Tis the season…

A couple of weeks ago I wasn’t sure but over the last few days it has become obvious that it will be ready – right on time!

I have a number of well established trees and shrubs around my house and at different times throughout the year they come into their own and put on a display. In one corner of my garden there is a tree that is not much to look at for most of the year but as the year comes to a close it blossoms into white petals which then turn a beautiful pink-red, right on cue – last year this happened a week before Christmas and it looks like this year it is going to do the same – it is aptly named Ceratopetalum gummiferum or Christmas Bush.

This is only the second year we have been around to witness this display but already for me it has become a reminder of the ‘season’ we are in. At this time of year we erect and trim trees, we put out tinsel and baubles, we prepare cakes, sweets and treats, we hear (and probably sing) silly songs which remind us “Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la laaaa la la la la!”

It is called the “Christmas Season” and there are things that we expect at this particular time of year. We expect summer fruit, hot weather, afternoon thunderstorms and our grass to grow faster than we can mow it!

But what do we expect of ourselves?

I expect my Christmas bush to blossom right on cue but what should be evident within me during this special time of year?

What is it the season for?

When Jesus came to earth, the first message the angels sang was filled with joy saying “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind”.  It ushered in a time of hope, possibilities and freedom for all – it demonstrated that in the middle of the darkest times there is a season for hope and light and the opportunity to believe again that there is a future that is worth looking forward to.

My Christmas Bush is doing what it is supposed to do in this season – my question for you is are you?

This Christmas you should be blossoming with love, with joy and with hope – not in yourself, and your personal circumstances but in the confidence that the central message of Christmas– Jesus available for you – is still current, potent and present in your life.

Tis the season – are you ready?

That shouldn’t bounce…

Balls and children on trampolines are meant to ‘bounce’ but credit cards are not!

I was processing some payments yesterday and I happened to be putting through a transaction for a close friend – they had sent through their credit card details and I had keyed them into the machine but instead of the usual happy bleep what states the payment had gone through, I received the disappointing sound of denial and a big red cross on the screen which stated that the credit card had been rejected… so I tried again (just in case I had keyed the number incorrectly) but the same disappointing sound was heard.

So then I had to make the phone call…

There is always embarrassment attached to having a payment denied – I know this because it has happened to me. Sometimes I have tried to take money out of the wrong account, sometimes I have overlooked a payment that automatically drained my funds, sometimes I have got behind on my bills – just like most of us…

If you are independently wealthy and have never faced this challenge then you might not relate to what I am talking about. You could always give all your money away to find out?

Christmas is a time of celebration and joy but it is also often a time of stress and excess. Often people find themselves racking up large debts and overdue bills in the name of the ‘silly season’ – I am not trying to curtail your fun, in fact I am all for a celebration about anything!

I am just suggesting that we don’t get into a place where credit cards are bouncing and our hearts are sinking… Let’s not miss the ‘real’ behind the tinsel and the ‘substance’ behind the decoration.

I had a bit of a laugh with my friend about their denied credit card – it happened that they forgot to transfer money on it – it processed immediately with no issue, problem solved.

I hope that every challenge you have to face this Christmas season will be resolved as easily but if not, remember what Christmas really stands for.

So whatever is bouncing when it shouldn’t, remember Christmas is the ultimate opportunity for hope, joy and love!

“Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”     Luke 2:10

T’was the the month before Christmas…

T’was the month before Christmas and all through the shire, people are dashing around as if their houses are on fire…

We find ourselves again in the ‘silly season’. That time of year that is dominated by decorations and trees, end of year events and parties, food and family, silly hats and celebrations and of course – the giving and receiving of gifts.

A month out from Christmas there are a few of us that are organised, all the gifts are purchased and wrapped and they are just waiting for ‘the day’ but most of us are yet to embark upon the selection, preparation and procurement of the said gifts and some won’t give it any thought at all for yet weeks to come.

