SAY HELLO AND WAVE GOODBYE

We are at that time – the ‘in-between time’ – almost stepping out of 2010 and stepping into 2011. The psalmist is right in Psalm 90:12 where he alludes at the importance of a sober evaluation of life:Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Smart people take time to examine their lives – not just at the end/beginning of the year. Someone used to say that an unexamined life isn’t worth living. Some truth in that…

Here are some of the exercises that I have found helpful at this time:

REVIEW THE YEAR – take time to think about what kind of year it was. How would you sum it up in a sentence? What are the highlights? What has God taught you? What has HE changed in your life?

REFLECT ON MISTAKES – not really a free ticket to a guilt trip but this is important. If we don’t recognize our mistakes – it’s virtually impossible to correct them. This is a sign of humility and God works with those who are poor in the spirit. What dis you do wrong? What didn’t you do that you should have? Wrong focus? Wrong priorities? Wrong attitudes? Let the grace of God bring closure – as you confess your sins to a God who welcomes, forgives and cleanses sinners.

REMEMBER THE VICTORIES – I know it isn’t a very British thing to do. We’d rather be self-critical and concentrate on moaning about our short-commings. Yet this isn’t about a self-centered motivational exercise. This is an opportunity to trace God’s hand in the circumstances of your life. Has He answered your prayers? Has He used you? Has He encouraged you?

REFRESH YOUR RELATIONSHIPS – this is a time to acknowledge those whom God has placed your life as family/spouses and good friends. You can use this opportunity to thank them and point out how God has used them in your life? What instances have you experienced their love and support? It is also a good time to say ‘sorry’ and renew broken relationships. Rebuilding bridges is always better than burning them.

REFOCUS YOUR AIMS – this ought to be more than a ‘one off’. You need to remember what God’s plan for your life is all about. If confused – read and re-read the Matthew 28:18-20. Break it down. How will you see those things accomplished in your mundane life? How does your job, ministry and social life fit in with that? what do you need to change to become Christ-centered again?

REKINDLE YOUR PASSION – Life is so much more than simply a ‘to do’ list. It isn’t just about goals and 5 year plans. Real life is about passions. Passions that come from the heart. Passions that take us beyond common sense decisions and mediocre 9-5 drab working places. What makes your heart beat faster? What gets you excited? What are those things – in the words of Eric Liddell, when i run I feel the pleasure of God – that as YOU do them God is pleased?

REMEMBER YOUR COVENANT – this is the last but probably the most important one, both the foundation, and paradoxically the pinnacle as well. the non-negotiable condition. Your relationship with God. Remember, when you started the journey, you made a promise. You virtually entered a covenant. Today is as good a time as any to renew that covenant. It is good to remember why you fell in love in the same place. It is good to remember and be amazed at His grace for you. Stand in awe at the sight of the Cross. Be blown away by the awesome truth of the resurrection. And all this is stirred up in us afresh by the Holy Spirit who whispers and cheers, and shouts at us through His Word!

May God grant you all an amazing new year – a year in which you can fully live for His renown and make HIStory!

Advertisements

PRIORITIES

This Sunday evening, I will be speaking on ‘First Things First’ – How do we chose good priorities for the new year. I recalled a very thought-provoking piece by Tim Sanders—former chief solutions officer at Yahoo! and author of Love Is the Killer App. Here he shares the following thought about establishing priorities:

Take your life and all the things that you think are important, and put them in one of three categories. These three categories are represented by three items: glass, metal, and rubber.

The things that are made of rubber, when you drop them, will bounce back. Nothing really happens when these kinds of things get dropped. So, for instance (and I enjoy sporting events, so don’t take me wrong here), if I miss a Seahawks’ game, my life will bounce along real fine. It doesn’t change anything and nothing is lost—my missing a game or a season of football will not alter my marriage or my spiritual life. I can take ’em or leave ’em.

Things that are made of metal, when they get dropped, create a lot of noise. But you can recover from the drop. You miss a meeting at work, you can get the cliff notes. Or if you forget to balance your checkbook and lose track of how much you have in your account, and the bank notifies you that you have been spending more than you have—that’s going to create a little bit of noise in your life, but you can recover from it.

Then there are things made of glass. And when you drop one of these, it will shatter into pieces and never be the same. Even though you can piece it back together, it will still be missing some pieces. It certainly won’t look the same, and I doubt that you could actually fill it up with water, because the consequences of it be being broken will forever affect how it’s used.

The thing is, you’re the only person who knows what those things are that you can’t afford to drop. More than likely, they have a lot to do with your relationships. Your marriage, your family, and your friends.

Can I encourage to take some time and evaluate 2010. This is a good time to reflect on both the failures of the past and the possibilities of the future. I will hopefully add something else in the next few days.

