Welcoming Jesus

Last week, we looked at how Jesus cleansing the temple can be a metaphor for making our church more accessible to those who are unchurched.  This week, it’s personal!

You will of course be familiar with the idea found in 1 Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  The immediate context of this teaching is the licentious lifestyle of some of the Corinthian believers, but the wider context is of our union with Christ who dwells in us and in partnership with us by the power of the Holy Spirit – something we’ve blogged about before.

In physical terms, the temple is the place for worship and witness as we declare the glory of God to an audience visible and invisible who do not worship him.  So to cleanse the temple is to make sure that it is fit for that awesome purpose, and contains no impediments or distractions to its epic task.

So as we approach the Christmas season and plan to welcome Jesus into our cribs, nativities and our very lives, what does it look like to allow him to clean up our lives?

Physically – this is probably not the right time of year to be recommending a detox, but we do need to remember to keep ourselves physically in shape.  As a general practice, eating fresh healthy food and minimising our consumption of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and –sorry! – chocolate) is part of keeping ourselves physically healthy and maintaining resilience).  Do any of these things cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13)?  Do we eat and drink forthe glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Mentally – for some of us, watching a bit of rubbish tv or playing a computer game is an effective way of winding down and de-stressing.  But how easily we can become addicted to our favourite soap opera, youtube, or scrolling through Facebook.  Those apparently harmless activities can easily steal productive time from us.  How can we start to reclaim those idle moments and make the best use of our time (Ephsians 5:6)?

Spiritually – what are the things in our lives that are ‘strongholds’?  Places that are not yet surrendered to Jesus and are holding out in opposition to his rule?  These can be the things that cause us to be ashamed of ourselves and lack confidence in our identity in Christ, and can also be the things which others see and think to themselves “How can he call himself a Christian when he is like that?”  They could be a quick temper, a gosspiping tongue or a greed for fame, power and wealth.  What does it mean to us to kneel in obedience and hand over the keys to him?

So in the midst of this busy season, with all its focus on services, parties, presents, family and holiday activities, I invite you to set aside an hour to make the really important preparations.  Sit somewhere quiet and invite Jesus into the temple which is you.  Ask him to overturn the tables and chase out the traders.  We cannot do it ourselves – we have tried and tired – but when he looks us in the eye and says “I don’t think that should be in here” we have both motivation and authority to clean up our act.

Let’s welcome Jesus into a place which he can truly make his home this Christmas.  Not a stable, but a heart.

I am a leaf on the wind… watch how I soar!

Photo by Jamie Harris from FreeImages

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the colours of leaves turn to red, gold and brown, creating a magnificent kaleidoscope across the woodlands.  For many of us it is our favourite time of year, as we admire the glorious views and kick our way through piles of dry fallen leaves.  On a clear day, with a light breeze, it is possible to see a leaf wafting through the air and be amazed at its lightness and agility.

Although the title of this week’s blog, borrowed from Joss Whedon’s epic sci-fi film Serenity, sounds more Zen than Christian, it mirrors Jesus’ inscrutable saying in John 3:8 – The wind blows where it wills: you hear the sound of  it, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going.  It’s like that with those who are born of the Spirit.

Those of us who are born of the Spirit are like leaves on the wind.  Others don’t understand our attitudes and motivations, or our hope for the future.  Often we may feel like we don’t know where we’re going but think we are being driven along by the tide of circumstances, though in fact we are being borne along in the arms of the Spirit.  As we whirl through life’s ups and downs we may feel more confused than guided.  Yet the Spirit knows where he is taking us.

Autumn, however, always comes to an ignominious end, with those gloriously wafted leaves lying decomposing in a sodden, driven heap underneath a hedge somewhere.  How can we avoid that happening in our lives?

We need to be light.  Gravity pulls the leaves to the ground, but the lighter they are, the longer they seem to float.  Three things make a leaf heavy: its own nutrients, rain, and dirt.

A leaf that is weighed down by the moisture and sugars that it has been producing all summer is unnecessarily heavy.  If it has been untimely ripped from its tree by strong winds it will not have had the chance to return all that goodness to the tree, and become a light hollow shell.  John the Baptist said ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30) and a little later Jesus said ‘Only the Spirit gives life; human strength can achieve nothing ’ (John 6:63).  We must make less and less of our passions and desires, so that Christ can become more in us.

Rain symbolises life’s circumstances.  Heavy rain can drive leaves from the trees.  Soggy leaves don’t soar.  Life’s hardships can make us cynical, and cause us to focus on the challenges we face rather than the glorious creator God who is with us in the midst of them.  When this happens, we need to remind ourselves that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

The dirt of being part of this fallen world rubs off onto us on a daily basis as we go through life.  What we see and hear around us affects us, can lure us into compromise.  We can become attuned to ungodly attitudes and values around us.  At times like these we need to come back to Jesus to be made clean, and remember that we are called to be holy, just as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).

In addition to making sure we are as light as possible, we need to become attuned to the Holy Spirit in our lives, to be able to listen to the still, small voice, and understand where we are being taken so that we don’t fight it, but let go of ourselves and trust in God’s tender mercy.  Only then will we be truly able to soar in the Spirit.