Let me simplify it for you…

“You have 6 or 7 minutes – just tell us what has happened in the last 2 years and what you would like to do in the next 5…”

This was the brief I was given 3 days before speaking to a large conference – there were many people who wanted to get their message across, so any time was a bonus and I diligently prepared and limited my comments to the time available.   The day before, I received a text telling me that the time given was now 4-5 minutes and I would be on the platform as part of a group (each with a different story to tell). So I adjusted my notes and cut a couple of things out.

One hour before I was due to speak I was informed that we now had 7 – 8 minutes for the group of the four of us which meant I had 2 minutes at best – more culling and refining had to take place. Every word now counted more than ever and I had to chose which aspects would stay and which would go.

When I walked onto the platform I knew what I was going to say but I was positioned on the 4th stool from the interviewer. The first speaker took 4 minutes, the second 2, the third 1 and a half and so when it came to my turn, the interviewer said “In 30 seconds, sum up what has happened in the last two years…” So I chose the 3 highlights that quickly came to mind. And then the interviewer said “Tell us the 1 most important thing that you are going to do in the next 5 years”. I knew that I had 10 seconds left at most before the academy award style music started to play. I had to condense all my plans, goals and passion into a single phrase and so I did – and I think I did OK but it was really challenging to do so. Anything unimportant or confusing was removed; I was left with a single sentence, pregnant with potential.

This moment reminded me of a similar experience in Jesus’ ministry. One of the Pharisees (the teachers of the Jewish Law) asked Jesus to sum up the Old Testament in a single phrase. Jesus took over 600 specific commandments and brought it down to just one.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” Luke 10:27

Such profound clarity is perhaps just what you need today!

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?

It started with a tax…

It was one of those simple decisions that impacted everybody. The Emperor Augustus decided that he wanted to know how many people made up the greater Roman Empire and so he ordered everyone to return to their ‘home town’ to register – he did this for two reasons – to get a definitive count of the strength of Rome but also to be able to effectively tax all of the people and raise the required revenue he intended to spend.

When you think about the challenges of displacing much of the population of several nations it makes our failed census of August 2016 not look as bad as we remember!

So this is the context in which we find the ‘Christmas Story’ taking place. Joseph and Mary travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem not because they wanted to, but because they had been forced to…the roads were crowded, supplies were limited, accommodation was scarce but there was no choice…

We all know the story pretty well: the innkeeper offers them a place with the animals because it is all he has available; the shepherds visit after the baby is born because they have heard the angels sing… the world, for the most part, remains blissfully unaware about what has taken place… it is a series of images which endure and are recounted year by year.

But it all started with a tax…the first Christmas was destined to ‘cost’ everyone something and because of this it was not a time of joy and peace but a time of concern and frustration.

Many people still view and approach Christmas as a ‘cost’ – expensive presents, food, days off work and crowded streets and roads. As we approach the final days before the 25th I often hear people grumbling and complaining about one aspect of this crazy season or another – they focus on what it is costing them and they wonder if it is really worth it.

The fact is that the first Christmas may have coincided with a cost but it is actually all about ‘a gift’. The ‘gift’ is not the romanticised and sanitised image of the nativity but the powerful message of what really transpired that first Christmas – the Emperor want to tax the world but God in Heaven reaches down to give the world its greatest gift – He presents His only Son, to live amongst us and to show us the way to live.

So don’t just count the cost this Christmas – make certain that you recognise the wealth you have been given through the Gift of Jesus!

This Christmas I pray you will receive ‘the gift’ that waits for you!

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…

What is your label?

“I don’t think that is your name!”

“It certainly doesn’t suit you!”

I was at a conference this week along with hundreds of other people but I had the privilege of sitting up the front in a seat that had been set aside for me – as I sat down the sticker on the chair must not have been attached properly because it stuck itself to the centre of my back and so, for about an hour, I walked around with the word “Reserved” stuck prominently for all to see.

During the hour that I walked around with this label on me, it is possible that no-one else saw it, it is far more probable that several people chuckled to themselves and it is even possible that a couple of people may have been confused by it – but one thing is for sure (from my perspective) it was a label that didn’t suit me at all.

I have been described in many different ways – some are flattering and others not so. Some people like my personality but I know that there are some who view me differently. There are many adjectives that I would use to describe myself but ‘reserved’ is not one I would claim.