 

UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS

Since Christmas is a time for sharing and since I love a good story, here is my offering to you, this year. This is probably on of my favorite Christmas stories. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan shares the Robynsons’ story. It has a particularly poignant way of summing-up what Christmas is all about.

We all have various Christmas traditions. Few of us probably have a tradition quite like the Robynson family’s.

This family of five, with three kids under the age of ten, chooses to celebrate the birth of Christ in a unique way. On Christmas mornings, instead of focusing on the presents under the tree, they make pancakes, brew an urn of coffee, and head downtown. Once there, they load the coffee and food into the back of a red wagon. Then, with the eager help of their three-year-old, they pull the wagon around the mostly empty streets in search of homeless folks to offer a warm and filling breakfast on Christmas morning.

All three of the Robynson kids look forward to this time of giving a little bit of tangible love to people who otherwise would have been cold and probably without breakfast. Can you think of a better way to start the holiday that celebrates the God who is Love?

Christmas is not primarily about me – it is about the Saviour who came – incarnate – to be among us in order to demonstrate God’s saving love. Though a King, He came as a servant, in such a conspicuous and humble manner.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’   PHILIPPIANS 2:5-8

This family ‘gets it’ and choses to live the ‘upside-down’ values of the Kingdom of God. How courageous and how enticing. What will I DO to live like that for His renown and for the encouragement of others?

A CHRISTMAS NOT SO MERRY

I had the privilege of joining a group of older teens in a special Carol Service at St John’s Hospice (cancer patients) tonight. A visit there is not easy at the best of times. It is a place where your soul is often ‘invaded’ by a great sense of humility as well as an overwhelming desire to say very few words.

Tonight was even more painful. Although I am sure that we have brought a ray of hope to the residents – I struggled not to choke with emotion as we sung the carols and listened to the readings. A gentleman was obviously moved and his wife was gently stroking his forehead in an attempt to comfort him. It was almost a maternal gesture.

Spare a thought and pray tonight for those to whom the whole Christmas festivities are anything but a happy time. I recall how several years ago, as my dad suffered a heart attack and a stroke – my Christmas time was like no other before. Grief, fear, loneliness and helplessness, not joy, were the bywords for that season. And for many people it is just like that tonight.

Consider one of my dearest friends, M., who has just left the hospital bedside of his brother in law who is in a coma after being diagnosed with a brain tumor just a few weeks back. And then, there is my friend A – who will spend Christmas as a separated dad/husband – and that not by choice… Many of you will know people like V. – who has recently being widowed and surely would struggle with the empty house more than ever.

I would not dare to pretend that I ‘feel’ the pain, anguish and maybe even sadness – that all these friends of mine feel. Yet, there is a part of me that is confident that my God does understand – more than I could imagine. He ‘gets’ it – He has been there. And He cares. I know that because that is what the Christmas story is all about: Philippians 2:5f

‘Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’

Join me in prayer and look out for opportunities to encourage people like that that God has brought/placed in your lives.

PRESENCE NOT PRESENTS

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”   LUKE 10:38-42

Even as I write these lines, we are all already swamped by the Christmas season annual frenzy (read insanity, if that’s how you feel…). Yesterday, the town and the supermarkets seemed insanely busy. It’s like we are expecting to store up provisions for at least a month… I almost wish we missed this last few days and our pursuit for goods….

I am sure that you know what I mean. The shopping, the meal arrangements, the Christmas play, the decorations, the holiday plans…and the list goes on and on… One thing that most of us struggle with – even those of you who have started your planning and shopping in January – is choosing the right present for the right person. So tough and frustrating! But I want to encourage you about another area where we must make the right choice.

Every Christmas we battle with the Martha syndrome. We are so busy that often we neglect our own spiritual health at the expense of excelling and laborious preparations. We get to Christmas day and we are so worn out that a nervous breakdown could easily be just around the corner. We wake up on Boxing Day and wonder ‘was that it?

You know, in spite of the bad press she gets, I love Martha, She loves Jesus deeply. And the way Martha expresses her love for Him is though her hospitality. I get wound up (mildly) with those who ‘have a go’ at her. I bet they are not ‘happy bunnies’ if the house looks like a garbage refill site and if the dinner table is empty… But let’s face it. Somehow Martha gets it wrong. Jesus is encouraging her to review her attitude and invites her to refocus. Mary chose the better way. She chose to serve the Master by spending time and listening to Him – and He commended her for it. I guess we could call it devotion.

As the Christmas season is in full swing I encourage and pray that you would take time out from the many voices that call on you – and spend time with the Master:

Make prayer a priority – giving thanks for His gracious arrival and pray for those who do not know Him yet!

