SIMPLE TRUTH

NativityAs we approach another Christmas, and many of us are caught up in a flurry of activity, in addition to carrying concerns for church and nation, we do well to remember that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago is a powerful statement of the premium God places on simplicity.

I was considering our pre-Christmas service in Golden Valley Church and I kept hearing the words “simplicity” and “simple.” I knew that Holy Spirit is wanting to impress this upon me – on us all.

In life we generally overlook the simple in favour of the complicated. The world mocks simple things, and ever looks for more sophistication. Our lack of simplicity breeds fear, control, pride, anxiety, strife, and unrest. But we actually miss much of what God has for us, because it is contained in the simple. He hides Himself; He hides our blessings – maybe our breakthroughs – in simple places. The sophisticated and cluttered minds will often miss Him there, just as they did in Bethlehem all those years ago.

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Modern lives are so full of noise, clutter, surplus, and overload. Conveniences and technology which are supposed to make life easier and simpler can end up increasing the demands with which we find ourselves juggling. Simplicity is ever-illusive, and no less so at Christmastime when the plethora of competing demands – many of them completely unnecessary  – shout loudly for attention. Even in modern church it’s easy to fall into living by a set of tick-boxes in our desire to grow and become all that God wants us to be. For example: “Four keys to this…”, “Seven steps to freedom…”, “do this course”, “attend this conference”, “read this book”, “master this truth”, “pray for this and that need”, etc. And so the plates continue to spin in overcomplicated lives.

The dictionary definitions of “simplicity” include, “the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded; freedom from pretence or guile; restraint in ornamentation.” I like the “restraint in ornamentation” which is so apt in a modern Christmas where the true meaning is obscured – even obliterated – by the overload of lights, sounds, and Santa Claus.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1 that God has made the wisdom of this world to turn out as foolishness. He says, referring to Jesus and His cross, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men,”  and, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty…” The ‘foolish simplicity’ of a baby laid to sleep in an animal feeding trough in a small out-of-the-way town is where God hides Himself, and where most people walk on by unknowingly.

The simple life – a life of walking daily with God and receiving everything from His hand – was stolen from mankind through deception, in the Garden in Eden, right in the beginning time of the Adamic race. But both the divine Baby in the manger and the divine man upon the cross are the wisdom of heaven to restore simplicity to us.

Last January Pope Francis tweeted the following: “In the simplicity of the nativity scene we encounter the tenderness of God which reveals itself in the Baby Jesus.” Tenderness. I think it is impossible to truly experience tenderness without – even for a moment – withdrawing from the overload, and finding a simple space.

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I have a friend who recently proposed to his girlfriend in city centre Paris. In the midst of the bustle, the sights, the lights, the sounds, the traffic, and the masses going about their business, he knelt down and found tenderness to engage with the one he loves. It was an age-old simple act, yet totally new and fresh; full of power, purpose, and long-term promise. Tenderness and simplicity go hand in hand. And that soil of the heart is poignant with hope.

This Christmas the Vatican has taken their understanding of the simplicity of the nativity one step further. More than 700 pounds of sand were brought into St Peter’s Square in lorries for a chosen group of artists to create a beautiful 52 foot representation of the nativity scene – in sand. Pope Francis commenting on the symbolism is quoted as saying, “The sand recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God showed Himself at the birth of Jesus, in the precariousness of Bethlehem.” This is the unspoken message of their 2018 nativity scene.

It takes humility to embrace simplicity. Jesus chose to humble Himself to a level beyond our ability to humanly comprehend. From the Throne of Heaven he made the decision of love to become a baby in a manger in Roman-era Israel. His was outrageous humility! When we are proud – where we are proud – it is impossible to be simple. Pride by nature needs to exalt itself and seeks to impress by its accumulations.

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Nativity Sculpture in Sand at the Vatican 2018

It also takes trust to embrace simplicity. Jesus had to trust His Father in order to become that baby. He also had to trust His Father as He hung on the cross. On both occasions He stepped into trust that His Abba would come through for Him, would watch over Him and never let Him down. He was no longer in control. Simplicity demands that we stop trying to control everything and everyone, and rest in the Love by which we are held.

The first church was known by its lifestyle of simplicity of heart [Acts 2:46]. The Apostle Paul’s testimony of His team’s conduct was that they had conducted themselves in simplicity and godly sincerity [2 Cor. 1:12]. And writing to the same church again in chapter 11, verse 3, he expresses his deep concern that the same serpent that had deceived Eve was continuing his fraudulent schemes and beguiling them from a life of simple devotion to Christ. Sometimes spiritual warfare comes to us in the form of clutter, distractions, and deceitful feelings that we have to occupy ourselves with any number of seemingly important enterprises. There is always a battle on against divine simplicity.

