The Perfect Christmas

“CAN YOU CALL someone else to come up the front and help!”

It was not a request; it was a command.

It was not a medical emergency or anything of similar magnitude; it was surprising to those who were standing around but there was no doubt how she felt and what she wanted

I was at the counter of one of the $2 shops at Hornsby buying up party supplies for Christmas and there were about 4 or 5 people in the line behind me as the young lady on the checkout was counting and bagging my items.

I had bought up big and so it was taking a bit of time but obviously the woman, who was number 4 in the line, felt that it was taking far too long and so she spoke up as I have mentioned.

It was a surprise when she spoke and the way she spoke seemed out of place.

You could see the frustration on her face, you could hear the tension in her voice and you couldn’t miss the annoyance in her stance…she was in a rush and no one should get in her way.

Christmas has a way of bringing the best and worst out of people – I think that we have probably gone too far with the idea that everything has to be ‘perfect’ for just one day. People put a lot of pressure upon themselves to have the perfect meal, the perfect present, the perfect decorations and the perfect family day – the problem is, life isn’t perfect.

As I walked away from the shops I thought about the woman’s reaction and whilst it was a small, momentary thing, it made me stop and take a measure of just what is really important as I march towards Christmas and the ending of the year.

The goal is not to achieve the perfect Christmas but to remember that God saw that life on earth was far less than perfect and so He did something to rectify it – He sent His Son – and because of Jesus, a more perfect life is available to us all.   So what we need to remember is that Christmas is not just about a day, but all of your days! And that is a reason to celebrate!

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”            Isaiah 9:6–7

How do you smell today?

“What is that horrible smell???”

These were the first words that my wife spoke to me last Saturday…I had been up early to fulfil my what seems to be weekly ritual of heading to Bunnings to purchase those items I need for working on the house but also to pause and to ‘save the world one sausage at a time’!

This trip was in response to my horticulturist brother-in-law’s suggestion that the plants in my garden needed ‘a feed’ – I purchased 3 large bags of fertiliser and gave a generous spring-feeding to all of the plants surrounding my house. To me the smell was ‘earthy and wholesome’ but this was not a view held by the rest of the members of my household.

They were not as generous in their descriptions and in fact were filled with complaints about the fragrance that was now wafting through the open doors and windows on a bright and sunny weekend.

I tried to explain that the garden would be healthier because of the fertilisation – I mentioned that the plants would grow, they would be more colourful and that it was short-term pain for long-term benefit – but all my wife said in response was “I don’t care…it stinks!”

Plants are amazing things – they have the capacity to turn waste and refuse into blooms, growth, flowers and fruit. Thankfully the flowers and fruit they bear do not smell or taste like the waste they convert – but inside the plant is the capacity for changing negative to positive. The benefit comes from the processing of negatives.

Not everything in our life has a positive fragrance. We encounter negative attitudes, behaviour, emotions and experiences – often, these smell really bad and they leave a bad taste in our mouths – but the question is, ‘What do you do in response?’

Do you let the smell of the incident just remain on the surface and impact and infect others?

Or do you allow the negative to be internally processed where you can witness it change into something different which actually can be beneficial?

I have found the joy in ‘processing’ the negatives in my life – it is better than the only other option!   What about you? How do you smell today?

“Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

2 Corinthians 2:14

Pride goes before a fall

“It is virtually unsinkable…”

“It is completely unhackable…”

Both of these quotes were spoken by people who thought they knew what they were talking about. Both of these quotes proved to be unfounded and left the speakers with more than just ‘egg on their faces’.

When the Titanic sunk on Apr 15, 1912 it sent shock waves around the world – confidence in the Industrial Age was forever shaken. When the Australian Census was hacked on Aug 9, 2016 everyone in Australia wondered how such a blunder could have been allowed to unfold.

It will be interesting to see, in years to come, how this year’s statistics match up and whether many people will simply not bother to lodge their census at all.

The truth is that things do not always go as planned and sometimes they can take a significant turn for the worse.

