5. The Setting

The Great Production Meditations No.5: The Setting

Gen 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

We have been having our attention focused on the back-story, first to Abraham and David (who appears significantly later) but then right back to Adam to focus on humanity. Jesus has ties to David and Abraham but also wants us to observe his humanity, for he came in the same form with the same experiences as us.

The background (or Prologue) to the Abraham story started in Eden and it is important to see this background. It’s a good background, a wonderful background of a beautiful place, a beautiful existence – with a purpose – to look after what God had given them, perhaps an original blueprint of what we will find in heaven in eternity, the new heaven and the new earth. It was both God’s starting point and God’s end-game for us. It’s the memory and the hope, it’s what the play is all about. Hold on to that memory and that hope, as you play your part today.

So for a moment as two figures appear on stage with a backdrop of a beautiful tropical landscape, let’s look over our shoulders, so to speak, to anchor the past that reveals something of what will yet come in the future. Personally, I find that when I go back to the first three chapters of Genesis, I find my focus being on chapter 3 and the Fall, but when we do that, we can miss the wonder of what is there and what God feels about us.

It is a perfect environment that He provides and at some time in history the Lord acts so that there are two figures, male and female, who are there in that location in Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization, relating to Him. Do you see the three significant things mentioned there? First, God acts so this comes about. Whether modern historians have got it right or wrong will be shown one day but the world has come into being in stages (Gen 1) by the purposeful direction of God. It is not an accident, and it didn’t come about by physical, chemical, or atomic forces alone from inert ‘matter’ that a) cannot come from absolutely nothing and b) cannot start changing on its own. Second, they are male & female – something evolutionists make leaps of faith over but which is impossible without God, and they are made to complement one another. Third, they are in a beautiful environment. There may be more hostile environments in the world, but theirs is perfect. Everything about this speaks of a caring God, a God who is love and who has worked to give us everything we need to enjoy one another, enjoy this world, and enjoy Him. That was the plan in the loving heart of God;, that is the starting point behind the Nativity accounts, perfection! If only there hadn’t been free will! 

4. The Beginning

The Great Production Meditations No.4: The Beginning

Lk 3:23-38 He was the son…. of Adam, the son of God”. 

In the dark, as we have sat in anticipation the voice had come, This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Now there is a slight pause and then we hear,He was the son…. of Adam, the son of God,” and those of us who know our Bibles think, “That’s not Matthew,” and we realise the announcer has changed to that other genealogy in Luke.

Luke requires us to go right back to the very beginning to make the point that the family tree of Jesus is ‘human’ which, yes, is all about relationships. It’s a strange thing, that, that we so much take for granted, that we are not alone on this planet, there are billions of others and we are made for relationships, but how they often go wrong when they cross boundaries or just argue about boundaries.  

How we are sometimes like a bunch of little children arguing over ‘what is mine’. And yet, even when we are forced to work together, whether it be over vaccinating against a pandemic or taking steps to curb an environment running out of control, we still squabble, we still exhibit self-concern. We may come together to talk about the environment but the moment we talk about bringing change to reduce carbon, to reduce air pollution, suddenly self-concerns pop up all over the place, recently from those countries who hear talk of reducing their oil or coal or beef! Suddenly the talk becomes very defensive and we, as a human race don’t show up very well.

The setting of the ‘play’ that is about to unfold is the human race and how it finds itself, not an accident, but the creation of God for the purpose of creating ‘children of God’ (Jn 1:12,13) who will one day live with Him in eternity. But a lot has to happen before we get there. It is a play with many Acts (and scenes within the Acts) and many players and, as it is still being played out, we find that it is now our time to be on the stage. Step forth and speak to the world your script.

Yes, that is the truth, that we are indeed each a player who has a part in this ongoing ‘play’, a part that can impact the rest of it. As a recent speaker at a TED Conference declared, we may make lots of excuses or reasons why it is all too big for me to change it, but we can change what is on the inside, how we think and then, subsequently, how we can affect the little area around us that is ‘my life’. Jesus sought to focus us on his Father, because everything flows from this foundational relationship, we will be what we will be depending on how we relate to God the Father. If we draw close, we will catch His heart and flow with it. If we hold Him at a distance, we will feel we are lords of our little worlds and stray from His plan. May that not be.

