Christmas Joy

November 29, 2010

I wonder how many of you own a Christmas compilation album? You’ll find shelves stocked with them everywhere during the festive season, but despite the many different CDs available, they generally all have the same songs on them. They’ll all feature ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ by Slade and other cheery, upbeat songs that get you in the mood for a party.

Not many of them will feature ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s as much about Christmas as Noddy Holder’s hit but it doesn’t get a great deal of airplay. It begins with the lines “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace” – what’s not Christmasy about that?

But Joni goes on to sing “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”. ‘River’ is all about wanting to escape the pain of celebrating Christmas alone after a relationship has ended.  Though everyone around her is “singing songs of joy and peace”, Joni mournfully sings of how lonely and empty she feels.

I wonder how many people feel that way as we approach this Christmas? For most people it is a time spent with friends and family, going to parties, receiving presents and generally enjoying themselves, but there are those for whom Christmas holds no enjoyment. On December 25th this year there will be many people sitting alone, with no family coming to visit them, no friends to celebrate with, no presents to unwrap and no turkey to enjoy. Perhaps you know some of them; the grieving  widow, the orphan, the man who’s lost his job, the young single mum. Do we expect the pain of life to magically disappear because it’s a special time of year?

I’m sure those people who find Christmas a difficult time look at those who have it all – the tree, the lights, the mountains of presents, the family gatherings, the parties, all those things we picture when we think of Christmas – and wish they could have that life. It must be tempting to think that if they had all that, then they’d be happy, then they’d rejoice that December was finally here.

Though there certainly is much pleasure to be had from a Christmas with all the trimmings, that isn’t where the Bible tells us we should find our joy. In fact, if our Christmas lacks one vital component, then it doesn’t matter how we spend the festive season, any temporary happiness we find will soon give way to emptiness.

In Luke chapter 2, we read the words the shepherds heard when the very first Christmas was announced.

 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

There may not be any mention of turkey, snowmen or Santa Claus, but nevertheless we are invited to a great celebration. Jesus has been born! The Saviour has come! Here is the source of all our joy. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has come to rescue us from our sin. What better reason to celebrate could there be? We can try all we like to find that joy in other things, but ultimately it’s like planning a birthday party for someone and then forgetting to invite them – it doesn’t matter how great the party is, it’s not serving its purpose.

You may have seen the story on the news a few months ago about the miners trapped underground in Chile. At the time the story broke it was estimated that the men would be freed around Christmas time. I wonder, if those men could choose between being rescued from their underground prison and celebrating their freedom on the surface, or having their families sent down to them with a Christmas tree and a turkey and beautiful gift-wrapped presents so they could have a Christmas party underground, which would they choose? How much more joyful would their celebrations be on the surface than those with all the trimmings in captivity?

The angel says that this good news of great joy isn’t reserved for those who can celebrate in style. The angel declares that this joy is for all people! There are many stories in the gospels about Jesus spending time with the less fortunate of society, and the true joy of Christmas is no different. The joy the angel talks about comes from knowing Christ as our Saviour. We celebrate his birth because without it, there would be no hope for mankind. The invitation to rejoice at his birth is extended to all, whether you celebrate in a big house with family around you, or you’re alone and struggling to pay the rent. The truth is that it’s possible to have the most joyous Christmas you’ve ever had this year. You can rejoice that Jesus came to save you, that he will always be with you, and that following Him makes you part of His ever-growing family.

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Forgiveness

November 1, 2010

Channel 4 broadcast a series of programmes called “The Bible – a History” earlier this year.  Each episode was presented by a well-known figure who investigated a certain part of the Bible as a historical text. A glance at the line-up of presenters is enough to show that Channel 4 are trying to be provocative, and though I’ve not seen them all, I’m told that some instalments have been very controversial. Ann Widdecombe’s lively exchange with Stephen Fry about the Ten Commandments is now a much viewed video on youtube.

