A New Year Revolution

I was catching up on a bit of reading the other day when, a passage really caught my imagination and I asked myself the question; shall I make this my resolution for 2018?

I am sure I am not the only one out there who makes New Years Resolutions – I hope!  Over the years I have made many, from the serious to the very silly, from the mundane to the extraordinary.  But, if I am truthful about it, I very rarely keep them.  No, to be really honest I have not kept any!

There was the one year I remember clearly.  I awoke on 1st January and decided “this year, I will not be bad tempered or stressed.  I will be calm, cool and collected”.  It lasted until I got out of bed and it was all down hill from there!

Because of my failure in sticking to my resolutions, for a few years I stopped.  “I am what I am” I said, “people will have to accept me as I am”.  On the face of it, it sounds good.  But, what it denied was the possibility of growth, development and change.  You see, I am what I am but, I am not what I can be.

Life is the process of becoming who we can be.

The reason why I gave up making my resolutions is because of my failure in keeping them.  Failure hurts, failure carries with it a sting, guilt, regrets, worthlessness and many other emotions and feelings besides.  But, failure doesn’t have to have the last word.

My evidence for this comes from The Bible.  You can find many examples of failure, regret and growth from the people that are in there.

One of my favourite stories is found in the Old Testament.  It concerns a prophet who is given a task, by God, to go where he doesn’t want to go to speak to a people he doesn’t like.  He runs away, ends up in the sea and is swallowed by a giant fish.  When he comes to his senses, he does what God has asked him to do and a nation is transformed by it.

You would think that would be the “happy ever after” part but, it isn’t.  Because God has shown mercy to people the prophet didn’t like, he has a major temper tantrum!  How, I wish there was a Jonah chapter 5 just so I could find out what happens next!

But, what I see most of all in that story, is that failure is not the end.  Whether it is failure through our action, inaction or weakness.  God can take our failures, and through them we can grow.

That’s why I am calling for a New Years Revolution (you get it now – the title wasn’t a spelling mistake!)

A New Years Revolution calls for a change of thinking, a turn-a-round in our understanding of failure and mistakes.  What if, instead of seeing failure as the last word, we saw it as part of the learning process, part of the process of growth?  I want us to think instead of, it’s okay to fail, because there are lessons we can learn from our failures.

The nations of Israel and Judah failed many times and, at one point, they were living with some dire consequences to their failures.  The prophet Jeremiah looked ahead and saw what God could do in the face of their failures;

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

 

So why not resolve this year to become a New Years Revolutionary?

What is the key to our revolution?  Well, King George VI in his Christmas speech in 1939 summed it up beautifully when he addressed the nation.  He said;

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

He then read some lines from a poem written by Minnie Louise Haskins which say;

“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

What better advice can anyone give than, “put your hand into the Hand of God”?

 

 

How was Christmas for you?

The other day, it occurred to me, that there is a part of the nativity story that we are (perhaps not unsurprisingly) silent about.  It happens just after the Magi have been to see the infant Jesus (I know strictly speaking Epiphany).  Joseph is warned by an angel to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  The Bible then says;

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matt 2 vs. 16- 18)

I have seen plenty of nativity plays with Magi presenting their gifts but, I have never seen this scene enacted!  I can almost imagine the press reports and parents complaining about their children’s nightmares!

So, how was Christmas for you?

I hope that, for you, Christmas was a time of joy and happiness.  However, experience tells me, Christmas isn’t always a good time for everybody.  Perhaps, for you, Christmas hasn’t been that easy. Although the scene in Matthews Gospel is quite harrowing,  I am glad that Matthew includes it.  The Bible is not silent about the reality of the human condition but, is honest about the good and bad of life.  One verse I have heard quoted often is this;

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Romans 8 vs. 28)

Yes I do believe that, ultimately, God’s good purposes will be fulfilled.  However, not every situation we face is good and to tell people “don’t worry, some good will come from this”, although well meaning, doesn’t always help.  Rachel weeping for her children, was not comforted.   Yes, God has the big picture of the situation, but those living in the midst of suffering need love, support, prayer and encouragement that comes from Christian friends.

If, for you, this Christmas didn’t turn out as the joy filled occasion you had hoped for may you find those Christian friends you need at this time.  If your Christmas was joy filled, may you use that joy to be a blessing to others

 

…and the angel danced

dancing-angels-diane-ursin

Nativity!

As a minister, of a few years experience, I can tell you quite a few stories of church nativity plays.  I have seen quite a lot over the years!  I have seen Herod have full blown tantrums.  Mary sobbing at the site of an audience.  Baby Jesus dropped in a manger (I must point out – doll, not real baby!).  Toy sheep thrown across the platform.  Some of the things the kids have done have been quite funny too!

We had our nativity play at Pier Avenue this morning.  It was great.  Our puppet ministry team (Reach Up Puppetry) were fantastic, the sheep had real attitude and the songs got the foot tapping.  The Rap with the congregation punching the air and shouting out was great fun.  The younger children with their nativity scene was lovely.  I know the hard work that those organizing it put in, and I know it was appreciated by the congregation.

There was one thing that really spoke to me this year.  It came during the final song (Joy to the World).  One little girl, dressed as an angel, danced away at the front of the church, full of excitement. Eventually, a little boy (also dressed as an angel) came and joined her.  So, I can truly say, we had angels dancing in Church today. 

It spoke to me because, it brought to mind something I have been thinking about recently.  I re-read some familiar words this week, from the Prophet Isaiah;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9 vs. 6- 7 emphasis mine)

The more I have reflected on it, the more that word ZEAL speaks to me.  The dictionary defines zeal as;

great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.

As I led devotions the other day, I spoke about this as being “the umph of God”.  God’s most eager desire is that we should know Him and His love for us.  So, for us to know this, He put a great deal of energy and enthusiasm into it.

So, I really believe that when the Nativity happened in Bethlehem, all those years ago, the angels really did dance!   

Thank you to the little angels who danced this morning and reminded me.

Over this coming Christmas time, may the Zeal of the Lord Almighty reach into your life and bring you to know and experience more of His love for you

 

 

I wanna be….

giphy

There used to be an advert for a well-known insurance company that began with the words I wanna be… my favourite ones were;

A slug

A tree

A brain surgeon

But my favouritist of all was the couple.  The man said “we wanna be together” and the woman’s face told a different story!

I remember being taken to visit many elderly relatives, as a child, who seemed to want to know what I wanted to be when I “grew up” (it was a train driver, by the way).  But, it seems, as we grow up there is something about ambition that seems to leave us as we find the world isn’t quite as possible as we dreamed or, our focus changes in life. 

But, I wonder if we “grown-ups” are missing something of the joy of dreaming? Perhaps it’s a bit of Christmas sentimentality that has brought this on (please don’t tell anyone, I have a bah humbug reputation to keep up) or, perhaps, it’s that recently, I have been re-visiting some places of my past and I have been reflecting on the feelings and emotions they evoke.

If you were to ask me now what “I wanna be…” it would stump me a bit!  Perhaps because I am doing a job I love.  I live in a place I like.  I have family around me (I know, I don’t look old enough to be a granddad).  I am not a great one for things and my lifestyle is comfortable.

So what do “I wanna be…”?

The answer came as I was preparing for our Advent Services at Church.  I re-read the story of the angel’s announcement to Mary and felt really amazed by Mary’s response.  I then read on in the story.  Mary goes to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant and will eventually give birth to her son John (we refer to him as John the Baptist) and the interchange that takes place between Mary and Elizabeth really spoke to me;

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?   For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”         (Luke 1 vs. 42 – 45)

For me, it was the word “blessed” that leapt off the page at me in fact, I thought “that’s it.  I wanna be blessed”

I don’t think many people understand what it means to be “blessed”.  I am sure many people equate “blessed” with material success; nice house, car, money in the bank.  I am certain Mary didn’t have any of this! So, how is she “blessed”?

The Greek word that is used here is μακάριος (makarios).  It means to be fully satisfied.  It means receiving God’s favour in spite of the external circumstances.  What I have come to understand is that blessing is anything which draws us closer to God and helps us to hold onto the eternal.

For Mary, her experiences up to this point in the story, would enable her to have confidence in God.  But, as we know, there would be some tough times ahead.  Simeon predicted this when Jesus was presented in the temple;

and a sword will pierce your own soul too.                                                                              (Luke 2 vs. 35)

In all of our lives, we face struggles and challenges.  So, to be blessed means in the heartaches, struggles and disappointments we face we find the presence of God and He reveals Himself more fully to us.

So, on that basis, I wanna be blessed – how about you?