the sounds of Bethlehem

It happened when my first child was small. A bundle of beauty at about 7 months old – all the joy of my life. We sat Christmas morning in a family members church – a beautiful building, built in a time when parishioners were expected to sit quietly and mod-cons weren’t included.

My perfect bundle started to wiggle and make noises, and there wasn’t a modern nursing room to retreat to or even an easy retreat, that didn’t involve clanking sounds on wooden floorboards and pushing past people in the narrow row. I sat in that unfamiliar church on Christmas morning feeling uncomfortable, feeling a perceived disapproval from the mainly older congregation.

Then words from the front diverted from the liturgy and planned delivery.

‘Isn’t it nice to have the sounds of Bethlehem in the church this morning.’

and I can’t even write those words without tears filling my eyes 9 years later.

advent cover option

 

To be so wholly welcomed, so valued, so included when we weren’t the expected demographic in that particular place.

The grace of those words.

The echo of those words speak so deeply into my own heart-beat for the church.

There is room for everyone.

I so want to be the balm of those words to other weary travellers… to people squirming in the seat, to people unsure if there is a space for them, to people who just feel like they don’t fit the demographic.

I think about that first Christmas – the smells, the sounds, the outcasts, the angels…. the sounds of Bethlehem aren’t perfect choirs with hours of practise, amazing stain glassed windows and perfectly vaulted ceiling arches. As much as I love those things, the sounds we are called to first are the mucking in despite the lack of harmony, sticking at it in discord, welcoming whatever odd sounds we might find ourselves surrounded by.

The sounds of Bethlehem are broken, wonder-filled, imperfect people gathering around an unexpected manger at a rescue mission delivered in a tiny little bundle.

It seems to me we could all of us be those grace words today.

Those words that say – I’m glad you’re here, you are welcome.

Let’s be grace words to weary souls today. Let’s be wildly abundant with our love. Let’s be kind and gracious and generous in our welcome even if it disrupts our plans.

 

 

 

Praying for the One I Wish I Was

Somewhere along the way from childhood to adult it comes, this realisation that every one of you doesn’t get to grow up and marry a prince, or win x-factor, get the olympic gold, or win next top model… or whatever childish dream was ‘the’ thing we all wanted to be.

… and so when it dropped like a pebble into a pond that we all couldn’t be ‘that thing’ we all wanted the ripples didn’t just lead me to grow up and put off childish dreams

because dreams, hopes, visions – those things are the stuff of humankind from ghetto to castle – we all dream, desire, hope

… the ripples whispered it across my subconscious and suddenly the others became ‘competition‘ and there was only one pie and we were all wanting a slice, the biggest slice. And there were only so many slices.

Suddenly a person succeeding at what I want desperately with my own heart isn’t a cheerful reminder that it can happen… that person becomes a sign that I’ve missed my slice, that they got there first

and that wicked whisper points out their shortcomings
and it points out my shortcomings

and it tells me that they aren’t my sister or brother, they are my competition

since when did a person become our competition?

and when the whispers of judgement are finished
and the whispers of condemnation are finished

I’m left with a stomach full of dissatisfaction and hopelessness

So I am changing the channel.
I’m hearing the words of Jesus that says, It is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples

Because we serve a God who wants us all to be fruitful, to be bearers of his glory, to use our gifts at the extreme ends of our ability – extended by His anointing.

So this is how it works – everyone I look at who seems to be doing what I wish I was I’m praying for them. I’m not entertaining a searchlight of judgement on them. I’m praying all God’s best for them, for them to be more successful, for them to be more influential, for them to get more opportunities, commissions, invitations, for them to reach further, shoot higher, be blessed.

And when I start to worry that I’ve missed out on a serve of that pie I so desperately wanted I’m pulling up my seat at the table and I’m realising I was never competing with anyone. I look down and see the pie in front of me it’s all for me.

Because dear one, you have been served up your own pie.
This journey, there is room for you, there is room for me and we aren’t competing for a serving of the same pie.

