Holy Spirit

When Joseph’s emotions are in turmoil thanks to Mary’s pregnancy, an angel reassures him in a dream: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

When Jesus touched someone, people could see Him touching them. But when God’s Holy Spirit’s at work, something always happens on the inside and flows out – the total opposite of two people having sex, which is an outward, visible act. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was integral to His existence, as my parents are to mine.

When Jesus died, His Spirit could work in every one of His followers. “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things” (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s one reason we’re instructed to be filled with the Spirit – so our lives can display this fruit for all to see. I’ve learnt that verse in Ephesians about being filled with the Spirit is a continuous tense in the Greek, so it doesn’t mean be filled only once; it means be being filled. Be filled; flow out; be filled again. That’s what God wants for us.

Glory

“The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

Paul talks about how everyone has seen God’s glory within creation (Romans 1:20). Have you thought about that? I’m not just talking about beautiful butterflies, or birdsong, or that wonderful smell when the dust is damp and it’s just about to rain. I’m sure the sky does show God in His majesty, but it’s more than that. The Bible says God made mankind in His image. “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image and likeness’” (Genesis 1:26). That means in every person, the best or the worst, there’s something of Him.

Next time you hear the waves crashing against the rocks, or see a sunset in all its grandeur, or appreciate someone’s talent or a good deed, that’s God revealing Himself to you. Equally, if you see a schoolchild being bullied, a terrorist attack or someone self-harming because they have a low opinion of themselves, that’s a reminder that this world is affected by the devil and his schemes. It’s not all it could be; we’re not all we could be. We don’t always have a good grasp of the love and the high opinion God has of us.

“Everything God made was allowed to become like something that cannot fulfil its purpose. That was not its choice, but God made it happen with this hope in view: That the creation would be made free from ruin – that everything God made would have the same freedom and glory that belong to God’s children.

“We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain like a woman ready to give birth to a child. Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us His own children” (Romans 8:20-23).

Everlasting Father

My dad’s a Scrabble champion. He makes the best apple crumble in the world. He talks to me and takes an interest in my life; I hope I do the same to him. I’m very grateful to still have him around, but I realise some children don’t have a close relationship with their fathers. Sometimes I don’t know what to pray for people who’ve lost their dads, except I know from the Bible that God is a Father to the fatherless, so I ask Him to be a Father to them – to somehow make up for all they’re missing out on. A friend once told me about a woman whose husband died, and in all the practical ways her husband would have provided for her, God met her needs. He’s a good Husband and Father.

If you’re a Christian and a parent, you can model God’s character to your children by loving them; by being there for them when they’re in a mess; by being generous with your time and resources; by being people of integrity.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Deity

I want to think today about what Gabriel told Mary. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).

The wise men who came to see Jesus gave Him gifts (Matthew 2:1-12). To them, they may simply have been mementoes from their country, or perhaps they fully understood what these gifts represented. Had they been Jewish, frankincense might have reminded them of the fragrant incense offered before God. “Take these sweet-smelling spices: Resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense. Be sure that you have equal amounts of each. Make incense as a person who makes perfume would do. Add salt to it to keep it pure and holy. Beat some of the incense into a fine powder, and put it in front of the Ark of the Agreement in the Meeting Tent, where I will meet with you. You must use this incense powder only for its very special purpose. Do not make incense for yourselves the same way you make this incense. Treat it as holy to the LORD” (Exodus 30:34-37). “Aaron must burn sweet-smelling incense on the altar every morning when he comes to take care of the oil lamps. He must burn incense again in the evening when he lights the lamps, so incense will burn before the LORD every day from now on” (Exodus 30:7-8). Offering frankincense to Jesus was basically spelling out what the angel Gabriel had said – that He came from God.

As we count down to Christmas and turn our focus towards it, this might be a good time to think what you believe about Jesus. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” – C. S. Lewis.