Selecting a gift is an interesting exercise; you can ‘pay it off’ and just choose the same gift for everyone. There is a growing trend to buy everyone a gift card and to let them decide. One of the motivators behind this is because people have so much stuff, they don’t want to buy someone something that they don’t need or are unlikely to use.   However, most people still like to buy a personalised gift and present something that suits the recipient and brings them joy. This can be easy for some but I also note that many people get pretty stressed at this time of year and that ‘joy’ I spoke of can be a little hard to find.

So a month out from Christmas I want to issue you a challenge – whatever mode of gift giving you subscribe to (either the ‘one size fits all’ or the ‘OMG I must find the perfect gift!’), I would encourage you to think of yourself as a gift this Christmas.

Think of the friendship and love you can offer, the joy and encouragement that you can bring, the restoration of broken relationships you could reach for, the re-establishment of connections which have been broken. Think of how you could use your many and varied abilities to make someone else’s life better, combatting loneliness and isolation which are reaching epidemic proportions in our society.

You being ‘a gift’ could actually make a real difference this year.

I think that this is the central message of Christmas – Christ came as a gift for us so we should live as a gift for each other…

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:15

Like it or not…

Markets dropped rapidly and then they rose, maps started out blue but progressively changed to red, some people were jubilant and others were covering their crying eyes, commentators and pundits were busy explaining this and that – and the world ended up with Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

All this week I have been listening to people’s reactions. Like you, I have watched as some people in America have started riots and other people have headed for their homes feeling more secure than ever. For some it is being seen as the beginning of the end of the world…I heard someone say, “This is how the Hunger Games started!” But others have expressed that it has been a long time coming and “It was time that somebody finally said what I was thinking!”

No matter what side of the political debate you find yourself upon there is no doubt that this was one of the fiercest fought Presidential campaigns in history and has left huge rifts in the fabric of American society. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months and whether those ‘for’ or ‘against’ are proven correct.

What people want is security, stability and growth and so much attention has been focussed upon just one individual that I fear, no matter who was elected, the task is too large.

Many people are saying and hoping that Mr Trump will do better than expected, that he will move to a more moderate stance on certain issues and listen to the concerns of some who feel that they have been shouted down.

The fact remains, that there is a fundamental flaw in putting all your faith in just one man or woman, no matter who they are.

I love people, but the truth is we let each other down, we fall short of the mark, we fail to live up to expectations – that is our common curse and our common limitation.

Whoever sits in the Oval Office impacts the world for sure but we do have the opportunity (with respect) to place our hope in something more reliable. So when you think of what impacts you and who are you relying upon, what do you come up with?

“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright. Save, LORD! Answer us when we call.” Psalms 20:7–9

Do you need scissors?

“Is it possible to get a haircut?” I asked this question because I did not feel all that confident as I walked into this particular salon.

“I can do a shave or any number you like. Do you need scissors? Because I do not do scissors…”

So, I could have a shave (which I didn’t need because I had already shaved that morning) and I could choose whatever ‘number’ I wanted as long as there was no scissor complexity involved…this, along with the concerned look upon his face, failed to instil me with enough confidence to make the step to sit in the chair. So, I excused myself and left, in search of someone who was not quite so afraid of using the complex machinery that is involved in cutting hair.

I understand that the gentleman who was manning the shop may have been new, he may not have been the first choice and he obviously lacked skills and confidence to complete the task…but I did have a chuckle to myself as I walked out of the shop because a young ‘hipster’ dude was walking in with full beard and long hair! If I hadn’t been rushing off I would have waited to see if he walked out quickly like myself, or emerged sometime later looking like he was off to join the army!

Whenever we pay for someone to do something we expect them to have skills. We have all had moments where we have been in awe of a great job that someone has done but we have also had other moments where we have been disappointed. It may have been a tradesman, a chef, a babysitter or hairdresser.

