Monday, 29 November 2010

Excited Expectation

For those who follow the Christian seasons of the year Advent is upon us. December for many heralds the preparations for Christmas, buying presents, food, drink, extra visits to relatives and all those Christmas cards.

Whatever we think of this time of the year, it is for many a time of expectation, of impatient waiting for presents, for that party, family gathering or good wishes from someone we haven't seen in years. Considering all of these things are they wrong? Is it wrong to look forward to an event or a situation that stirs us or excites us? Israel had been waiting for a Messiah for so long that they had all but given up and yet God's plan unfolded during that census 2000 years ago ... What, I wonder, was the expectation of those travelers, "kings", who journeyed for many miles in the hope of witnessing this event? What is our expectation as we journey through advent, preparing, celebrating, spending money, waiting for the 25th?

In some ways, as a Christian, I can't make any judgment on what those who don't believe in Christ are thinking and doing, but I can encourage myself and others who do believe to think carefully about what we signal by what we do.

For example, I heard someone talking about Christmas cards the other day and pointing out that there is no point in sending a card to someone you haven't spoken to for years. I guess their point is it seems a futile gesture with no point. But anyone who has visited the sick, housebound or lonely will understand the value to these people of knowing that someone cared enough to write a card and send it to them. Yes, for some its the only contact from the sender in the year, but at the very least they are still remembered and once a year is better than never!

When I was younger there was a little thing that romantics like me wrote on a letter or card to someone we were dating or going out with - SWALK - Sealed With A Loving Kiss. When I write my cards, I think of the people and where they are, no I don't contact them all every year, but when they get that card, I hope it touches their heart that I still care about them even if time prevents closer contact. Note to myself - ring a few that I haven't spoken to for years ...

Yet while we were lost in our sinful ways, thinking that no one cared, God in His grace sent Christ as his Christmas message to all humanity. A message that says , I Love you, I care about you and I am prepared to do something to put our relationship right.

He calls us to follow Him, to emulate Him as best we can, to be a light. So in this advent season choose the things to do that will help others have an excited expectation about this time of year, make someones day through that call, visit, card, gift or help make someones life anew through that invitation to a Christmas event at our churches.

Make advent a time of excited expectation for all that Christ means and wants to mean to each and every person.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Rumours or truth?

I was reading earlier the last part of the account of the Israelites taking and settling in the promised land. What I noticed and reflected a little on was Joshua 22 and the account of the tribes that settled on the east of the Jordan river, returning home and making an altar at the river.

OK, you might think theres nothing so odd about that, but then the tribes had been told to serve God, to have one "tabernacle" or place where they sacrificed to God and yet here after a successful campaign where they all acknowledged God's power, they build another altar.

The rest of the tribes hear the rumour of this and decide to sort it straight away, after all they fully remembered what God had done to others who had not followec his laws earlier in the Exodus.

A rumour can , if it is not acted upon and grounded by asking and establishing who reported it and the truth or not of it, have a nasty habit of becoming "truth" just because its been repeated enough times that it becomes common knowledge. "Wonderful" expressions like, "there is no smoke without fire" then come into play.

I was watching a TV program the other day, "Downton Abbey", in which a lot of nasty rumours are circulated about a member of the household staff by others wanting to get him fired. The rumours and half truths that they hear and get from other people who have heard it and thus can give them weight, nearly succeed. But one person decided to follow it up and get to the bottom of the rumours, truth, lies or whatever. You will have to watch the 4 part series to understand it all but suffice to say, the truth was not at all what had been reported and only came out through seeking it.

It's a good lesson in our Christian lives to not simply take for read what we hear of others or of situations. We need always to find out the truth rather than believe even what a trusted source has told us since the rumour may well be unfounded or mistaken. Rumours can be used to destroy reputations, works and even whole Churches if we listen to them and belief them rather than getting to the truth of them.

What we see in Joshua's account is a good example of hearing a rumour, taking action to find out the facts and coming to a godly conclusion. The alter was built not to offer sacrifices but to remind the people on the West bank of the Jordan that those on the East bank were a part of them and prevent anything that might cause those on the East bank being separated, in future, from serving God as they had all so recently agreed.

I wonder how often we act on the rumour before trying to establish the facts of the situation. We hear that someone has done or said something or someone says they have heard that someone has said they ...? Next time you hear someone coming up with a rumour will you ask how they heard it, find out it there is any truth, look for the underlying truth and then act on the facts and not the rumour?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Jesus, good news not bad

How often do Christians get into the press and media for telling others that they have it wrong or are doing the wrong things etc? Pretty well all of the time it seems to me. I know the press likes bad news not good, but as a Christian I have good news to proclaim! I recall a Noel Richards song on the Warrior disc which has this as its subject -

Who can mend hearts that are broken?
Who can bring comfort to all those who mourn?
Who can bring light in the darkest times?
Who can bring peace to the fearful mind?

We have the answer, treasure to share
Through our endeavour, God's love is declared
We have the answer through us he brings
Good news to all the world

As Christians we can spend a lot of our time telling others that what they are doing is wrong, we can proclaim a really negative view of the Church that seems always to be against, fun, against celebration or the way the celebrate (like Christmas and Easter), against one thing or another. The problem, it seems to me , is that those we target do not see what they are doing as wrong. How can they offend a God that many don't know or accept?

A positive example, which has, in my opinion been great this year, is the number of  churches in my area that have offered a safe and fun alternative to "trick or treat", the celebration of Hallow'en. Our church had parties themed "Super Heroes" based around a DVD set "Friends and Heroes", with games, food, sweets, DVD based Bible stories. Teenagers from several churches prayer walked the area, handed out free gifts and posted simple leaflets to many houses. All very well received in our area.
So instead of simply saying to the world "Don't do that its wrong" we are saying that fun and dressing up is great. While we don't won't to be involved with or accept stuff that celebrates what we hold to be wrong, theres no reason not to dress up, have fun and celebrate - after all Hallow'en or All Hallows Evening heralds the start of All Saints day to the Church.

We have good news to proclaim and its the way we act and the things we do that proclaim a truth so powerful that those who don't know Christ will take notice because what they experience of us is so different to what they expect that tt will catch their attention. We are as Paul says the "Ambassadors of Christ" proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to a World in need of saving.