3. The Players

The Great Production Meditations No.3: The Players

Mt 1:1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”

So here we are imagining we are in a theatre just waiting as the curtains draw back for the big Advent production to start. We forgot to read the program before it started so let’s try to pretend we don’t know what it is about and who the players are. We started to touch on them already but as each one appears we’ll try and view them through new eyes.

The most obvious thing of such a production is that the ‘play’ is made up of players, everyone is important, it’s about who they are and what they portray. When you look up a film being advertised on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Sky or whoever else you get your entertainment from, you look to see who is in it and if a familiar name pops up, you go for it.

But this play is all about Jesus, and we think we know all about him, but the script demands we go back to beginnings so that the human Jesus is seen in the context of a family tree – a cast beginning with Abraham and going through David. There were lots of others, but these two are particularly important. The nativity didn’t ‘just happen’ it was planned long ago, actually even before the world began. In the human picture it starts with the ‘friend of God’, Abraham (2 Chron 20:7) who, in the opening Act suggests we can all become Jesus’ friends (Jn 15:14,15). A play about God, about people, about relationships, about you and me.

But as we said at the end of the first study, these named people are people with feet of clay so that, like you and me, they get it wrong sometimes, sometimes badly wrong.

Yes Abraham may have been the friend of God, the father of faith (Rom 4:16), the father of the Jewish people (Mt 3:9, Jn 8:39) and yes he may have obeyed the call of God and left his home (Gen 12:4) and so much more, but he didn’t do so well when it came to caring for and respecting his wife (Gen 12:12,13 & Gen 20) and distorting the truth, and later when she became impatient with God he went along with her suggestions (Gen 16:2-) with lots of bad consequences.  

David, although a mighty king who brings peace to his land, becomes an adulterer and a murderer (2 Sam 11), didn’t manage his family well so Tamar was raped (2 Sam13) and Absalom revolted against David (2 Sam 15-) and allows his pride to lead him into a wrong action (1 Chron 21:1)

So why is God happy to have His Son identify with these ‘sinners’? Because He is going to identify with all of us as he comes in human form, mingles with us, and dies for us. God doesn’t wait until we are good people, nice people, no, it was, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) There are some scary things in this ‘play’ but this isn’t one of them. 

2. The Greatest Show

The Great Production Meditations No.2: The Greatest Show

Mt 1:1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”

So it’s Advent again, Christmas is coming and we’ve probably been told how many shopping days there are to Christmas, as if that was the all-important thing – which of course it is for many – sadly. But I’ve invited you to put aside the shopping worries for a moment and come to the ‘theatre’ with me to watch the world’s greatest show, no, not ‘The Greatest Showman’ about P.T.Barnum played by Hugh Jackman with its amazing music and dance routines, no, this ‘play’ has a lot less razzmatazz, a lot less impressive display and exciting action. This ‘play’ is going to appear very low key, at least to begin with, but sit tight it’s going to get challenging. That’s what the real ‘Nativity’ does. It doesn’t do the warm fuzzy stuff of the Christmas films each year, but it presents us with the reality of God coming among us in scary ways. 

So the curtain smoothly slides back and anticipation rises as we wait to see what comes. In our production, we said yesterday, it starts with the declaration of our starter verse. We are about to witness history being rolled out, origins explained, back-history presented before we get to the scary parts.

The ‘play’ is still being rolled out because the important thing about it, is that it is founded in ongoing history. That’s why the Bible is so important; it takes us back in history to show us that, not only was it true of the Nativity, but it’s also true today, what we are today is because of what has gone on in the past. So we need to be regular readers of both Old and New Testaments because both are vital to understand the story. But it may have been a play, a story, that had its beginning far in the past, but it continues today as the Holy Spirit directs each ‘family-member-player’ who has stepped up onto God’s stage, you and me.

I wonder if you have ever considered ‘life’ like that? We are players with a part to play, except the major difference between life and a stage production is that the part YOU play is to be the real you. The trouble is that many of us don’t know who the real ‘me’ is, hence we get conned by other people’s idea of what we ‘should’ be. So we ‘go to church’ or ‘go to school’ or ‘join a club’ all of which impose expectations of who and what we ought to be, not who God has made me to be? 