Last weekend I spent a day digging a trench to fix a plumbing problem at home. I knew that it would be a challenging task but I confidently stated that I would be able to “do it in a day” – I joined the designer of the Titanic and the head of the ABS both in hubris and error.

The trench was not particularly deep but it was 40 metres long – interestingly 39 meters were dug in about 8 hours but the first metre took almost 9 hours to complete – I knew that it would be hard but I didn’t know that it would be that hard… When we finally broke through the first metre, we had to call it a day and the task was mostly still undone… The second ‘day’s’ work went without a hitch and the task was completed but it certainly made me think about the similarity of sinking ships, crashing websites and trenches that refuse to be dug.

The similarity is over-confidence and pride in something we think we control. We all suffer from these maladies in different measure – some just speak louder than others and it is when you raise your voice and draw attention to yourself that it really becomes a problem.

The Bible says “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18)

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to check ourselves and what we think we are capable of. Pride is not attractive, it forces people away and sets us up for failures.

Maybe your success would be more successful if it was tinged with a little humility?

That is going to leave a mark!

There was no escaping the fact that you had been there…it certainly did not require a forensic scientist to work out who had visited the scene. The evidence was unmistakable for about 200m in either direction.   There where white tyre marks on both sides of the road, growing fainter as you moved further away from the epicentre of the incident.

Two large paint cans filled with white paint – at least 15 litres each – had fallen out of the back door of a painter’s van and had hit the centre lanes of a busy road. The cans had burst open and now the traffic was driving through; spreading the paint all up the road and coating each car with tell-tale signs of where it had been.

I narrowly managed to avoid getting paint all over my hire car, the only reason I didn’t end up with an attractive set of ‘white-walled’ tyres and matching guards was the fact that I saw the tyre tracks on the other side of the road and, thankfully, I had the presence of mind to move to the outer lane. As I drove past the incident there was a bit of a commotion and a few angry people with one in particular who had stopped right in the middle of the paint puddle and was now standing next to their car with paint on their shoes…

As I drove away the marks on the road quickly faded but I did see a car a couple of kilometres later at the car wash with a guy feverishly spraying the high pressure hose attempting to remove all signs of the unexpected paint job.

I thought about how hard we try to keep our cars looking good – some people are particularly fastidious about it – I felt really sorry for those who now had marks and stains where they didn’t want them. I thought about how important it would be to quickly remove them before the paint had chance to dry because the job would be so much harder later that day and impossible the next.

No matter how hard you try I have found that it is impossible to avoid all of the ‘paint puddles’ of life and at different times you travel in directions which leave stains upon your heart and soul. Some are self-inflicted and others are imposed upon us by others.

Jesus demonstrated the need for each of us to be washed and when Peter refused, it provided us with some important food for thought.

“Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”              John 13:8

An unexpected leak!

A loud hiss, a cloud of steam and a stream of scalding water announced that my hot water heater needed to be replaced. I don’t know why but it seems like these things always happen late at night!

I distinctly remember walking past my hot water heater over the last couple of weeks and not noticing anything amiss…from the outside, things looked fine and there were no signs that “the end was near” but on the inside obviously, a different story was unfolding.

This was not a small leak but a complete rupture of the system, there was nothing to be done but to turn the water off and to break the news to the family that they would be at least 1-2 days without hot water.

As I said, you would not have been able to tell that anything was wrong by looking on the surface but something was definitely not healthy within. The problem is that over time the steel tank of the water heater starts to corrode and if left unattended the integrity of the tank is compromised; when you add the fact that the hot water is under high pressure, it only takes the smallest hole to become a significant problem.

Water heaters are fitted with a ‘sacrificial anode’ which is made of a material that corrodes faster than the steel in the tank and so extends the life of the heater by sacrificing itself…I only know this because a couple of days ago I received a leaflet explaining it to me and why I should have my hot water heater serviced – the timing is interesting…perhaps they drop the leaflet one day and come around and punch a hole in your water heater the next night? (Surely not??)

