Archive | December, 2010

December 19th – How to Handle Fear

Yesterday I began telling you of an article I’d read which listed five places where God told people, at moments of great crisis in their lives, “Do not be afraid” – especially at Christmas.
Do not be afraid Zechariah, you will become the father of a boy called John. Who grew up to be the forerunner of Jesus, the Son of God.
Do not be afraid Mary, when God calls you to bear not only the baby, but the misunderstanding, the scorn and the judgment of the world. He also provides the resources to deal with it.
To the shepherds – do not be afraid of the dazzling and awesome experiences of God. Turn them into simple obedience and rejoice in the privilege you have received.
The fourth “Do not be afraid” is spoken to loud-mouthed, big fisherman nick-named ‘Rocky’, or Peter, who met this man Jesus, the sight of whom filled him with awe and guilt. Peter, a professional fisherman, had never seen such a haul of fish they’d just taken, but neither had he ever seen a man who could also land men for God. It was all too supernatural – Peter wasn’t up to all this. “Don’t be afraid Peter”, from now on we will fish for men together! That should have been enough to scare anyone into a thousand excuses, and opt-outs, but thank God Peter listened, and God eventually mastered his fear and his tongue. When Jesus calls his church to be fishers of men we mostly opt out because we are afraid of other people rejecting us s being religious nut cases or hypocrites, nor narrow-minded bigots, because he knew that they know, and we know – none of us is perfect.
The fifth “Be not afraid” was spoken to a man whose daughter had just died. Enough to fill anyone with horror, shock and total devastation. “She’s dead”, they said, and death is so final. That’s the absolute end. Jesus said “Do not be afraid: trust me”. In the most dreadful of life’s experiences the one thing needful is to be addressed by Jesus saying “Do not be afraid”. Now that’s someone you can trust to see you through. Whatever the horror facing you. Even death of your loved ones, and yours, does not have the last word with him. This is from Luke Chapter 8 v. 49-50:
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.” Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
A Prayer:
Lord to whom else can we turn? You alone have the word of eternal life and can turn even the dark night of death into the morning.

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December 18th – Don’t Be Scared

In this Advent season, I came across a little article, so simple, and so helpful that I thought the author would not mind me taking the bones out of it and serving it to you. “Don’t be afraid of Christmas” is it’s heading. Afraid of it? Yes, because it’s a time full of stress and anxiety. Christmas can be a frightening time for, along with summer holidays, it’s the highest peak period for family breakdown! It’s so expensive, so demanding, so frantically busy, and for millions, so lonely and so searching. Well, there are five places in Luke’s Gospel where God tells people “Don’t be afraid”, and that even includes Christmas.
The first is about ageing childlessness, in Luke Chapter 1 v. 13, when the father of John the Baptist is told not to be afraid about being old and childless. That fear can also arise when our children have grown up and gone, or have never arrived.In this first case, the biological clocks had all but stopped. But the old couple trusted God and were blessed with a child of history called John the Baptist. Do not be afraid – dare to believe that God who is aware of our needs does know exactly how we feel.
The second place God tells Mary not to be afraid, even though she was informed that she was to have a baby and that no other human being would understand this pregnancy. when God gives a gift, do not be afraid, even when folk through all the world misunderstand, wag their gossiping tongues and scorn any explanation. Be not afraid, she who was mocked was the mother of Jesus. When God calls you to any task he equips you to do it. Sometimes it’s to be unafraid in the face of ugly innuendo.
The third “Be not afraid” goes to the heart of the Christmas story. Luke Chapter 2 v. 10, probably the most quoted part of all the Christmas story. This was spoken to shepherds, the ordinary working men, rough and ready, and probably not all that religious. Yet, it was they who had revealed to them the staggering revelation by an angelic messenger and heavenly choirs. If that happened to us today, we would probably be petrified, and doubt our sanity. “Do not be afraid”- “Fear not said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds”. Their fear turned to joy when they acted on it and actually went to Bethlehem to see for themselves, thus turning an awesome experience into daily currency. Don’t be afraid when God comes to you: he is people friendly! Be awake, be obedient, and enter his joyful news. Yes, I know there are two more “Be not afraids”. We’ll keep them until tomorrow. For now, this is from Luke Chapters 1 v. 29 – 30:
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.
A Prayer: Thank you Lord, that in fearing you, we have nothing else to fear.

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December 17th – Christmas Present

The run up to Christmas is a worrying time for most of us, but it should open up a window into the very heart of Christian prayer. It’s quite touching to see the confidence with which the children reel off what they want for Christmas, never thinking about the cost. For many it’s simply “Anything that I ask for will be given me”. This raises the issue of false expectations, many of which are fed, manipulated and doctored by the advertisers who exploit children’s greed and parental insecurity. Those who truly love their children listen to the requests but, because they love them, they decide how to answer. They don’t give them everything they fancy.Some toys are harmful, some so dangerous that they are crossed off the list at once. Children often do not know what will help or harm them. Thus the process of asking and receiving is a steep learning curve. Take those gifts given which have cost a great deal and are rejected, or taken and mistreated. The play area floor is soon littered with broken toys or missing bits or those 2-minute novelties.
When we pray we sometimes assume that ‘anything we want’ is a fair request. Think of God’s response to hearing our pleas for those gifts which would harm us – for gifts we will reject or ignore, for presents we don’t really need and would soon cast aside, for things other people have received and we ask out of envy. All God’s giving is in pure love for his children, and he knows what we need. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our asking sprang from a desire to seek what he wanted for us, and to be willing joyfully to receive whatever he gives us in the faith that he knows what’s best for us? “What did you get this Christmas?” they asked a boy, whose father had been held hostage for years: “I got my Dad back and that was the best Christmas present of all.” This is from Matthew Chapter 6 v. 6 and 20-21:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you ….But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When a child has a nightmare and wakes up screaming it’s not any thing he wants. It’s a parent’s loving arms. Lord, it’s not Christmas presents I need, it’s you.

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December 16th – Our Disney-Land Christmas

What have we done with Christmas? No, I’m not a killjoy nattering on about commercialism, and what folk call “the real meaning of Christmas”, but never saying what that real meaning is I’m just a bit sick of what we’ve done to it.
I read somewhere that a Mori Poll predicts that over Christmas there will be 3 million family rows.Over Christmas the suicide rate accelerates, deaths through stress increase, marriages fall apart, and family feuds are fuelled. What have we done to Christmas? There is a passion to spend money we haven’t got for things folks don’t need. One psychologist, helping patients to survive Christmas, advises “Cheer up, it’ll soon be over”. No wonder I feel, along with you, that we are missing the point of it all. Many children ask for outlandish presents, and parents feel obliged to try and get them. “After all, it’s Christmas”.
I am also fed up with well-meaning folk speaking of “the real meaning of Christmas” who, when pressed, say “Well, it’s all about the baby Jesus, isn’t it?”, and in the minds eye there is a picture of Christianity being all about plastic dolls in toy mangers inside star spangled stables on sterile straw. Disney doe-eyed donkeys, and cartoon cows, star-struck magicians from afar, “walk-on” shepherds, and tragically, there, the story ends, for millions. They never got past that stage in the primary department of the school or Sunday school. There’s no incarnation, no grown up grasp of a being coming to confront the cosmic powers of darkness – no life – no cross – no resurrection – no glorious ascension. Just a doll in a toy stable surrounded by the festivities of food, booze and carols and endless T.V. talk about a celebration party without the guest of honour being there – or keeping the wrapping and throwing the gift in the bin! No wonder we have to get over it! It’s a hangover, a sore head: some season of goodwill! What was really going on at Bethlehem was not a nativity play It was, in Paul’s words, “Jesus who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians Chapter 2 v.6-7
A Prayer: Lord forgive us for what we have done to Christmas! Enable us not only to bow down in wonder before the manger, but to kneel in penitence before the cross and invite him to be born again into our selfish little lives for his sake – and ours.

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December 15th – The Price is Paid

We had a Christmas card from friends in the U.S.A. On the envelope was a Christmas sticker, fractionally larger than a stamp. It had on it a typical picture of a Christmas card-type Bethlehem, over which was an enormous star in a glory cloud, and in the foreground a cuddly little woolly lamb.
Normally that kind of symbolism turns me cold, but I am so glad I read the words printed on it, above the sender’s address. In one sentence it put the message of Christ’s coming into a single gem-like setting.I mean, could you say why Jesus came, and in one sentence? Scripture has some wondrous summaries in it, like for example, there’s one from Paul in Galatians Chapter 4 V. 4-5
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. He came to make us Sons of God. Here is St. John’s profound summary from John Chapter 1 v. 1, 14 and 18:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the he Father, full of grace and truth…. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only … has made him known.
One of the favourite Christms Carols has this profound summary:Born, that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth; Born, to give them second birth.
Well, what was on that American envelope sticker that I found so impressive? Here we go …
“He came to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.”
Let me repeat that:
“He came to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.”
Live on that today – the price is paid. Hallelujah!

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December 14th – Welcome Guest?