Oh yes, in a previous series recently we considered the factors that go to making us who we are – genes, upbringing, the local culture and family history, but also God intervening oh so quietly to help us become the people only He can see we can become; that’s the real me. So the real Son of God is going to come from heaven but disguised in human form, and heralded by history – David, Abraham etc. Watch.

1. Take your Seat

The Great Production Meditations No.1: Take your Seat

Mt 1:1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  In this month of Advent, to focus us on the most important event of the Christian calendar (together with Easter) I want us to see the events leading up to and forming the Nativity as ‘God’s Play’ and observe some of the characters in it. 

The truth is that you and I are players in the greatest ongoing drama the world has ever known – the drama of redemption. We may not feel it but each of us has a part to play in it. TODAY is thus significant. Play your part well!

So, sit back in your seat in the auditorium as the lights dim, silence falls over the audience and everyone is alert to what will happen next. If you bought a programme or were given one, you perhaps had a chance to glance at what was coming, but let’s suppose you came in, in a rush, and haven’t had the chance to peruse it yet. You’re here because someone else recommended it, but you really don’t know what to expect. But that’s the problem with Advent, with Christmas, we do know what is coming, we’ve heard it so many times and, depending on the sort of person you are, you either love Christmas or hate it, long for it to come or long for it to be over. You’ve been here, got the Christmas tee-shirt a dozen times or more, so can’t we perhaps give all this a miss this year? Well, unfortunately you’ve got me and I have always felt there was something special about this time of the year and, no, it’s not all the Christmas films Hollywood has pumped out, with the shopping for the Christmas tree (to be cut down) or the Christmas cookies which appear in every one – and the mistletoe to be kissed under! No, it is the incredible wonder of the coming of the Christ child, and I think God must agree for there are more miracles and angels in the passages about his coming than anywhere else in the Bible. So if you’re going to stay with me over this month, what can we do to see it through fresh eyes? I bring to you the Christmas ‘play’, the Christmas ‘presentation’ that God laid on. So the lights go down and the curtains magically draw back on a dark empty stage and a voice comes out of the air, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham” No, this isn’t going to start with a manger or a crib, this starts way back in history, this baby has history, this baby is proud of his family tree, which is strange really because it is a tree of people who, yes, did get it right, but also often got it wrong. David? Abraham? Yes, men of faith but also men with massive feet of clay. Yes, this is our family, we can feel at home, these are men like us. Hmmm….   

30. Stand Firm

‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.30: Stand Firm

Eph 6:13 “you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

And so we arrive at the final consideration of this series that has been looking at various facets of how life works, the life we reminded ourselves in the previous study, that is designed by God, and which doesn’t work properly when we abandon His design.

‘Putting on the whole armour of God’ was Paul’s way of saying, make sure you have everything that God has provided so you can cope with the tough times. Jesus said coping with the tough times came by obeying his words (Mt 7:24). Both were saying that learning how life works and learning how to handle it, is pretty obvious. It is God’s world so live in it His way and with His resources.

That’s not a bad motto to stick on the fridge!  We need these reminders when times are dark and uncertain AND when they’re going well. We need to remind ourselves of these two things, we need to learn to stand strong in BOTH situations.

It perhaps seems fairly obvious that we need to talk about standing firm in the face of the upsets of life when it doesn’t seem to be working properly (such as during the Covid Pandemic) and we may feel down. In those times we speak about taking hold of the grace of God to cope with the negatives, with the darkness around us. But those negatives may also include problems coping with other people, especially when they are speaking against us or specifically acting against us, what we call persecution. Again the grace of God is needed to cope with it in a Christlike manner (see Mt 5:44).