Let’s all of us stop thinking of others as our competition and start championing the cause of everyone.

I’m singing loud these words over you today dear heart:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

May he send you help from the sanctuary

    and grant you support from Zion.

May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.

May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.

 May we shout for joy over your victory  

and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.
Psalm 20v 1-5

Today I’m praying for champions, for the ones who appear not to need any help because they already have it all. I’m praying for every one of them like my dreams depend on it.

I’m praying success, peace, provision, influence, joy, opportunity, invitation.

I’m finding my peace in seeking God and trusting that other people doing well is absolutely as it should be.

Because even Moses needed people to hold up his arms and maybe your faithful blessing of another person might be an arm-supporting breakthrough in the battle for many.

Maybe letting go of covetousness is a commandment for our freedom. Maybe we are lessened by jealousy and comparison in a way that limits us.

God let me be one who truly champions the giants. Give me the heart of Jonathan to stand alongside David and pray his success even though that feels like my diminishing. Strengthen the heart that feels scared of missing out. Let me love with an expansive heart that sees no-one as competition. 

On Spending It All

 

Maybe I’m a natural spend-thrift, or maybe I’m a borderline hoarder. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s part of the brokenness of the human condition.

Whatever it is, I hold on.

I always have some extra stored away. I don’t want to open the pantry and see only what is needed for the week, I don’t want to open my sewing cupboard and see only the fabric for my current project, I want to always keep some kind of safety net.

Maybe it’s wisdom to have some extra food in the pantry – like when you are hit with earthquakes, and power outages, and water you can’t drink.

But a life of holding on, keeping extra, making sure I have enough for myself isn’t a good metaphor for this life I’m called to live. The true calling of the Christian life must surely be to spend it all. 

 

To recklessly use every skill, gifting, resource at our disposal to God’s glory, for his people and that all may know and come and be welcomed.

The calling is to spend every cent and arrive giddy with the rush of squeezing value into every single part of it. Like the reverse of a ten-minute grocery grab – flying through life on a crazy dash spilling out Grace, and Love, and Hope and Joy wherever we go.

Knocking over the carefully piled stands of indifference, crashing headlong into image, and toppling self-centred, selfishness.

Around us people are handed terminal diagnosis every day. It feels unjust, it cripples and whispers fear into our hearts, into my heart at what sentence might be handed down at any moment.

But we are all terminal. 

Each of us has an unknown appointment with the end of our time in this present condition, this time of walking in this body in its un-resurrected state.

It seems to me when people are given a stark timeline it shifts how they see time, it transforms the way they spend time and it gives their lives new clarity. No longer prepared to do status quo life becomes something to treasure and to spend.

One of my most favourite stories in the bible is as David comes into the city with the ark and he strips down to his undies and dances with all his might. This leads to some marital discord but David replies –“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.”

I love that image of David who didn’t hold back and limit himself to ‘appropriate kingly worship’. Because the truth is when we censor the way we worship, live for God, share our lives… we aren’t worshipping God we are worshipping people – because we have changed our posture to suit what won’t offend them.

How often do I, do we, change the way we worship because of the way we think others (in the church) expect us to behave. Do we censor ourselves under misguided fears and pride or do we do our worship with all we have?

Right now I am challenged. Challenged to spend it all with reckless abandon for the great audience of One to whom my whole life is a gift, for whom my talents are all available and from whose lips I long to hear ‘well done good and faithful.

God would you teach me, would you teach us all how to spend our lives, how to leave it all on the track having expended everything you gave us. Forgive me for the selfishness that limits my generosity. Turn my heart to wanting to give it all to you, and for you, and let me know how to worship like David. Thank you Jesus that you are my great example of living in the joy of giving it all.  

Let us all arrive at our face to face meeting with empty pockets and full, full hearts.  May we all be able to say – as Paul said – 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering,and the time for my departure is near.

I have fought the good fight,

I have finished the race, 

I have kept the faith.