Christmas in July

Following the theme of “Christmas in July” I recalled an event that made me stop and think.

A while ago I was driving through the Dural area with a friend at the wheel. We were enjoying the sun and the winding roads when we encountered a ‘stoptomotrist’ holding the power over the flow of traffic due to some road works. As we were stopped for maybe a couple of minutes an interesting series of events caught my eye.

I looked out of the window and perused a Christmas Tree farm right near where we were stopped. As I looked over, I realised that smaller trees were at the front near the road and as the ground rose backwards towards the house the trees became larger. Obviously they had been planted with a view to harvesting them in a few months, ready to adorn people’s houses for Christmas. As my gaze reached the house (about 200m away) I saw the owner of the farm step out of his front door with a cup of coffee in his hand and a contented look on his face as he looked at his Christmas trees growing.

In an instant I felt that I knew two things for certain: Number one was that the owner enjoyed doing this every day and; number two, I wanted his job!

Imagine having a role that was so easily measurable that you could see a result each and every day. I know that my job is nothing like that. It is hard to know sometimes if I am achieving anything at all. Being a parent is certainly not like that – you are not sure if you are achieving what you are hoping for. In fact, for a lot of us, there are aspects of our lives that we are not sure how they are really going.

You can spend your life comparing yourself to others (either positively or negatively) “I am not as good as Jim but I am not as bad as Paul!”

but those comparisons are hollow and flawed in many respects – the only real measure is what is happening to us as people on the inside.

So how do you measure yourself – on the inside where it really counts?

The Bible gives me something to aim at and it might help you to think about it and challenge yourself as well. We should keep reaching for growth each day until…

“we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”   Ephesians 4:13

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He Turns Up!

“So why do you think it is growing?”

I was asked this question recently regarding a community project that I have been a part of for the last six months. “Hornsby Connect” has been providing low cost food to people in need each Wednesday and our clientele has now grown significantly.   We have a great group of volunteers and loads of effort has been put in to the setting up of the organisation… but those things are not the ‘secret to success’.

The reason we are growing is simple, but it is often simple things which are overlooked.

The one thing we have done is “we have turned up” – each week, consistently and willingly we have opened the doors and provided what we promised. At first, things moved slowly and there were even doubts that what we were offering was needed but slowly and surely it became apparent that if we just ‘turned up’ and opened the doors, then more and more would come. As long as we keep doing the same thing I believe that a positive future is assured.

Consistency is a powerful attribute; it has the capacity to change so many situations. Whether it is consistency as a worker, a friend, a spouse or a parent, there is no substitute whatsoever.

If we learn to build consistency into what we do then we are destined to have success and become valued by all who have dealings with us.

It is better to have someone who consistently delivers 80% day in day out, than someone who can hit 100% but can’t be relied upon to show up. Consistency builds confidence, satisfaction and hope – when you know it is going to be there you can begin to rely upon it.

This is why this is such an important attribute of the Lord’s character and the way He reveals Himself to His people. He said “I am the Lord I do not change!” (Mal 3:6) What this means in simple terms is “He turns up!”

Consistently, reliably and with all His benefits available – He turns up.

Every time we pray, every time we are in need of support, every time we are surrounded by doubt – He turns up.

Every time we need direction, every time we need encouragement, every time we are alone

He turns up.

His consistency has made such a difference in my life (and I know it can in yours) it makes me determined to be consistent in the way I respond and support others – how about you?

Substitutions…

I was being looked after very well, I was answering some questions with a small group following a talk I had just given and this helpful woman had taken it upon herself to grab me some food so I didn’t have to break off my conversation. She arranged a nice little fruit platter for me and handed it to me without a word. It was nice fresh fruit and it was very welcome…a few moments later she returned once more and gave me 3 pieces of pineapple to top off my fruit platter – she simply leaned forward said “Pineapple?” and then placed it on my plate. I continued talking for a few moments and then ate a strawberry, a few minutes more talking and I ate the piece watermelon, a little more talking and I bit into the pineapple – but it was immediately obvious that there was something not quite right.