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In the simple we hear Him; that ‘still small voice’. Elijah was unable to engage with God in the blast of the fire, the swirling of the winds, or the noise of the earthquake. He had to pass through these to the place of simple stillness.

Those who managed to find the manger in Bethlehem found the Messiah. Those who stooped to enter the cave, met with the Saviour. In locating the place of heavenly simplicity, they found hidden treasure.

As we again approach Christmas, it’s important for us to dial down on the clutter, the noise, and the assumed demands. Let’s focus in on the Babe in the manger – the simply powerful and powerfully simple birth of the Man from Heaven. Stop to savour ordinary moments, quiet times, and that Still Small Voice. Reflect again on Love come down to us. And somewhere as you savour it – Him – ask Him to help you embrace His simplicity in your life.

In Psalm 131 David testifies how he has simplified his posture from being overly concerned with too many things, to resting in God as a young child would on its mother’s lap. He has chosen to resist pride and arrogance. He has decided to stop looking at others with contempt and judgement. He has quietened his mind and heart, and focused on one thing – the simple child-parent relationship he has with God. From this place hope has risen in his life. He is able to encourage others to hope, because he has found the simple place where it grows, and where fear and anxiety die.

Jesus, for His whole life, lived from this same stance, beginning with the manger. And wherever He went hope grew. Love sprung forth. And faith began to return. Simple.

Let’s find the tender simplicity of His heart this Christmas as we find Him off the beaten track lying in the manger.

Wes Boxall

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BATTLE OF SEASONS

I believe we are in a seriously challenging season-change. What we see in the natural world right now – a kind-of battle between winter and spring as to which remains – is a reflection of something much deeper and far more powerful which is going on globally in the spiritual realm.

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At times of pressure – or unclear season change – where we can’t see what is yet to happen, it is easy to make Esau-type decisions. We react emotionally out of our limited grasp on what is going on, and we sacrifice the important for the unimportant; the long-term for the short-term pain relief; our birthright for [what we perceive are our] current ‘rights’.

Things to come are often shrouded by mist. Some of the methods of perception which we learned in a previous season, don’t seem to work the same. Our past experiences don’t provide enough wisdom for the next stage. It’s a Joshua 3 situation. The waters are in flood and threaten to sweep us away. Friends and family are trudging through mud. There’s a lot of noise, and a lot of fear around. And the promises of the new look like they are about to drown.

But God says He has earmarked this very time and place as a crossing-over point! And He says that we haven’t been this way before, so we can’t expect to rely on our experiences so far. Instead we must position ourselves so that we can see where He is moving and what He is doing next.

Our experience of the outward shifts are often dependent on corresponding inward shifts. Our mindsets have to change. Our stubbornness has to go to the cross. Our, “I did it my way” – which is lawlessness – and causes love to grow cold – has to yield to HIS way, which actually might be coming to us wrapped up in “someone else’s way”. We go lower, to go higher. We stop for the one. We bless and give even if it hurts to do so. We ‘bind the sacrifice with cords to the altar’ so that it – I – can’t get off. Ultimately the fire will come.

In House of Prayer today we prayed that we wouldn’t make decisions now which would take us out of line, down the line. I so need this myself.

So much has yet to break open. Season shifts sound great when you prophesy them, but as they work out in you it can be a different story! Let’s ask for grace to stay in a place of steadfastness. Like the watchman, keep your eyes on the glimmers of morning sunrise. God hasn’t forgotten you, but He’s going deeper in your heart, so that you can carry more of Him in the season ahead. He fully intends your crossing over – your shift – your season change.

Wes

MY ROAD TO LIFE

A few weeks ago Ian brought us a passage that seems relevent now:

MY ROAD TO LIFE

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a referee waiting to blow the whistle…. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him.

But later on when I met Christ it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was on the back helping me pedal.

I don’t know just when it was that He suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since.

When I had control, I went the ways I know. It was rather boring, and predictable… It was always the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places at breakneck speeds, it was all I could do to hang on!

Even though it looked like madness, He said, ‘Keep Pedalling!” I worried and was anxious and asked, ‘Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and slowly I began to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life and entered in the adventure. And when I’d say, ‘I’m scared,” He’d lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me gifts to take on my journey.

And when we were off again. He said, ‘Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.” so I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him at first, in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it; but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, knows how to jump to clear high rocks, knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ!