Winter Solstice…

I have noticed a subtle change which has overtaken a few of my close acquaintances in the last few days.

A week ago I had observed that a number people were showing signs of what could only be described as ‘glumness’, but in the last few days that seems to have turned around.

The only explanation I can ‘hang my hat on’ is that the days are finally getting longer. Last week was the winter solstice and we passed that point where the days have reached their shortest point. For a couple of weeks leading up to it, it feels like darkness is rising and the daylight disappears all too quickly. I know for myself I had a couple of days where I went to work in the dark and came home in the dark. It is not a massive thing but it does have an impact on the way you think and on the way you feel. I can only imagine what it is like to live in parts of the world that have to endure months of darkness with no daylight at all.

But with the passing of the solstice come longer days and shorter nights. It is imperceptible at first but soon becomes noticeable. This is what I have observed in my friends and family – just a slight improvement in mood and more of a likelihood to want to get out and do something.

As the days grow longer you see more people out and about, people make efforts to have picnics (even though it is still cold) and they are generally more positive. I think there is a causal link between our attitude and the amount of light we experience.

In Genesis 1 we read the words that Lord spoke “Let there be light”… it is a basic need and a hope generating force. Problems seem worse in the middle of a dark night, fears are larger and obstacles seem more insurmountable – but hope comes with the dawning of a new day and hopefully the light of this morning finds you with enough hope to carry on.

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12

So my question for you today is this – do you have enough ‘light’ in your life or are you still in the darkened winter?

Perhaps it is time to open your eyes and notice that the season has changed!

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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?

Brittleness

I was sitting at my desk, basting in the heat of my office, responding to the pile of paper and emails which had accumulated during my holidays when I was suddenly assailed. Firstly by a loud crunching noise and immediately after by a spray of plastic, dust and general debris.

I was really shocked, both by the noise and the dust and I thought that something must have crashed into the outside wall of my office – on inspection there was no damage outside and so I came back inside to find my desk absolutely covered with tiny pieces of plastic. Upon examination it finally dawned on me, and looking upwards confirmed it…my electric fan, which was sitting above my desk, had completely self-destructed and one of the fan blades had broken off and had shattered all of the others. Because this happened when the fan was going flat out, it had sent the tiny shards of plastic all over me, my computer and my desk… it was really quite exciting and I have never seen anything like it before.

The problem was caused by the fact that the fan was quite old and that it sits in a spot which gets hit by direct sun, over time the plastic became brittle and finally a small crack appeared and it was only a matter of time until it completely failed. One moment it was functioning, the next it was a dangerous ‘projectile delivery’ device.

This unexpected shower of plastic gave me an opportunity to stop and think (and an opportunity to clean up my office!). I wondered just how many times people are living on the brink of disaster without really realising it. I wonder how many relationships have cracks which are only waiting for the wrong type of stress to occur?

I wonder how many people are struggling with mental health issues, loneliness and despair but look ok on the outside but really are only a moment away from a breakdown?

Perhaps you are not aware that your own heart attitudes have grown brittle through the ‘heat’ of the issues of life which surround you?

The Bible gives us a challenge to remember

“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

So let’s check the status of our hearts… if there is brittleness there then there is a solution…

“I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

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!

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

Change of contract..

I was dealing some legal issues this week regarding an organisation that I oversee. We are transitioning from one legal entity to another and so everything has to be re-written and transferred across. One of the many tasks that were on my list was the re-issuing of contracts to the various people who are employed by us. It is only a simple change really, but it has taken quite a bit of time to work it out. The only thing that had to change was the name of the organisation that employs them but, of course, it is not that simple.

Firstly, I had to engage the lawyers (to write the draft contract), then I had to run it by the Board of Directors, then I had to prepare the contracts with the various idiosyncrasies of the individuals involved, then I had to discuss the contract with each individual, then I had to negotiate with a couple of them who wanted to make adjustments and changes, then the final contracts were agreed on, signed and actioned… simple!

Contracts are agreements between at least two parties, which spell out the understood parameters of the relationship. In changing from one contract to another I was informed that the new contract must not remove any benefits or conditions from the employee but could add benefits or improve the conditions under which they work. So I had to make certain that my employees were ‘better off’ under the new system. This is not always the case, an often people are faced with a change of working conditions or a limiting of their income or benefits – at that point they are left with a difficult choice to continue in that employment or to look elsewhere.

I don’t know what contracts you are party to in your life…perhaps work, a mortgage, a marriage or a partnership. This week gave me an opportunity to pause and think about the most important ‘change of contract’ I have ever been involved in.

From birth, I was in charge of my own life. I was free to make my own decisions, to go where I wanted and to do what I pleased but the result was not satisfaction but emptiness and longing. It was not until I exchanged contracts and allowed Jesus to be in control of my life that I found the peace and joy I was looking for.

Perhaps it is time to renegotiate?

You will be better off I guarantee!

“For you are not your own, you have been bought with a price…” 1 Cor 6:19