But then there is the time when everything is going well, we are prosperous, feeling strong and healthy, the weather is good, the business is prospering, and the kids are doing well at school! i.e. life is good! Deut 8:10-18 is a most significant warning to Israel before they entered the Promised Land that basically could be summed up, “When you get in the land and are prosperous and all is going well, don’t become complacent and forget the Lord but remember all this is a gift from Him.” I have been able to watch a part of my family that the Lord has blessed with a good job that brings a big income and they live in a part of the world that has a great climate much of the year and their biggest danger is complacency, the danger of taking everything (that IS good!) for granted and failing to be thankful. So there we are in the potentially wonderful world, on a bad day struggling with the aspects of a fallen world, and on a good day struggling not to be ungrateful and complacent. Yes, life is a balancing act, but His grace IS there to help us – always! Enjoy the wonder.

29. Harmonising with God

‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.29: Harmonising with God

Isa 28:24 “When a farmer ploughs for planting, does he plough continually?” 

This series has been about various aspects of how life works. Back in Study No.25 I briefly mentioned this fact of having to work within the way the world works and before we come to the end, we need to anchor that thought a little more for it is an important one.

We started out this series with what many might have thought was almost too obvious to think about – that this world is the end product of God’s creative work, but within that there is something vitally important.  But, yes, like that which went before it, has to be accepted by faith, but IS critically important – that this world is designed by God to work in a particular way and we ignore that at our peril, not because it will upset God but because our lives simply won’t ‘work’ properly and they will break down or go wrong.

Isa 28:24-29 is a delightful picture of orderliness in the life of a farmer, that includes, “His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” (v.26) and ends, “All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.” i.e. that’s how God has wonderfully designed this amazing world to work. The wise pay attention to these things, the foolish think they can live exactly how they like, but unfortunately that is often contrary to The Design and causes only harm and hurt and destruction. Let’s be learners and be wise.

There are some very obvious examples. The one I use most because it is so obvious, is that if you eat too much you become obese and obesity carries with it a whole raft of health problems, some of which are life-threatening. The same is true of excessive use of alcohol and drugs generally.

It is equally true of what we might call promiscuous sex. In this latter point, the Bible records, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24) Notice the singular in identity and meaning. Polygamy occurred in the Old Testament but wherever it did, it caused problems. One man plus one woman was God’s equation for success in continuing the human race. We are seeing this ignored in a variety of ways and the enemy has been going to great lengths to muddy the waters and the distinctives of God’s design. Disregarding God AND His design reaps so much hurt and pain and confusion. As an old song used to go, “Oh when will they ever learn?” Sadly, as the enemy has been working to take down the walls of distinction between believer and unbelievers, these things are even seen in the church. The answer is that we return to being ‘believers’, not merely in word but in action.

28. Self-Control

‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.28: Self Control

Prov 10:13 “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning.”

We’ve just been considering the potential for letting relationships deteriorate with word or deed but again, something very obvious here is that we can choose to bite back an angry response to a negative word, we can choose to not let the conversation deteriorate. As Solomon said, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Prov 15:1) or as the Amplified version helpfully expands it, “A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, but harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger.”

The word ‘lips’ occurs 37 times in Proverbs. Solomon clearly thought speech was so important. He was right. Further considering our individual uniqueness, you learn much about a person, what they are like, by their speech, each person different. Our words, says Solomon, reveals our wisdom – or lack of it (Prov 14:3) Our words reveal us, and our words have consequences, good (Prov 12:14) or bad (Prov 16:27). Jesus said, “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Mt 15:18) i.e. what we’re like on the inside is revealed through the mouth. What do you and I reveal I wonder?

But there is something else here to be taken hold of, the idea of self-control. We may think this is easy to understand but a dictionary describes it as, “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behaviour, especially in difficult situations.” Another one adds to that, “in the face of temptations and impulses.” Interesting. Difficult situations… temptations and impulses. The natural impulse on being verbally attacked, say, is to retaliate with equally hostile words but Solomon said that hostile words only go to stir up even more the anger that caused that offence to you. When I look back on my life, I think some of my greatest failures have been to just not have the right words to calm people down, or the right words to restrain them. Perhaps I lacked the wisdom or grace or simply self-control to walk away. Or maybe the words, “I’m sorry,” might be appropriate either to express our own shortcoming whether it was by expressing ourselves badly or not being able to help them. It seems that sometimes Jesus just went silent. Maybe on occasion that might be our best path until the other person has had time to calm down and reflect on their bad responses. To ponder on Prov 16:32 & 25:28 is a little mind stretching. Intriguingly Paul spoke about it in the context of salvation (Acts 24:25) and of course it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) AND a requirement for leadership (1 Tim 3:2), for older men (Titus 2:2), for wives (2:5), & young men (2:6), all of us (2:12)! Wow! 