Read Scripture – make yourself familiar with the Nativity passages. Discover new gems and let them impact your lifestyle!

Serve others – the best ‘thank you’ that Jesus can get, is you becoming incarnational in your loving service to others!

And if you did not manage to do all that until now – it isn’t too late. Go for it – live differently. Chose well!

RISKY BUSINESS

Christmas time is almost here. Preparations for the yearly festive event must be in full flow by now both in the Church as well as our families. Amongst all this mayhem of shopping, baking, spending, arranging, decorating and stressing we must never forget the meaning and purpose of Christmas – which is so easy…

I have a yearly ‘tradition’ during the Christmas Season. I re-read the Gospel accounts of the Birth of Christ with an eager desire to find the hidden gems that the Holy Spirit can reveal afresh. And the joy and beauty of it is that I find them every year. This is what I found this time around. It struck me that, in the birth of the Saviour, God is a risk taker. Ponder on this:

  • The Virgin Birth – surely this miraculous event in history has given way to so many questions, queries and raised eyebrows. Could Jesus not have been ‘landed’ on our planet in a Superman way on a sophisticated machine? Why feed all the intellectuals of the future with reasons for doubt over the supernatural event? Why take the risk and put Mary and Joseph through all the potential gossip? It’s a risk…
  • The Parents – the two inexperienced, unwealthy, unpedigreed, possibly teenagers were certainly not my ideal choice of parents for bringing-up the Messiah? What if they would mess it up? Why not choose an experienced, middle class couple…teachers or psychologists even. Surely that would be more suitable for the educational, emotional, and intellectual development of the child… It’s a risk…
  • The Place – this seems to be the ultimate in apparent ‘mismatches’. Surely the manger is no safe and healthy place to deliver a baby. Should the highest qualified obstetricians in the world be on hand to look after the mother and baby? Would they be safe with all the animals around? Surely without the sterile environment of a modern day delivery room the risk of infection would be so high… It’s a risk…

Every single one of this issues point out to a God who is taking a risk. In fact the entire life and ministry of Christ is peppered with elements of risk – and all that because He wanted to show how much He loved us, me and you. He was willing to risk all for us!

And I guess such a love demands a risk taking life from us all – those who claim to know love and worship Him. Would you be willing to take risks during this Christmas season? Let me drop a few hints:

  • Bringing joy to a lonely elderly person by going carol singing in a Residential Home
  • Inviting a lonely person to celebrate Christmas with your family
  • Showing love and kindness to family members you might find ‘challenging’
  • Talking about what Christmas means to you with your school/work colleagues

I hope and pray that, by God’s grace and in the true spirit of Christmas, we will be risk takers too – people who bring God’s love, hope and joy to a world that needs it so badly!

 

ESSENTIAL TENSION

There is nothing profound in saying that leaders are different… They stand out by their character, gifting and often even charisma.

A leader will often experience both pay-backs for their work as well as plenty of pains in disappointments, criticisms and failures. And often their insecurity is also their greatest enemy.

Recently Beth Moore said: ‘If pride is the graveyard of all good leaders, then insecurity is the psych ward.’

How true but also how haunting for anyone who leads.

Just like any other leader out there, I wrestle with these essential questions: Who am I? Why do I do what I do? How do I do it?

John the Baptist was an amazing Biblical example who demonstrates a healthy tension: he was staggeringly humble yet truly influential (in Jesus’ estimation).

I wonder whether there is a hint why – he was brilliant at understanding his own identity:
‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John.’ John 1:6

His grasp of his frailty (‘a man’) and its limitations  is in a perfect tension with God’s invested authority (‘sent’) – that’s where the influence comes from.

A wise Christian leader would be just like John – recognising with humility his frailty but also realising they are invested with God’s authority. Paul very often would use the same tension in his introductions.

 

X FACTOR WITH A DIFFERENCE

As obsessed as we are here with fame and celebrity (see the recent ‘reality shows’ booming in popularity – I realised afresh this year how many people had the X factor in the Christmas story. Take Mary for example and her amazing way of dealing with suffering – the price to pay for being part of HIStory.

Derailed Dreams

‘ 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.’   Luke 1:26-30


She had to live with unfulfilled expectations. Like any other teenage girl that was already engaged, Mary had plans – she had plans about her home… her life…. her man…and maybe even her children. Yet God’s plan for her life was about to ‘derail’ all those dreams

Her chastity was the greatest gift/treasure that she could offer her husband to be yet by being willing to be part of God’s story doubts would be cast over her integrity. Her friends & family would ask questions and the cost would probably be shame, whispers, fears and doubts…

Deep Disappointment – misunderstood son

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.’  Luke 4:28-30

This is one of every mothers’ worst nightmares: to have a misunderstood son or daughter. She knew what was said about Him through the message of the angel and she saw quite a few glimpses that confirmed her that her boy was truly ‘special’ – he was not an ordinary child; he amazed the theological elite in the temple and performed an extravagant miracle at the wedding in Cana.