I happened to catch the programme featuring perhaps the most surprising presenter; Gerry Adams. The programme focussed on the life of Jesus, and followed Gerry Adams as he sought to find out “what Jesus means to him”.

Adams, who calls himself a ‘devout Catholic’, reveals a great deal about himself and the state of his soul during the programme. In his own words, Adams sums up his Christian experience thus “’I like the sense of there being a God, and I do take succour now from the collective comfort of being at a Mass or another religious event where you can be anonymous and individual – just a sense of community at prayer and of paying attention to that spiritual dimension which is in all of us; and I also take some succour in a private, solitary way from being able to reflect on those things”

The programme focuses on The message of Jesus’ life and a particular emphasis is placed of Jesus’ teaching with regards to forgiveness. Now why would a man like Adams be interested in forgiveness?

Gerry Adams is the President of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Party. He comes from a long line of IRA Members and supporters. Though Adams himself claims to have never been a member of the IRA, he has spent time in prison for his part in the Bloody Friday bombings in 1972, which killed 9 people and injured 130. He is a man who does not shy away from taking extreme measures.

During the programme Gerry Adams is asked whether or not he feels he has blood on his hands – and he replies by saying that the ends justified the means, so no.  Later on in the programme, as he visits what is considered to be the location of Jesus’ trial, he sees himself as more of a Barabbas than a Jesus, correcting the historian’s description of Barabbas as a terrorist by saying “some might call him a freedom fighter”.

And yet, he is obviously touched during the programme by the way Jesus lived his life. As the historians he speaks to deny the historical facts of our Saviour’s life recorded in the gospels (see earlier post, Good and angry), he seems uninterested in investigating these supposed falsehoods, because he is looking for something else. He’s interested in what Jesus did, he’s interested in what Jesus taught. He’s interested in absolution. And he’s not the only one.

Gerry Adams represents most of the population of the world. He’s guilty and he knows it. Why else would he make the statement that “One thing I always liked about Jesus was his lack of condemnation”? He may say he feels no responsibility for the things he’s done, but in his heart of hearts he knows what he’s done and knows he is guilty – just like the rest of us. He also, just like the rest of us, wants to be free of his guilt. But, and here’s where it gets tricky, he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong.  He has misunderstood how God’s forgiveness works. 

If our entry into heaven depended on our good behaviour and moral lifestyle then it would be a very lonely place.  But because bringing a sinner to true repentance and faith is an act of God, and not of man, it is possible for us to be forgiven. We can be washed clean of every sinful thing we’ve ever done. But that’s only because someone else has borne them for us, and taken the punishment for them. Had Christ not paid the price for our sin, there would be no way for a righteous God to even consider forgiving us. What’s more that forgiveness is freely offered to those who ask for it, but that is where the problem lies. In order to ask forgiveness we must first see ourselves as we really are, and that can’t happen without God’s help is removing our pride. If only Gerry Adams knew that he can be free of that guilt he feels for the things he’s done, if he could only let God show him how much he needs it.


Good and Angry

March 19, 2010

Channel 4 are currently running a series of programmes entitled ‘The Bible- a History’. I’ve managed to catch a few of the programmes and, for a number of reasons, find that they raise my blood pressure significantly (don’t worry though, Paul David Tripp says that’s ok!).

Perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is that the experts Channel 4 have chosen to use intentionally mislead the audience. In a series about the historical value of the Bible, they don’t seem to have consulted one historian who believes the Bible to be true. Those they do interview tell bare-faced lies about the Bible’s accuracy. It all makes me want to scream at the television and call everyone who works at Channel 4 an idiot (which Paul David Tripp does NOT say is ok!).

However, I need not despair, and neither should you dear reader.

There are such things as Christian Historians (which someone really should point out to Channel 4). And it just so happens that one of them, an Australian fellow by the name of John Dickson, is churning out books on this very subject like there’s no tomorrow. I recently read his book ‘The Christ Files’, which looked at all the evidence besides the Gospels that tell us that Jesus was who he said he was. 

