It’s not my country, so he was never my president, but that’s the name of my God and Saviour unfurled on a banner in the middle of that mess, so pardon me a few words.
Yesterday was Epiphany, which basically means ‘appearing’. We remember that God has appeared in Jesus Christ, and the wise men travelled from afar to see him.
And despite the best intentions of a power-hungry ruler, when those dignitaries arrived to see the helpless Jesus (perhaps now just a couple of years old), they did something staggering. They bowed down and worshipped. They had seen the true king, and he was gentle and lowly.
I hope you can see it’s a world away from the sickening scene of crosses next to nooses on Capitol Hill. I hope you can see that, yes, ‘Jesus saves’, but he ain’t in the business of saving nationalistic empires. Or fuelling hatred and propping up ego. Or putting up with systemic racism in exchange for power.
In fact, he appeared to stoop and ‘save’ precisely because of all this – and more besides.
Because, if we’re honest, we can all be like Herod. We do that thing where we shape ‘god’ into our own image. Our own agendas and manifestos and wants. We cling onto power when really we should be on our knees before Him in worship.
So if we’re tempted to claim his name, first try following him. Follow him as he told his friend to put his sword away and then brought healing in its wake. Follow him as he showed dignity to each life that he created. Follow him as he climbed a hill to lay his power down.
As the Scripture says, ‘he came not to be served by to serve – and to give his life as a ransom for many’.
Yes, with a crown of thorns and a throne of grace, thank God that this Jesus saves.
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Let me begin like this: if you’re a Christian with kids, then Meals with Jesus is an absolute treasure-chest.
Simply put, the book is a set of 34 daily devotions for families to use together, based around nine meals Jesus shared with people in Luke’s gospel. The book suggests they could be used during Lent (hence the January release), doing one a day and not including weekends, or alternatively they could be done four a week, over the course of nine weeks, at any time of the year.
But what you really need to know is that these devotions are so simple and so accessible, whilst also being fun, imaginative and spiritually engaging. As Ed says, ‘Come and have a meal with Jesus’, and that’s evidently the aim:
‘With these studies your family will have the chance to look Jesus in the eye, to ask their deepest questions and to hear him speaking to them.’
If you’re familiar with Ed’s teaching, you may become too familiar to miss the wonder of it, but it struck me afresh flicking through Meals with Jesus. It truly seeks to encourage a heart-encounter with God. Rather than just giving simplistic action-points or moralism, it seeks to hold out Christ to the hearts of kids, teens and adults alike.
Flat-pack Family Devotions
By the way, if you’ve not come across Faith in Kids (of which Ed Drew is the Director), it’s arguably the Christian organisation we are most grateful for as a family after the last nine months of COVID-life! Ed’s family Bible-times on Facebook Live have been a real gift, but alongside those, the FiK podcast for parents, their creative ‘God with Us’ Christmas resource packs, and the FiK Sunday School lessons, have all really blessed both us as a family and myself as a church leader, throughout this strange season.
And in Meals with Jesus, Ed has crafted each daily devotion so that they follow a similar, replicable format. Whether you have a couple of minutes to prayerfully read through the devotion in advance, or whether you just have to launch into one ‘on the hoof’, essentially you can’t really go wrong. He tells you what you need to say, what you could pray, what you’re to read from the Bible, and what questions you’re to ask (with different options depending on the age group). As Randall Goodgame’s commendation puts it, Meals with Jesus has ‘done the heavy lifting’ for you.
But as I said, it’s not just straight-forward and user-friendly, it’s lots of fun, to the point, and spiritually perceptive. One of the elements I really liked is that there’s a couple of questions for ‘everyone’ each day, and then one question for each age group (3-4’s, 5-7’s, over 7’s, teens, and ‘Something more for adults’). We’ve enjoyed going round the table/bedroom and asking everyone their question, including the grown-ups. In fact, it’s quite fun to get the kids to ask the grown-ups their question and then have them rate your answer!
There’s also a wonderful ‘Top Tips’ appendix which is just so delightfully realistic. Ed is a dad of three and knows that as families ‘many of us are clinging on to sanity, joy, peace, hope or faith by our fingernails’. But he encourages parents to ‘set an expectation that this time together will be the highlight of the day’, which makes perfect sense yet how often do we even consider that? And then this gem: ‘remember, there is huge value in your children seeing their parents answering questions from the Bible, talking about their faith, showing that they don’t have all the answers and praying’. Again, so wise and obvious once you say it, but so easy to lose sight of.
So, if the idea of having a ‘family devotion’ or ‘Bible time’ terrifies you, whether from past experience or no experience, or if you feel you’re stuck in a rut or just need a breath of fresh air, Meals with Jesus is well worth getting hold of and giving a go. As Ed says, ‘One day, your children will thank you!’
You can pick up a copy of Meals with Jesus for just over a fiver from the publisher here.
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review.
No surprises if we feel rather glad to see the back of last year. 2020’s been plenty. Disorientating. Hard. Relentless. Sure, there have been unexpected blessings to give thanks for, but we grieve the life and lives that have been lost.
And is it me, or does the fact that it’s been such a tough year only increase the pressure to make the next 365 days altogether different? Of course, we all welcome a fresh start. And there’s some great gags about lowering our expectations for 2021. Apparently there’s some great odds for an alien invasion and gravity turning itself off…
But the reality is I’ve often found New Years Day slightly overwhelming. So much positivity and hype, yet part of me wakes up on 1/1 feeling unsure. Do you know that feeling when you’ve planned some epic hike, pulled into the car park, put on your boots & rucksack, and then find yourself looking up… I can just about glimpse parts of a path in the distance, leading over towering craggy peaks and into long tiring valleys. A new year? I’m not even sure I’ve caught my breath from the last one.
But where is our Hope going forward? The dawning of 2021? The turn of a calendar? The prospect of a ‘new me’? I love a good sunrise and I’d love it to be that simple. But despite the Counting Crows song, rolling a dice and hoping the next twelve months will be ‘better than the last’ seems a recipe for disappointment.
So here’s a thought. At the start of the Christmas story, a bloke called Zechariah says that, ‘Because of God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace‘ (Luke 1:78-79). In other words, we want a fresh start, a new year, but God gives us Jesus. As Eric Geiger puts it, ‘He is our dawn‘.
What will breathe life into this weak and weary heart? The warming rays of the love of a Saviour who goes before me, up every steep mountain and through every dark winding valley. And my weakness and weariness are not limiting factors but the terms of the deal, as he works in me to make much of His grace. Indeed, lining up behind him, little by little, actually I find begin to change. My drooping hands and buckling knees are lifted by the One who pioneered a way through this creaking and often cruel world. All the way to the darkness of a cross and the dawn of an empty tomb. Yes, he rallies my faint & fearing heart, giving me a selfless confidence as I stare into the unknowns of 2021.
More than self-confidence, ambition, and a fresh diary, what I need is to stick close to Jesus. So I join his dawn chorus: ‘His love endures forever‘. Yes, he is strong and kind.