Yet when he returned ‘home’, those in Nazareth could not see it… They thought He was evil – what a twisted logic and false accusation. After that she probably realised that He was in danger. Did she worry at night, like most mothers do, I wonder?

Discriminating Death – ultimate insult

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a]here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’  John 19:25-27

This had to be the ultimate insult, probably…. He did not commit any crime, He changed so many people’s lives; He healed, set free and saved so many (often) ignored people. Yet – it was all quickly forgotten and He did not even get a fair trial.

He did not deserve this: all very public and so over the top. In her mind and heart a shiver must have passed through as she heard Him say: ‘it is finished’. The whole picture was suddenly so very wrong. That was her boy that was whipped, spat upon and literally broken to pieces…

Yet we know how the story ends… And this certainly isn’t the end. We often make the mistake of thinking that as we go through suffering – that is the end, it is final.

Yet God has the last word and we know that all those who receive His grace, surrender their lives and chose to be part of HIStory – they will finish well.

Mary ends up seeing Him again alive and well – miraculously so – the King of another Kingdom who fulfils that which was promised.

I recently read a very telling article by Christopher Hitchens. In the summer of 2010 the popular author and atheist was diagnosed with cancer. With his usual candor and clarity, Hitchens movingly described his battle with the illness in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair. ‘I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again?. … To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison to plant into your arm [his chemotherapy treatment] and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties into your system … . You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.’ Christopher Hitchens, “Topic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair(September 2010)

Where this bright and engaging man finds only futility in his suffering we know that God can redeem even the darkest of moments – just like in Mary’s life.

The apostle Paul understood that so well through his life and ministry – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.

At this Christmas time I encourage all of you who are going through suffering to be reminded again that God can use you to encourage others just as He encourages you. May He grant you much patience, courage, and trust and many encouraging people around you.

 

CHOICES

A friend of mine, going through difficulties at the moment, send me a great e-mail of encouragement that doubled up as a personal testimony. I will (with permission) give you a glimpse into that, hoping that it will speak to you as much as it did to me.

Three weeks before we entered a mammoth time of testing which has continued, I was reading Isaiah chapter 30 verse 15 (in the King James, although it is similar in NIV.)

It was the last part, but you would not!  I kept reading that verse to see if I had read correctly, then on to other verses and then other chapters surrounding that verse.  Over the three weeks God was preparing me and my heart, who I would seek to choose.  With God’s help I choose to trust Him.

Another picture the Lord gave at another time was dealing with the same issue in a different way.  It was about been hidden with Christ and out of the way.  The picture was of an open cave with me inside and having the choice to stay where I was and be safe or go out, (choice).

Then something happened, outside was a very small child (as a mother, mine) in great danger. Everything within me wanted to run outside and and grab the child and look after it myself.  The voice reminded me to be still and obey and watch.  That is the place He wants us to be by His Grace.  As it is He who is the Saviour, it is He who battles for us, we need to be obedient and get out of the way and say hidden.  In returning and rest are ye saved and in quietness and confidence is your strength but ye would not.  Fear of any sort can render us incapable of doing anything (paralyzed through Fear).  Anxiety / stress can cause us to be affected in our mind-confusion.

Over the years I have had to be constantly reminded of the same things and building on the foundations of His Word.  It helps me see the difference of me battling or allowing the Lord of the battle do it for me.

PREPARED!

 

In his most recent Pastor’s Weekly Briefing newsletter, H.B. London Jr. offers some seasonal advice to fellow ministers:

“Many of you will observe the beginning of Advent. Advent is a Latin word meaning ‘the coming.’ The Advent wreath with its candles symbolize the coming of Jesus—’the Light’ in the midst of darkness.

“May I offer you and your family a few helpful suggestions you might use as you navigate this ‘most wonderful time of the year’?
1. Begin right away to set holiday priorities for each family member.
2. Mark out evenings on the calendar that are ‘reserved’ just for family.
3. Establish a list of people or families who would benefit by some special TLC in the next few weeks.
4. Have a conversation about the meaning and value of gift giving. Perhaps, even establish some guidelines.
5. Decorate early. Get a head start on making things festive.
6. During Advent—either at the morning or evening meal—read portions of the Christmas story beginning with Old Testament prophecy.
7. Attend a Christmas program or presentation at another venue or church. Just relax and enjoy the ministry of another congregation.

“Bottom line: Make this season as uncluttered and meaningful for your family as possible.”