Check out his video on the Passion for Life website, and be encouraged!


The earlybird gets the worm, or in this case, a vanilla latte

March 4, 2010

I’m sorry I’ve been so slow in getting this written, but I am here now to tell you that the 28 day challenge is officially ended and I, my dear readers…….deserve no praise whatsoever!

Looking back over my month of mornings with the LORD, I struggle to believe I did it. That is, until I remember that I didn’t. All the praise should go to the LORD. He’s the one who got me out of my bed, kept me out of bed when every fibre of my being was commanding I get back under the covers, and he created caffeine!

I’ve dinifitely learnt a thing or two from my morning quiet times, they certainly have been sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. And It’s not just me that’s had the benefit, but I’ve been able to pass it on the friends by praying for them, or texting them a helpful verse. It’s been such a blessing to share the experience with my friend Rhian too, and to have an excuse to treat ourselves to a Starbucks as a reward!

The real test of my 5 o’clock club membership is whether or not I carry it on. I’m glad to say that despite my challenge ending on Sunday, my alarm still goes off at 6:45am, and I’m still spending time with my LORD before I face the day. 

I leave you with a Psalm I read the other day that’s been really helpful to me this week; but beware, it begins with a challenge!

Psalm 34

“I will extol the LORD at all times; 
his praise will always be on my lips. 
 My soul will boast in the LORD;
       let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me;
       let us exalt his name together.
 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
       he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
       their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
       he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
       and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
       blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his saints,
       for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
       but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
 Come, my children, listen to me; 
   I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Whoever of you loves life
       and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
       and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
       seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous
       and his ears are attentive to their cry;
 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
       to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
       he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A righteous man may have many troubles,
       but the LORD delivers him from them all;
 he protects all his bones,
       not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
       the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
 The LORD redeems his servants;
       no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”

 


The earlybird almost gets eaten by a cat

February 25, 2010

I know it’s now nearly the end of week 4, but as I didn’t update you last week I will cast my mind back to give you a full progress report.

I think I prayed more during week 3 than I’ve done for a long time. Every day I was confronted with the news that a friend was suffering in some way; a sudden heart attack, a death in the family, the loss of a little baby. Such tragedies leave us feeling helpless, our words of comfort sound like empty platitudes, our gestures fall dismally short of the love needed to heal broken hearts. It was such a relief to be able to use my quiet times to bring these dear friends before the LORD, and to know that though I couldn’t help them, they were in the hands of One who could. As I read a psalm each morning the LORD brought me to verses I could text to my friends to offer encouragement and comfort. It’s also been a privilege to see God answering my prayers and upholding those folks in their sadness.  I experienced that sweet peace that we can feel when we cast our cares (and the cares of others) on Him.

I also faced a dilemma in the last week. I went away over the weekend to visit Simeon and his family, which meant a change to my routine. I found myself worrying about how I would keep my quiet times up if I was getting up at different times and if there were more people in the house. Thankfully I was reminded of Carolyn Mahaney’s wise words about our faith being in a Saviour not in a system! I had a quiet time in the morning on days when it was convenient, and enjoyed a time of prayer with Simeon on the other days.

The last morning of my visit, I had company for my quiet time. The household cat decided to join me, curling up in my lap on the bed, purring fervently as I read Psalm 18 aloud. It was lovely to stroke the cat and listen to her responding to the sound of her Creator’s words. However, a problem occurred when I came to the end of my quiet time. Rasta (the cat) had made her way down to sit on my feet whilst I prayed, so when I attempted to get out of bed, Rasta felt the sheets moving beneath her and took it to be an attack upon her person, and responded with claws and spitting! Needless to say I kept my distance for the rest of the day, though perhaps she was trying to tell me I hadn’t prayed enough!     