As I was having my cold shower this morning the thought came to me that although things can all look OK on the outside what is happening on the inside of our life may be quite different. There are many things which cause ‘corrosion’; things done ‘to’ us and things done ‘by’ us. Given enough pressure even the strongest will eventually crack and leak and fail.

I am just so thankful that there is one – Jesus – who was willing to sacrifice Himself for me so that my failings, weaknesses and shortcomings do not determine my future no matter what pressure I am exposed to.

I hope you don’t just look good on the outside; maybe it is time to look within?

I love the smell but I don’t like the taste…

I love the smell but I don’t like the taste…

I do not have very finicky tastes when it comes to food and drink. There are only two foods I don’t like and one drink…both foods set hard if you leave them overnight (which is probably part of my aversion) porridge and rice pudding. My distain for these has never caused me much problem because I don’t have that many morning meetings with Scottish people and rice pudding is not all that fashionable…but my dislike of the beverage in question does set me apart from the crowd.

Against all popular opinion I do not like Coffee – in fact I cannot bear the taste of it.

Interestingly although, I love the smell of coffee but no matter how many times I try, I am yet to find any method of preparation, which makes it palatable. I don’t like International Roast, Pablo, Maxwell House, Nescafe, or Moccona. Espressos, Long Blacks, Lattes and Cappuccinos do nothing for me. Piccolo Lattes, Macchiatos and even Affogatos cannot change my dislike of the underlying flavour.

I remember on my 18th Birthday my next-door-neighbour went to great lengths to bake me my birthday cake – it was a beautiful looking cake and a real labour of love but as she carried it into the room I could smell the aroma of the coffee icing from across the room which changed it from a desert to be enjoyed to one that had to be endured.

I often get asked out for ‘Coffee’ by people, sometimes they will rave about a particular coffee shop which has great coffee; I recently walked past 4 coffee shops which were described as “rubbish” to get to one in particular that was “amazing” only to disappoint the person I was with when I ordered a Hot Chocolate.

There are things in this life that attract us by their aromas but they can leave a bad taste in our mouths. Selfishness, lying and infidelity may draw us from afar but when we experience them close at hand we are left bitter and wishing we had never taken a sip. Just because something smells or looks good from the outside doesn’t mean that it is going to do you good inside.

I am not equating coffee with sin or suggesting you should give it up but I am suggesting that we shouldn’t keep trying to enjoy something that we were never made for.

“How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!”        Psalms 119:103

The unexpected debt…

Yesterday I was blissfully unaware but today I realise that I am a man with a debt and I have a debt collector chasing me.

It is not a large debt and, as I stated, I didn’t know that I had the debt until the letter arrived in the post yesterday announcing it.

The letter was from a collection agency chasing up outstanding fines from a Hornsby video store which has ceased to trade. According to their records, I rented a copy of the ‘Bourne Supremacy’ on 18 January 2011 and failed to return it until 20th January 2011 thus incurring a massive $6 overdue fee. I don’t recall renting the video but I am sure that they would not just make something like that up. The problem was that I obviously never returned to rent another video from that store and so I was never asked to pay the fine. Since the store has now gone out of business I guess that the auditors are attempting to recoup any losses which are outstanding.

The interesting thing is that the collection agency charged me a $7.50 fee for sending me the letter about my $6.00 debt and (if that wasn’t enough) the second last line of the letter includes a $0.41 ‘e-collection fee’ as well which makes the total overdue fee $13.91, add that to the initial $6.00 that I paid to hire the movie and I will have paid $19.91 which is more than buying a copy of the DVD would be today!

The letter contains the following warning “A video store is not required to notify you of an outstanding debt and is entitled to pursue debts for up to six years. Failure to pay this bill will result in further costs to you. (Min $27.50)”

 

I am so glad that all the debts that I have forgotten do not attract the same response as this one…all of the mistakes, the harsh words, the wrong attitudes and selfish behaviour… I am so glad that I have found the truth that Jesus paid all the debts I ever incurred so that there would be no administration fee ever added.

The truth is that He is willing to forgive it all and offers this to each one of us. My outstanding DVD bill reminds me how fortunate I really am.

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:38