Cornerstone

When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he tried to bring home to non-Jewish believers the difference Jesus had made. No longer was it a case of the Jews being blessed as God’s chosen people and them being far-off; the blessing was for them too. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief Cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

I don’t know much about buildings, but I’m told the cornerstone is the crucial one, holding all the others in place. Paul makes a similar statement in a letter to another church: “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

If you’re anything like me, you might sometimes feel as if you’re falling to bits, physically or emotionally. It’s very comforting to be able to go to Jesus knowing He holds everything together and ask for His help.

Bethlehem

This is a song I wrote at Christmas 2007. My pastor had just preached on how Bethlehem is so small, and yet so significant. I had also watched a Christmas play with a line about a ‘New baby King’:
O tiny little Bethlehem, despised among the towns;
Out of you will come a King in humble circumstance:
He won’t cry in triumph for all to know His name,
But to those who seek Him, His power will be plain.

Just outside of Bethlehem, the shepherds could be found;
The angel of the Lord appeared, and glory shone around:
They heard the joyful tidings that Christ had been born,
And hurried there to find Him – the Shepherd of us all.

Wise men in a far-off land looked into the sky;
The shining star directed them to Wisdom from on high:
They knew to expect a new baby King,
And so they went to Bethlehem – to go and worship Him.

You may seem insignificant; you may seem very small,
But don’t forget what God can do; all things are possible:
He knows all your problems; He’ll take away your shame;
He’ll honour those who honour Him, and make His people great
.

If you’d like to hear the song, it’s on the album “Same Applies”. You can find it here.

Angels

There were angels throughout Jesus’ life. Gabriel visited Mary before He was conceived; a heavenly host bedazzled the shepherds at His birth; He was cared-for in the wilderness; strengthened at Gethsemane; an angel told of His resurrection, and maybe angels are with us in our lives more than we appreciate.

Several months before she died, my friend’s grandmother had a beautiful encounter. It was the middle of the night and there was no one else in the house, but she heard music. She got out of bed and stood in the hallway, thinking my friend had left a radio on that would disturb their neighbour. She was about to go upstairs when she realised it wasn’t earthly music at all; it was angels singing. She recognised the hymn, but couldn’t remember it later. All she knew was that angels had come to her.

I was honoured to be asked to sing at her funeral, and as I said in the song:
My hope is that one day in heaven we’ll meet,
And my hope is, forever we’ll be
With the angels, singing Your praise
.

As you can probably tell, Dilys (or ‘Nanna Dil’, as I called her) is very much-loved and will never be forgotten.

A Time to Give and a Time to Keep

In a Jewish wedding ceremony, a groom would suddenly come for his bride during the night; no one knew when to expect him. With this in mind, Jesus paints a picture: Ten young females, five wise and five foolish, waiting to attend the wedding. They carry lamps to light their way when they go to meet the bridegroom. Some of them think to bring extra oil.

They all wake up to the news he’s on his way! The dopey ones (whose oil has run low) say: “Let us have some of your oil!” but the others realise there may not be enough to go around, so they’re refused. Off they go to buy some more oil and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and the feast starts without them. They’re too late!

Maybe you never do this, but I’m a writer. I like to imagine different scenarios. What if one of the girls, out of love for her friend, pipes up: “Yes, here. You take my lamp; I’ll go and buy some more oil” … What would happen? She would miss out on the wedding.

* * *

This story shows me there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Let’s take that oil as a symbol of faith in Jesus. We can’t rely on somebody else’s faith to give us right standing with God. It’s no good saying: “I’m a member of this church group,” or: “I come from a Christian home.” When you stand before God, it’s your light He’s going to be looking at.

Maybe you think it’s impossible to give too much, but be careful not to do so much for others that you disqualify yourself. I’ve heard of people going into something on-fire for God, but then they’ve suffered because their dedication to the task has overtaken their desire for Him. A. W. Tozer cautions against becoming so engrossed in the work of the Lord and forgetting the Lord of the work. It’s important to acknowledge God, to remember that He gave us the ability, and to let Him refresh us and give us a heart of wisdom so we can serve Him more effectively.