27. Coping with Differences

‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.27: Coping with Differences

Gen 4:7 “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

We need to rerun some of the things we covered in the last study because perhaps we didn’t take in the full import of some of them, things that can make or break life. We concluded with the thought of Joseph being spoilt by his father which led to jealousy in his brothers which in turn led on to them selling him into slavery. Yes, it all worked out very well in the end but that neither excuses their attitudes and actions nor makes them good in any way.

Our starter verse reminds us of the other couple of brothers we mentioned, Cain and Abel, and is God warning Cain to make sure he had a right attitude towards his brother Abel, otherwise there would be consequences that would be bad. They were very different and Cain wasn’t handling those differences very well and God saw that if he didn’t get a hold on it, there would be uncontrollable consequences that would become destructive consequences. It’s just how life works, how we work, and we ignore it at our peril.

Now perhaps there are two areas with which to concern ourselves before we move on – how we handle today and how we pick up broken threads of yesterday. I have often wondered what heaven will be like and I am assuming we will see everyone we knew who gets there, maybe not in the form they are here (see 1 Cor 15:42-44) but nevertheless in recognisable form – and we stand with them before Jesus. How do you think we will feel if we went to heaven with unresolved divisions or disputes still festering?

Jesus gave a very specific command: Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23,24) The Message version puts it, If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” We might say, if you go to church with an unresolved issue (especially with a family member), turn your car around and go and find them and seek to put it right. Now surely this should apply to present-day grudges OR past unresolved issues. As children of God, we are called to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9). It will almost certainly need God’s help and a lot of grace, but He is there just waiting to go with you. Be blessed, be a blessing. 

26. Different

‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.26: Different

Gen 27:11 “my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin.”

So we continue this pilgrimage seeking out and reminding ourselves how this world works, what makes us what we are, and what we could be, and reasons why, sometimes, we fall short. But there is yet another factor in how to live successfully and I hope we’ll see it in the light of this somewhat strange verse above.

We used to joke about this verse being a fun source for a sermon, but it does point out an important fact: we are all different. At birth we are the product of the genes of our parents but that doesn’t stop us being different from brothers or sisters. That sometimes is very clear in outward appearance, sometimes in personal traits, but in respect of the latter it is always only a propensity, an inclination. We do NOT have to follow the same path as our parents, we are NOT locked in by our genes, we can choose. It may need God’s help but we can walk a uniquely individual path. Our parents give us the basic building blocks, but we can choose (with God’s help) how we will respond with them.

Now Esau and Jacob are a good illustration of this. They were twins but clearly not identical twins as the verse shows. There was a similarity which we all have – they showed sinful traits. Jacob was all out for himself and didn’t bother how he achieved that. Esau was a more physically orientated young man who liked outdoor work, liked his food and didn’t care an iota about his background, didn’t care that he came from a family tree that had a big God-connection. Esau was ‘daddy’s boy’ Jacob the favourite of his mother. But there was other critical difference between the two boys – God knew their potential, knew that Esau would continue to despise his birth-right but that, with a little bit of moulding, Jacob could become a great man of God.

Another interesting couple are Mary and Martha and we see their difference in Lk 10:38-42 and also in the way they responded to Jesus at the death of their brother Lazarus (Jn 11:20-). They are just good examples of how sisters can be different, but to catch a warning of how differences can be a source of contention we have to go to the beginning with Cain & Abel (Gen 4). They had different roles ‘on the farm’ and clearly had different outlooks in respect of God. This led to Cain being jealous over Abel and, despite a warning from God, led to him murdering his brother. How little things can lead to big consequences. But differences are thing that are better relished, being thankful to God that we are who we are, like we are – different. But here is a danger zone for parents who can show favouritism. Jacob and his son Joseph is the classic example (Gen 37:3), leading to hostility from his brothers and a whole stream of consequences. Warnings!