I was expecting a slight crunch, the sweet tropical taste, the slightly acidic flavour and the refreshment which comes from summer fruit – instead I bit into this somewhat soggy, smoky flavoured, chewy substance that for a few seconds was unknown. It looked like pineapple; its colour, texture and context suggested that it was pineapple; but it wasn’t – it was Swiss cheese.

It wasn’t that much of an issue – I like eating cheese with fruit but it was just a surprize, because I was expecting something else, it took a moment to adjust and then everything was fine.

It could have been worse I guess, if I was expecting a pineapple flavoured milkshake and had been handed a cheese flavoured one or maybe if I was making tuna mornay and the substitution went the other way…uggggh!

The woman who was looking after me was so apologetic, fearing that I may have been lactose intolerant or just generally intolerant but she didn’t really need to worry – it was no big deal.

Some substitutions are welcome – when you get an upgrade of a meal or a flight.

Some substitutions are disappointing – when you get the understudy at a show you have been looking forward too or an ingredient is changed in the meal because the kitchen ran out.

There are certain things that cannot and should never be substituted – when it comes to personal and spiritual help – substitutions are not welcome at all… because…

“No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”                                          1 Samuel 2:2

It takes a village…

I was watching my birds the other day and I observed that, whilst it was clear that there was one pair of birds raising the newly hatched chicks, a number of other birds were getting involved. At one point several birds were gathered around the breeding box and at other times different birds were contributing nesting materials. They even took turns in feeding the young chicks who have such voracious appetites. The whole ‘flock’ seemed to be involved and it reminded me of the old adage which states “It take a village to raise a child”.

Raising children is a challenge and an opportunity like no other…you have the opportunity to guide, shape and launch an individual into what is hopefully a successful and meaningful life. But it is not a job just for the parents – we live in a culture that is not as ‘connected’ as it used to be. Many people are dislocated from family, busy at working multiple jobs, and challenged by the demands of our consumer and technological society.

We can easily find ourselves alone, even though we are surrounded by people.

The fact is that we need to take the opportunities that are afforded us – we need to be involved (appropriately) in the lives of our grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends and neighbours – I am not talking about ‘butting in’ and imposing your values or attitudes upon them, I am talking about being available, being supportive, listening and understanding when that help is needed.

I learnt so much from my parents but if that was the only input I received I would not be the man I now am. I am thankful for others who had the courage and the determination to speak into my life and help me navigate through the various choices and twists I have taken.

When was the last time you made a choice and a determined effort to be a positive impact upon someone else – especially a child? It might be that this is a common pattern in your life or it might be something you used to do, or perhaps you have never thought about it…

My birds are all busy making sure the new chicks have every good thing they need.

Maybe it is time for us to share the load and help someone else become what they are destined to be. The Word of God challenges and calls us to… “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”     Galatians 6:2

Grief…how long?

“She seems very quiet and withdrawn, she hasn’t been sleeping well and she has had some bad dreams…is this normal?”

The little girl in question was about 7 years old and she was coming to terms with the fact that her father had died about a month ago after a fairly long battle with illness. The uncle and grandparents I was talking too were naturally concerned and they were asking the question that I find so many people need to ask.

A significant part of my job entails working with people who are facing grief and loss – it is not a part of the job to ‘enjoy’ but it is an important and special place where I am given the privilege to walk alongside people at some of their darkest moments.   The thing about grief is that we don’t really want to know too much about it, we don’t want to experience it and, if we could, we would chose to avoid it for the whole of our lives. However, the reality is that we all will face grief and loss at some time and it is good to be able to recognise it and help those who are facing it.

There is no simple or concise answer to the questions “How do you grieve?” or “How long does grief take?” Everyone is on their own journey and these questions will be influenced by your experience, your culture, the depth of relationship and any ‘complicating’ factors that may be present. One person will grieve one way and another totally differently.