Only a few more days to go until the 28 day challenge is over! Will I be able to keep up the habit? We’ll have to wait and see, but one thing is for sure, I know “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13


Pray on

February 12, 2010

“Mighty to Save” Isaiah 63:1

“Christ is not only ‘mighty to save’ those who repent, but He is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but He is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of His name to bend the knee before Him….Believer, here is encouragement. Art thou praying for some beloved one? Oh, give not up thy prayers, for Christ is ‘mighty to save.’ You are powerless to reclaim the rebel, but your Lord is Almighty. Lay hold on that mighty arm and rouse it to put forth its strength…Whether to begin with others, or to carry on the work in you, Jesus is ‘mighty to save;’ the best proof of which lies in the fact that He has saved you.” Charles Spurgeon


The earlybird closes in on the worm

February 12, 2010

So I’ve made it to the end of my second week as part of the 5 o’clock club, there’s our first miracle right there! It’s certainly been a week of ups and downs! First, let me take you back to last Saturday – which sadly is the low point in this post.

 As it was my first Saturday on a new quiet time plan, I hadn’t really considered how it would work on my day off when I didn’t have a structure to my morning. I had found that getting up an hour earlier was taking its toll and I was in need of a lie-in by Saturday. So I didn’t set my alarm, and spent a pleasant extra two hours in bed (I didn’t want my duvet to feel neglected did I?). When I got up, I thought I’d try a different routine for my weekend and decided to have a relaxed morning and have my quiet time in the evening.

Any of you who are morning quiet time regulars will be having an experience right about now similar to when you watch a horror film and you find yourself shouting “Don’t go in there!” at the TV. In hindsight, I can now see that this was my first mistake.

That evening, I flopped into bed and was about to snuggle down, when I remembered that I had planned to have my quiet time before going to bed. I thought to myself “I’ve got church tomorrow, I’ll just spend some time praying for the preacher and then I’ll go to sleep”. This was my second mistake. I then swiftly proceeded to my third mistake, which was to stay in my bed under the covers and close my eyes. My prayer went something like this “Dear Lord, I pray…..I pray that…. that you would, erm, ………………zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. Oh dear! I woke up after dosing for about 15 minutes, and was sufficiently cross with myself for failing to stay awake for a few minutes to speak to my Father. I clearly wasn’t going to win this battle with tiredness, so I said a hasty prayer of repentance for my foolish decisions, and allowed my heavy eyelids to close.

I’m glad to say that I learnt an important lesson from this episode. The lesson is that I am lazy and am very good at tricking myself into thinking I’m not!  I understnad what Jeremiah meant when he wrote “The heart is deceitful above all things”.

With my lesson learned, I entered a new week determined not to make the same mistake again, and knowing that only by God’s grace could I avoid it.

With the LORD’s help I’ve stuck to my normal routine, and managed to get up every day at 6:45am, and have a very beneficial quiet time. Joni Eareckson Tada’s book has been really helpful and I’ve been really encouraged by the posts of the Girl Talk blog. I’m also really thankful for Rhian, my co-worker and co-club member who has text me every morning with encouragements and who I’ve been able to share my experiences with as the week’s gone on.

I must confess that I am struggling a little with tiredness. I’ve not been getting to bed as early as I should this week, and as the week’s gone on I’ve needed more strength from the LORD to get out of bed when the alarm rings. But it’s all part of the adjustment, and my continuing left eyelid twitch serves as a reminder to get myself tucked up at a reasonable hour each night.

One of the great benefit of getting up earlier and having a properly structured quiet time is I am seeing more and more things to thank God for. I’m able to pray consistently for friends and family, and I can enter each day knowing that I’ve sought the LORD’s forgiveness and that I’ve left my burdens at His feet. It is TOTALLY worth the discomfort of a changed routine.

So as we enter week three, and I aim to extend my quiet time to getting up at 6:30am, I’m praying that the LORD will help me to keep savouring our time together like He does.

I’ll end with an exhortation from Rhian: “Praise his wonderful name!”