We would not be satisfied if a tradesman said he knew how to use a hammer but not a drill, if a chef could cook sausages but not a steak, if a babysitter guaranteed the safety of one of your children but not the other… what we desire is skill, the ability to complete the job we are asking them to do.

When you think of spiritual things, what is it that you expect God to do? How do you expect Him to do it? Some have reported to me that they have been disappointed or feel let down at times but as I have constantly explored God’s purpose and plan, I have found Him to lack nothing.

“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He heals both the deaf and the mute.” Mark 7:37

Better than birds…

“Don’t sit there – sit up there!”

“It’s wet and cold on the ground – it is much warmer and dryer over here…”

I wasn’t talking to another person and I was not talking to myself but I was trying to reason with a third party who seemed determined not to follow my sage guidance at all.

I had just released a little over a dozen small birds into my aviary, which has been vacant for some time. It was later in the evening than I had hoped and the light was fading – I was a little concerned that the birds, who were disoriented by their lengthy journey from the pet store, may not find a comfortable place to roost and might pass the cold night on the very cold ground. Because they were such small birds this could lead to all sorts of problems…

So I released them and the vast majority made it safely to a perch but there was one, and then two and at times four who seemed happier sitting on the ground. I repositioned them a couple of times, which is always fun to watch someone trying to catch a small bird, but each time I placed one on a perch another would head for the ground.

I soon realised that this was an ‘exercise in futility’ and I would have to let it go and see if they survived the night – I provided enough food, water and warmth for them to make the most of and I would see what happened.

The next morning I was very pleased to find them all perched safely and doing well – perhaps my concerns were unfounded and my actions redundant but it made me think about our responses to the plans and purposes of God.

The Lord has provided so much for each of us – the problem is that often times we don’t accept or make use of what is available. Whether it is the food, shelter or warmth He offers; the guidance, correction or encouragement He brings; or the faith, hope and love that change everything. Often we would rather sit on the ground because we think we know best!

My birds made it through the night because they made use of what had been provided – they may be completely unaware that it had been planned and purposed for their good. We can life safe, comfortable life, blissfully unaware of the care the Lord showers upon us each and every day – but let’s be better than birds!

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26

What is your first memory?

The mother asks her rather energetic two year old son who had a concerned look upon his face…“Hi darling, what’s wrong?”

The child answers and says…

“I have a peanut up my nose!”  

“Don’t be silly – we don’t have any peanuts”

“I have a peanut up my nose!”

The mother, getting exasperated asks the child’s father to take a look…

“Guess what?” The father says..

“He has a peanut up his nose!”

This is a well worn story of an event which happened precisely 50 years ago aboard the HMAS Ellennis as we migrated from England to Australia. It is, in fact, the earliest memory that I can recall. I probably remember it because of both the quirkiness of the event but also because it has been retold so many times.

The next thing I remember is a doctor, in a white coat, leaning towards me with (what seemed at the time to be) a huge pair of scissors who, after a bit of prodding and poking, managed to extricate the offending obstruction before pronouncing me fully functional once more.

This is the closest I have ever come to a peanut allergy and it was probably much easier to address than an anaphylactic shock. However, an epi-pen would not have helped no matter how many times I jabbed it in my leg!

When you cast your mind back in time – what is your earliest memory? Is it something significant, something frightening, or was it something that was out of the ordinary?

My memories of my childhood are getting limited – I tend to only recall the big events, like watching the moon landing whilst I was in kindergarten, things like that…

The truth is that there are many things I have forgotten, many experiences, conversations, acts of kindness and love which have fallen prey to my ‘forgettory’ and may never again be recalled. Many of these would be superficial or unimportant but I am certain, just like you, that there are things I should remember which I cannot. Occasionally, when I am talking to my parents, they will recall an event or circumstance and it will trigger something out of the ‘fog’ and bring it into clear focus for me once more.

So my challenge for you today is to allow me to urge you remember something that you have forgotten.     The Bible says… “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:”

Psalms 103:2

Maybe there is some act of His kindness and goodness that you should recall…