I would accept ‘enthusiastic’, ‘excitable’, ‘thoughtful’ and even ‘careful’. ‘Driven’, ‘passionate’, ‘impetuous’ and ‘spontaneous’ would even be acceptable. However, the title ‘reserved’ doesn’t do it for me – it suggests ‘holding back’, ‘timidity’ and a ‘lack of action’ and this is not who I am comfortable to be.

The person who took the label off my back was a friend who saw the funny side of that name being upon me but often we have ‘labels’ put upon us which we do not deserve or which are inaccurate.

People place labels on us because of our ethnicity, our belief structure and our place in society. Labels limit us to a narrow life and lead to nothing but misunderstanding. Labels cut us off from one another and segregate us.

So you probably have many ‘labels’ just like I do – some you are happy with, others you would like to remove but I have found that there is only really one label that matters at all. The Bible says that we have the opportunity to have the ultimate label – it is one which changes our future and defines our actions and responses. It is a label worth wearing and worth living up to!

“They shall see Jesus’ face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”            Revelation 22:4

The expired gift card…

Expiry Date – 19 May 2016…

Thankfully we remembered that we had them sitting in the draw by the side of our bed, otherwise they soon would have been worthless.

It is hard to believe that a year had past so quickly but here it was. My wife had been given 2 Gift Vouchers for going to the movies for last Mothers’ day and we had been meaning to take the opportunity for ages.   We have been to the movies in the last year but we either forgot to use the Gift Cards or the movie we wanted to see didn’t fit the conditions limited on the card.

So today is the day – I will redeem the gift cards and we will have an enjoyable night out.

Thinking about it, I have a number of gift cards floating around. They are a very convenient way of giving a useful gift to someone you know – especially if that person seems to have everything that they need. I have gift cards for movies, for restaurants, for hardware stores, for garden shops and of course an itunes card.

In the last few years I have made the mistake of not redeeming a gift card in time, I have got to the checkout, presented my items, scanned the giftcard and found that it has been out of date.

It is very frustrating because it was a waste but more importantly, I also felt like I had let down the person who had given me the gift.

Personally, I think that it is wrong that a gift card has an expiry date, it means that shops are hoping that people fail to claim what is rightfully their’s. However, I understand that a business cannot trade effectively if everyone is holding onto their giftcards for years and years and then present them all at once.

Contrary to all of this I have in fact been given a giftcard which doesn’t have an expiry date. It has the potential for me to draw benefits which make an incredible difference in my daily life. It brings peace, sense of fulfilment, joy, confidence, purpose and understanding. It even has an open-ended clause which continues after I am dead – the only catch? I have to claim it before I leave this life.   The giftcard I am speaking about is my Bible – which contains ‘exceedingly great and precious promises’ for all who will claim them for themselves…but… we have to claim it this side of heaven –

So, do you have a giftcard you need to claim?  

What is in your wake?

“Who does that? Why do they do that?

Don’t they know that this is how you are meant to do it?”

We often have very important conversations about very important things in our house and this was one of them. It would seem that someone (only two people use this bathroom and my wife was the one asking the questions…) had left the toothpaste crushed and mashed from the middle when it should have been carefully squeezed from the bottom and left nice and flat.   Several members of the family weighed in and the consensus was, that the offender had done the wrong thing and had left behind an issue for others…part of me wanted to go through the house and squeeze every tube I could find but the reasonable part of me took it ‘on board’ and gave it a little more thought.

When you step onto a boat and cross a patch of water as you look behind you will see a ‘wake’. The larger the boat the larger the wake; the faster the boat the larger the wake.

When you see the footage on television following a cyclone or a tornado they try to show you aerial photos of the path of destruction that the storm has left behind.

We hear a lot about the environmental impact we make upon our world – each individual leaving a ‘footprint’ and most of the time it is a negative impact that is portrayed.

Have you ever considered what you are leaving behind in your ‘wake’?

Are you frustrating others by the heinous misuse of toothpaste tubes? Are you leaving a path of destruction in relationships or interactions you have with others? Are you causing ripples which add excitement, or waves that make people uneasy?

Psalm 23:6 gives a great promise to those who will follow the Lord “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”. Usually people see this as a promise of good things coming their way but what if it also means that in our ‘wakes’ we could leave behind these awesome gifts for others?

I have always wanted my life to count for something and just maybe this is a way I can make it happen. The more closely I follow Jesus the more good things will follow after me.

So my question to you today is “what is in your wake?”