starting a new church in our area. God has been good and shown his faithfulness in so many different ways. As we look back with thankfulness, we can look ahead with confidence and excitement.

 ”Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:10 (The Message)

How about you?

Undivided 2012

Today (5 April) sees the start of the IFES Europe student evangelism conference in Gyor, Hungary.

I’m planning to trial Storify as a means of documenting the event based on what is being discussed and shared online. I’m not at the event myself, but I hope the storify stream below will help give a flavour of what is happening and how people are responding. I see potential in using storify as a means to document other IFES events as they happen around the world. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Grateful and hopeful.

We entered 2011 knowing it was likely to be a busy year.

We wanted to move house, and were thinking about trying for our first child.

My immediate boss would be taking maternity leave, meaning my job would change fairly significantly, just a few months before the biggest conference we run every four years.

And then at the end of the year our office was moving to a new building in the centre of town.

We entered 2011 with a certain sense of trepidation, unable to rely simply on our own strength and wisdom.

As we look back I am so grateful that we did more than survive this year. It has stretched us in new ways, and exercised muscles I didn’t know I had. We have grown in the last year, and look forward to 2012 with a great sense of satisfaction and hopefulness.

In just over four weeks our first child is due to arrive, and change our life in ways we can barely anticipate. We are filled with hope and excitement, knowing 2012 will bring new adventures that will grow us in new ways. And we are so thankful that we don’t embark on this journey alone; we are surrounded by fantastic family and friends. And we have One who is faithful.

This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness;
not health but healing;
not being but becoming;
not rest but exercise.We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

Martin Luther

Speaking the language of the bible.

How do you engage with scripture?

I was excited to read on the Bible and Mission blog an article about the Bible and orality – taken from a recent Lausanne World Pulse.

Some higlights:

The word of God is unchangeable, but the manner or method in which it is communicated does change. We celebrate that God has worked intentionally throughout history to bring his word to the peoples of the world utilizing various media formats, including oral communication, scribe and hand written text, the printed page, and digital means.

The Gutenberg Press enabled a print revolution and unprecedented spread of the word of God. Oral means were available prior to Gutenberg, but a scripture literacy revolution was empowered by means of making the full Bible available to every person who could read. We stand today at another seminal point in history in which digital technology makes it possible for every oral learner to engage with God’s word in audio and audio/visual formats.

You can read the original post on the Bible and Mission blog, the Lausanne World Pulse, and find out more about the International Orality Network.

Photo: Mustafa Khayat (CC)

Behavioural economics.

On trying to understand why we are so difficult to understand.

I’ve been enjoying reading and interacting with some of Dan Ariely‘s work. Ariely is a professor at Duke University, and author of Predictably Irrational.

Traditional economics looks to identify trends from which (rational) consumer behaviour can be predicted. Behavioural economics, which includes the science of cognitive psychology, seeks to identify trends based on our often irrational behaviour when it comes to making value judgments and decisions. Perhaps behavioural economics is more realistic in the way it deals with imperfect and illogical human beings. Hence the thought-provoking title of the book.

I suspect that behavioural economics is especially important at times like ours, where new technology disrupts and even shakes the foundations of traditional economics, as markets, business models, distribution channels, ideas of production and consumption, and consumer behaviour, all change and morph as we progress through the information revolution.

As I think about the people I meet, work and interact with on a regular basis, their experience of and engagement with new technology sits somewhere on an incredibly broad spectrum. Surely this has to make traditional models of economics difficult to work with, when society finds itself so fragmented in its experience of the technology that is shaping it beyond what would have been recognisable only 10-20 years ago.

And so I think behavioural economics has a lot to offer in helping us understand human behaviour; when all around us traditional models are challenged, what can we understand about underlying motivations to help us shape the environment is such a way as to meet the various needs of those around us, and develop technology appropriately, as a means to serve.

All the more reason to continue dipping my toe into issues of sociology and cognitive psychology, and bringing the bible to bear on what is revealed to be eternally true about human nature.

Side thought: does traditional science look for order and logic, where psychology looks to understand disorder and imperfection (realism)?

The West and the Rest.

An interesting post from LICC today, looking at the relationship between the ‘West’ and the ‘Rest’.

In a new book, Civilisation: the West and the Rest (Allen Lane), the historian Niall Ferguson takes a historical look at the relationship. What was it about Western civilisation, he asks, that allowed it, in the past 500 years, to trump all other political systems and cultures? His answer is that the West developed six ‘killer apps’ that the rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. Many of these, he acknowledges, find their roots in Christianity, specifically in Protestantism – although, of course, they have evolved far from those roots.

Ferguson is currently presenting a series on Sunday evenings on Channel Four, which he has called Civilisation: Is the West History? Each programme examines the influence, for good and ill, of one of the killer apps – apps that are, of course, being embraced, developed and exploited by countries all over the world. Can these, however, deliver peace, justice and prosperity, unless reconnected with the faith from which they grew?

What do you think? Does Ferguson take an overly optimistic stance towards competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic? There are surely lots of problems that stem from our reliance on these things, too, and lots for us to learn from the ‘Rest’. What’s your take on this issue?

I’m certainly going to be watching the series on TV, anyway.

Fast grace.

I’m enjoying listening to Roy Ortlund on Isaiah at the moment; I’m still on the early chapters, and feel like I could readily listen to the rest of the series over the coming months.

‘God is quicker to meet us with grace, than we are to meet him in repentance.’

