What I Woke up to on Christmas Eve

This morning I was listening to the breakfast show on my local radio-station. When a change to the law brought in same-sex marriage, people said it wouldn’t be long before someone decided to marry their dog … Well, in the news today, a lady has married her cat. I was so sad to hear this. It makes marriage look like nothing more than a gimmick, and yet God says: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one.”
To me, it’s still holy.

There’s also a local pub, which has gone into the Guinness book of records for selling the world’s biggest Christmas dinner. They try to make it more palatable by saying that for every meal ordered, they’ll donate the equivalent in weight to their local food bank, and of course people could share it or take home the left-overs, but with a challenge like this to eat a 10,000-calory dinner, it’s no wonder that people associate Christmas with gluttony.
To me, it’s still holy.

Please enjoy this holy time. Why not celebrate how God sent His Son into the world as a baby, who would later die on a cross to take the punishment for our wrongdoing? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Inspired by Jeferson

I wonder about the tiny boy, standing there in the picture. As he makes his way home from a day at the Compassion centre, shirt sticking to him in the humid air, what’s he thinking? Other children’s faces have shone as they’ve torn open their letters, some of them having joined the group almost a year ago, just like him. One girl gazes in wonder at the animals and butterflies on her brightly-coloured stickers. In spite of his sadness, he smiles as he holds a pack of his very own. What a generous sponsor, giving her enough to share with her friends.

The house comes into view. His toddler-brother asks about his day in excited Spanish. The boy leans down to show him the stickers. His face lights up, but soon he’s telling the older boy: “I’m hungry.”

They enter the house together. His brother finds a place to stick the stickers while he prepares a meal. Much later, their father will be home. He might have stopped on the way to buy a few necessities, or to huddle in the warmth of one of the bars with others who share his plight. The boy only vaguely remembers his mother’s presence; he doesn’t know where she is now. He thinks of the kindly neighbour who sometimes brings them food, wishing his mother was like her. “You’ll understand one day, son,” his father says whenever he asks, too tired at the end of a long day to go into details, and the boy doesn’t press him. He’s tired too. He wraps the thin blanket tighter as his eyes close in the darkness.
* * *
That’s what I see in my mind’s eye as I think of this motherless 8-year-old, in desperate poverty of family, not to mention his physical poverty. Perhaps that’s why my favourite item in Compassion’s gift catalogue is the gift of caring for a waiting child. When children are registered with Compassion, the quest starts to find them a sponsor, so they need their picture taken. Perhaps they don’t own a pair of shoes, but I’ve never known Compassion to photograph a child barefoot. I have every confidence they’d want to make provision for these children until such time as they have a sponsor. If people give generously to you this Christmas, perhaps helping Compassion to care for a waiting child is one way you could give something back.

Just a thought.

5-Minute Friday: Adore

Judging from something I’ve read this morning, I think you and I need to ask ourselves the question: Why are we adoring? Because it might be that Jesus doesn’t want just any adoration.

In Mark chapter 5, a man with demons in him is cured by Jesus. Jesus allows the demons to enter a herd of two thousand pigs. The pigs then rush down the hillside into the lake and drown. What? Why did Jesus do that?

I remember worship-leader Godfrey Birtill pointing out that the people begged Jesus to leave because, after seeing their livelihood destroyed, they feared the change to their routine. Could it be that if the pigs had stayed alive, everyone would have latched on to Jesus? He would have become the next big thing, with everyone following Him because of what He did, but Jesus never wanted to be just the next big thing.

I don’t think He wants to be adored for the things He does, so let’s instead adore Him for who He is.

Before the World Began

I saw a nativity on Facebook this afternoon. It was performed by some kids at a church in New Zealand. I liked it because of the way God was portrayed – compassionately looking at all the wrongdoing on earth; being sad that He was so far away from His kids; making a plan to step in; letting the angels sing because His heart was touched by their love for Jesus. It was incredibly sweet, but as I thought about it afterwards, I realised it was missing something.

And all these chronological Bibles that put the events in date-order for us, what do they start with? Genesis. I’ve never seen a Bible that starts with Ephesians chapter 1, but in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul tells us something happened before Genesis. In Jesus, God chose us before the world was made. He had already decided to make us His children through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). That means in the run-up to the birth of Jesus, God wasn’t looking at the state of the world thinking: “’Oops. Not quite what I had in mind.”

The truth is that before we were even created, God knew about the first-ever disobedience and the tendency we’d have from then on towards wrongdoing, and He’d already planned that His Son Jesus would step in as our way back to Him.

The timeless God, knowing what would happen in time before time began. The God who loves us and looks for the best in us, knowing our worst and making provision for it. Doesn’t that fill you with awe and wonder?