For the inexperienced, grief looks strange, confronting and even a bit scary…people respond in unexpected ways and it can be unsettling. But the truth is that there is a range of responses that fall within the boundaries of what could be called “Normal Grief”. It is not a series of ‘stages’ to move through but a convoluted and twisted pathway which includes complex emotions and re-organisation of our lives. The deeper we love the deeper we grieve.

Quiet support, gentle understanding and appropriate time are the best things you can offer to assist those who are facing grief and loss. It is also helpful to point them towards someone who knows a bit about the process of grief they are traversing. The last resource I would recommend is the support and care of the Lord Jesus Himself who of course was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3

If you are grieving today, I pray that peace and comfort will surround you…

Made herself ready…

Six months of preparation culminates in a single day… invitations have been sent and answered, people are travelling in from far flung places, venues are booked and paid for, flowers and decorations are in place, dresses and suits are hanging in readiness, place-cards, table settings, music, cars, speeches, bonbonnieres, food, wine, and all manner of trimmings are all set and ready to go…

All that is left is for us all to get dressed and show up at the appointed time and I will have the incredible privilege of walking my daughter down the aisle and joining her hand in hand with my new son-in-law.   It is going to be a great day and one the whole family has been waiting for.

Whilst it has not been the only thing going on, this wedding (like all of them) has dominated its far share of time and effort. You want a wedding to be just right, to reflect the nature of the couple being married and to give it a sense of occasion and gravitas. Because of this, lists are written and re-written, checked and double-checked and finally it comes down to the moment where everyone just has to do what they are meant to do.

I have never been to a ‘perfect wedding’, there is always something that doesn’t go slightly to plan, someone forgets something or technology lets you down. But no matter what little things go wrong, the outcome has always been the same, the couple who walked in as ‘two’ leaves as ‘one’.

This wedding reminds me of another wedding we are all invited to attend…

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

Just like a normal wedding, there is some preparation involved; ‘The Bride’ (the people who choose to belong to God) has to make herself ready. It is inconceivable that my Daughter would forget to put on her dress, smudge her makeup and walk into the service in a pair of dirty, ripped jeans and a tee shirt.

I know the effort she has put in and how carefully she has prepared herself to look radiant for her husband. She will be ready…

So the time has come – our wedding is here and we are ready… but the question is, for the wedding which is yet to come which signals the culmination of the age – are you ready?

Difficult is the way…

There are two ways that you can get to the almost mythical ruins of Aguas Calientes which is more commonly called Machu Picchu. It is a ruined city nestled high in the mountains of Peru and is one of the world’s most famous heritage sites. Your two options are: a four day hike up the Inca Trail – challenging, breath-taking, tiring, thrilling, stretching and fulfilling or;

you can catch the train, step onto a bus and then take a 5 minute walk from the bus to the ruins.

Many people choose to complete the walk but even more people take the train and bus option.

I wonder how those people feel when they arrive – what do they recall of the experience?

The walkers have endured and conquered a challenge that seems fitting to the destination. The riders have possibly been a little uncomfortable on the trip but have had it pretty easy. I wonder if there is a bit of an ‘us and them’ attitude between the two groups?

When I think about experiences and journeys in my life the most valued and memorable ones have been difficult. I have walked through the highlands of New Guinea, taken small boats to remote Islands in the Pacific and ridden ridiculously under powered motor-cycles 800 km circumnavigating and Island in the Philippines. My observation is that, the more difficult the trip, the more I enjoyed the destination and the experience.

Very few things worth having in this life are easy – and yet we all tend to strive for an ‘easy life’. The reality is that if you want a quality life then a certain amount of challenge is going to have to be experienced.

In the book of Matthew in the Bible we find that Jesus said precisely this…

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

  • Difficult doesn’t mean wrong
  • Difficult doesn’t mean lack of blessing
  • Difficult doesn’t mean unenjoyable
  • Difficult means that there is something worth seeing at the end!

So don’t just opt to catch the train and bus – take the challenge to live your life the difficult way, the Christ-like way…

Believe me, the destination is worth it!