As an optimistic perfectionist*, my passion for trying to better myself, most of the time outweighs my frustration with past failures.

As I listened this evening, I realised that I often confuse sanctification – the work God is doing to change me – with my own weak attempts at self-improvement. I know I am a sinner in need of God’s grace; I know I continue to fail God each day; and yet my hope for tomorrow is more in my being changed (both through my own efforts and God’s gracious work in my life) than in being fully satisfied in my acceptance today.

God is more concerned that I trust him today, weak and imperfect, than that I am changed to any degree, either through my own efforts, or by his abundant grace. Do you agree?

How will I face tomorrow, and what will my priorities be?

How can I trust God, and enjoy his acceptance in the day ahead?

How should my perceptions and measures of success be shaped in light of this knowledge?

* I was introduced to a variety of perfectionist ‘types’ by my friend, Tom, and ‘optimistic perfectionist’ was the one I most readily identified with. If you wanted to hear the other types, I’m sure I could persuade Tom to share his thoughts more widely.

Living without God.

Notes from a sermon preached at Magdalen Road Church, 2 January 2011.

Living without God
Psalms 42-43
Daniel Blanche

New year is a good time for self analysis. How am I doing? How is it going between me and God? How is the battle with sin going? How is the gospel working itself out in my life?

Psalms are a good place to go, as they show what real life is like for the believer.

Psalms 42-43 written as a single psalm with a unifying, single chorus.

How do you feel about God right now? Sometimes psalms don’t reflect how we feel about God at any given time. This psalm reflects what it feels like when we don’t feel joy and confidence.

The psalmist’s situation. What is going on in this psalm, how does he feel? Powerful imagery to show how it feels to be in this situation. Drought. As the deer pants for streams of water, my soul thirsts. The point of these verses is that there is no stream, or forest. This deer is dying. Where is there water? If I don’t get some soon I will die. This is how I feel, says the psalmist. Where is the refreshing reminder of God’s presence? When will this parched emptiness end? No sign of God’s refreshing presence. This is what it is like at times for the believer. Location. I want to be in Jerusalem, but I’m the wrong side of the river. A feeling of distance from God. God feels very distant. Don’t feel the intimacy, or that I can draw near to him. Depths. The power of a wave, crashing into him and sweeping him away. Chaotic. Traumatic. One thing after another. Swept here, there and everywhere. Plunged into the depths. Genesis 1 imagery, the deep, before God’s spirit moves over it. Deadly wound. Mortal agony. He doesn’t have an answer to those asking ‘where is your God?’, a question he is asking himself. Resonates with the deep questions he is asking within his heart. These four images capture the sense of desperation. The taunts of the world that remind us of our own deep questions. This is a normal part of the believer’s experience, even if you’re not feeling it now. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Sometimes it is like this.

The psalmist’s response. He remembers God. These things I remember. Calls to mind better times. Remembers when he felt intimate with God. In the flow of the psalm it appears that this memory doesn’t help him so much. Tender memories of how it used to be. Temptation to stay distant. This relationship with God is hard work. Settle for a shallow relationship with God. Don’t put your heart on the line and you don’t get hurt. My soul is downcast, therefore I will remember you. This recalling takes effort. I’m going to stop and deliberately recall. Remembrance in the bible, e.g. the last supper, “do this in remembrance of me”. What would it have been like to hear this? Am I likely to forget you Jesus? Yes. We need to remember God. The psalmist relates to God. Bring the situation into the context of my relationship with God. He writes a psalm. He grumbles to God. Takes his complaints, unhappiness and despair to God. Why have you forgotten me? God is big enough to take that. He’s not bothered by us being honest with him about how it feels. He is determined to relate to God. He reasons with himself. Why are you downcast my soul? Turns from talking to God, to talking to himself, to his soul. Why are you downcast? Not a little pep talk for the soul, but in the context of prayer. Soul, you know this God don’t you? Take what you know to be true, and trust you will see it in real life, even if you can’t see it right now. Not because you’ve talked yourself into it, but because it is true. Hope. Wait. Trust. This emptiness will not last forever.

The psalmist’s confidence. He is confident. His hope. God is my stronghold, and I look to be vindicated by him. “Where is your God?” I believe he’s coming. He looks forward to a homecoming (v3). He remembers kneeling to worship at the alter, and he knows he will come home. Not about manufacturing excitement about God, but asking God to make what we know to be true about him, real in our own lives. He will do this in his time.

What is this psalm really about? A man feeling distant from God, entrusts himself to God, believes he will be restored to God’s presence. It’s about Jesus. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Vindicated by God, raised and restored to perfect relationship with his father. Others have been there before you. Jesus Christ has been there before you, and come out the other side, vindicated. He has set the precedent we can trust in wholeheartedly. Jesus Christ is alive and reigning, has gone through this and has conquered it. He will take you home. Hope in God. You will praise him again.

Isaiah 55.

Something I regularly struggle with is going beyond accepting what Jesus did to take the punishment I deserve, to accepting all the good things he lavishly gives in its place; I don’t fully understand why I can accept the bad things taken away, but not the good things given… something I’ll probably be wrestling with for years to come.

So it was great to be reminded at home group this evening, as we looked at Isaiah 55, of all the positive things Jesus has saved us for, and the reasons for doing this. God loves us lavishly and in abundance, that we might be satisfied by him and in him and, by delighting in him, display his worth and praise him.

“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”
- verse 2b

“…let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
- verse 7

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
- verse 12

Emphasis mine.