On Where we go With our Need for Approval

I’m enjoying reading “A Million Little Ways” at the moment – a book for difference-makers, however you make that difference. It’s about not restricting art to the painters or the writers, but thinking of everything we do in our life as art. It’s about looking at our lives and the desires God’s placed within us. I’m currently about halfway through, and in this chapter, Emily talks about our desire for approval.

It struck me as I thought about it that perhaps seeking approval is part of our makeup, but the important thing is where we go with that. There’s a story about King David, and a phrase within it I often think back to. David was having one of those very human, knocking-knees sort of moments. God had already proved He had big plans for David’s future – kingship to be exact, but King Saul wanted to keep the throne in his family. Twice Saul had unknowingly succeeded in his pursuit of David, but David wouldn’t allow his men to kill Saul when they caught him off-guard. “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed,” he said (1 Samuel 26:11), but after these close calls, fear set in.

“Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul,” said David in his heart (1 Samuel 27:1), and he went into hiding – to enemy territory. He lived with the Philistines and found such favour with a member of their royal family that Achish said he would appoint David his bodyguard for life (1 Samuel 28:2). David and his men settled in Ziklag – a city in the countryside, and one day when they returned from the battlefield, they found it overthrown by a foreign nation. Their wives and children, including David’s two wives, had been taken captive and they were grief-stricken. They did what tragically we do so often – blamed their leader, and even talked about stoning David. If ever anyone needed approval, surely it was at that point. Poor David’s without both his wives and without the respect of his men, and what does he do? Here’s the phrase: “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:1-6).

God knows we’re desperate for approval. I think that’s why He’s put so many reassurances in the Bible. “The LORD will give favour and glory, for no good thing will He withhold from the one who walks uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You attend to him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:4-5). It’s one of those amazing divine paradoxes: God honours those He created to honour Him. “Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, even everyone who is called by My name, for I have created him for My glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7), so when we need approval, let’s go to God for it. Let’s encourage ourselves in His Word, and let our lives give Him glory.

A Lady in Waiting

This week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt is patience, and because of the time of year, my thoughts went to Mary. How patient she’d had to be throughout her pregnancy, knowing she was giving birth to the Son of God! What would He look like; the same as other babies or different? Did she search the pages of our Old Testament for clues?

And when He was born, Simeon came along – Simeon who’d had the revelation that he wouldn’t die until he’d seen the long-awaited Christ. Simeon cradled the babe in his arms, calling Him Saviour and the glory of all the Jews! Then he spoke to Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” How did she feel when she heard that?

Words are so powerful – the negative and the positive, and those must have stayed with her all through Jesus’ life. We don’t hear anything of Joseph after the incident when Jesus was twelve years old. Perhaps Joseph died, and Mary wondered if that was the piercing Simeon spoke of.

Years passed and Jesus began His earthly ministry. Mary heard about the crowds and the demands on His time. Thinking Him out of His mind to accept it, she set out to speak to Him. The sheer volume of people made it impossible to reach Him, but finally, she caught someone’s attention. She may have heard them relaying the message, and heard Him say: “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Sting. Surely this must be the moment?

She couldn’t have imagined how bad it would get, the depth of her pain as she saw her Son lifted up on a cross. But that piercing of soul, that depth of pain, eclipsed by the joy of seeing Him alive. Unashamedly falling before Him, reaching out to cling to Him, even to one of His feet! He lived! He’d conquered death! This was unparalleled – awesome – daunting. What did it all mean? She knew only the words He spoke: “Tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me,” but what would happen next, or how everything would fall into place, she couldn’t tell.

When we know only the next step, let’s be reassured that God knows our destination. Let’s keep those important words people have spoken over us and think on them, wonder at them, in the knowledge that God’s in control.

The Three Generations of Christmas

I had a thought just yesterday – something I’d never noticed before. I was reading about Liz Curtis Higgs’ book “The Women of Christmas” and it hit me. She’s written the book about Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother), Mary (Jesus’ mother), and Anna (the prophetess who saw Jesus after He was born).

Last year, I wrote about Anna, and said I wasn’t sure whether she was eighty-four or a hundred and five years old (it depends on the translation you look at).

So, we have Anna (who’s over eighty), Mary (a young girl from Nazareth, possibly twelve to fourteen years old), and Elizabeth (past childbearing age but sprightly enough to bring up John the Baptist, so maybe in her fifties or sixties). Three generations: Young Mary, Elizabeth in the middle, and the elderly widow Anna. Isn’t that how the body of Christ should be – people of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, each playing their part in the kingdom? Mary wasn’t too young and Anna wasn’t too old. After all, God is timeless/eternal, and one day we’ll be like Him. When we ask God for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, let’s not be surprised when it brings generations together to give Him glory.

I’m thankful that Mary, Elizabeth and Anna were each willing to play their part.