Link

Last year I read “A Year’s Journey with God” by Jennifer Rees Larcombe, and had the privilege of meeting her while I was in the middle of it! I’m currently reading Ann Spangler’s “Praying the Names of Jesus”, which lasts for 6 months and includes 26 of the different names for Jesus – Friend, Lord etc. I like the Monday-to-Friday format – explaining the name, praying you through it, and showing where it’s recorded in the Bible. It’s not date-specific, so you can break for a week here and there, or catch up at the weekend on the days you’ve missed. Next year, I want to read its companion – “Praying the Names of God”. If you started in January, you could buy both and let them take you through the year.

I hoped to finish the devotional I was on by the beginning of December, but it doesn’t look like I will now. There were a couple of Advent books I fancied trying – “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift”, for one. This is the family-friendly alternative to Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift”. I know she’s quite a flowery writer, so I thought the family version might make the same points as the adult book, but in a less longwinded way! This year though, I was going with “Make Him Room” by Kirsten S Oliphant. I loved her Lent devotional (“Consider the Cross”) and wanted to give the Advent one a try, but two dailies plus my regular Bible-reading might be a bit much.

So, I may not read anything special to mark Advent this year. “Advent: A Gentle Journey to the Prince of Peace” could be good if it was on Kindle. Written by a busy single mum and illustrated by her sisters, this book teaches about the history of Advent and includes one devotional for each of its four weeks. Now that, I could do.

These are by no means all the devotionals you can get. ChristianityWorks do an eDevotional, and Bible Gateway publish several that you can subscribe to free of charge. Theirs can be seasonal or topical, such as devotions on marriage you can read as a couple. I like the sound of the Gary Thomas two-week one and may just sign up for it anyway, even though I’m not married!

And if you’ve read this blog for some time, you might remember I partnered with Jess to take you through “Unglued”, chapter by chapter. Well, Lysa has published a companion to the book – “Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress”. Quite a few Christians do this – write a book and then publish a devotional to go with it. My very favourite author has just done exactly the same, and Holley makes the point that all of hers is new content. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

Is there a particularly good devotional you’ve read? One I’ve missed out that you think I should recommend? Please tell me in the comments.

Aimlessness

Last month, I had a job-interview where I was asked: “What motivates you to get out of bed each day?”

I wouldn’t always have been able to answer a question like that, but I said: “Knowing God has a good plan for my life, and that I can do something useful for Him.” How do I know that? Because it says so in the Bible. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s a good plan. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). That’s one of the reasons we’re here on earth.

Everything we can know about God, we’ll find in His Word. Nothing Godly will ever contradict it, so when we’re told to test everything, that’s what we test it against – for our benefit. I’ll give you an example. “All you who are thirsty, come and drink. … Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). In other words, God’s offer to nourish us is unconditional, so if someone asks you for money in order to receive something from God, alarm bells should start ringing. Jesus was so passionate about everyone having access to God’s kingdom. Listen to what He said against the religious teachers: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Jesus doesn’t want any barrier to stand in the way of us getting to know God. He wouldn’t want people taking advantage of us.

If I keep on about the Bible, it’s because I’ve found it so helpful in the decisions I’ve made. When my attitudes have been wrong, God’s Word has put me right. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Who became flesh and came to live among us? Jesus. God’s Word is Jesus. When we read the Bible, it points us to Him.

Before I was a Christian, I didn’t have the privilege of being God’s and not my own; I didn’t know what I know now – that my life is His, not mine. As we’ve seen earlier in this series, I may sometimes be homesick for heaven, but I do have someone to live for – a God who takes great delight in you and me.

If you’ve taken anything away from these 31 Days of Positive Spin, I hope it’s that God cares about you and all the difficult things you’ll ever have to go through in your life. I’ll finish with the chorus of a song I wrote:
Jesus, what You did for me –
The pain You had to bear –
It shows me that whatever I go through,
You’ve already been there,
And so I ask the question:
Why should I complain
?