One of the most well-loved poems about Christmas is an anonymous piece of five verses, all set in the background of a wealthy home and household in Jacobean England (you know, the period of James 1st, from 1603-1625 A.D.). It’s called “The Guest”. It begins like this:
Yet if his Majesty, our Sovereign Lord, Should of his own accord, Friendly himself invite and say, “I’ll be your guest tomorrow night”, How should we stir ourselves, call and command All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand!”.
Then follows a description of the kind of feverish and lavish preparations which we in that situation would make, to ensure that every detail was arranged, and every effort made to make the place beautiful, and the welcome fit for the coming of the King. Carpets, cushions, chairs and candles lighted on the stairs, perfumed chambers, extra staff on hand, all to honour an earthly King, with no regard to the trouble and the cost.This is the last verse:
But at the coming of the King of Heaven All’s set at six and seven; We wallow in our sin, Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn We entertain him always like a stranger, And, as at first, still lodge him in the manger.
Let’s take the message of this old poem to heart in all our frantic preparations for Christmas, lest we are so busy preparing for the party we entirely forget to invite, or, if invited, be ready to receive the guest of honour. But how do we do this? Well, in his own words, from Luke Chapter 18 v. 13
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A Prayer: “Into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus, come in today, come in to stay. Come into my heart Lord Jesus.”

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December 13th – Who Owns You?

It could be one of those days. ou have a long list of jobs to do. There are so many routine tasks to do, that your feel a bit flustered and ragged before the day even gets under way. The duties may be all small, but the sheer number of them is oppressive. Now stop! Suppose for a moment you were not capable of doing any jobs today. Just try to imagine that you are too ill, or too fragile, or somehow physically incapable of doing anything. Today, would you not feel that the most routine busy-ness of previous years would be a delight?
Then take into this busy day the thought that God does not ask most of us to make some great sacrifice, some vast public gesture of spirituality, nor some spectacular religious demonstration, but simple, down-to-earth obedience to his known will. Every task can be an act of grace in an attitude of gratitude. That’s what lifts a busy, trivia-packed day into a sheer pleasure. “I am glad I am able to do it”. “I can, so I will” is the motto.
The willingness to be a servant of the Lord is the transforming spell, which turns the trivial round, the common task into an act of worship. Take your prayers with you into the duties of the day, and find the pleasure of being able to do his will; the busy-ness being a compliment to your efficiency. Psalm 40 v. 5-8:
Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come – it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God, your law is within my heart”.
A Prayer:
Lord, grant me a loving servant heart today, that in the steps of Jesus I seek not to be waited on but to serve, and to give myself to what has to be done joyfully.
P.S. A ‘pierced ear’ was the mark of a slave’s ownership – the world always wants to know, and looks at us asking: “Who owns you?”. How will you answer that question today?

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December 12th – Reckless Giving

This is from a story by Frank O’Connor which I have always found most moving on the subject of Christian giving. It’s called “An Only Child”.
“One Christmas Santa Claus brought me a toy engine. I took it with me to the convent and played with it while my mother and the old nuns discussed old times. But it was a young nun that brought us to see the crib. When I saw the Holy Child in the manger I was very distressed because, little as I had, he had nothing at all. For me it was fresh proof of the incompetence of Santa Claus.I asked the young nun politely if the Holy Child didn’t like toys, and she replied composed enough, “Oh he does, but his mother is too poor to afford them”. That settled it. My mother was poor too, but at Christmas she at least managed to buy me something, even it was only a box of crayons. I distinctly remember getting into the crib and putting the engine between his outstretched arms. I probably showed him how to wind it up as well, because a small baby like that would not be clever enough to know. I remember, too, the tearful feeling of reckless generosity with which I left him there in the mighty darkness of the chapel, clutching my toy engine to his chest.”
That’s the end of the quotation, but a present strong reminder of a child’s sense of reckless generosity which Jesus understands well, even if we do not. Instead of a ‘Christmassy reading’ today, hear Paul’s doxology at the end of Romans Chapter 11 v. 33-36, when lost in a dilemma he could never solve. Let it lead us to reckless and loving wonder and worship and self-giving:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.
A Prayer: Thank you for your love, O God, which so loves as to give into our unfeeling hands the gift of Jesus, your only Son, our Lord.

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December 11th – Grow Up !

There used to be a great fuss made to celebrate our coming of age. This signified that we had ceased to be children, and officially had become adults. Once it was when we reached the age of 21 years.Then it became the 18th birthday. In Bible culture, Jewish men came of age at 30 years old, but there is another much more penetrating coming of age to which the Apostle Paul refers in his letter to the Galatians, and it’s to do with the human race reaching its majority!
Paul saw his people, the most religious folk on earth, as being in a kind of childhood for (wait for it!) 1,300 years! “All that time we were minors, treated as children and adolescents and under the authority of guardians until we grew up. We were a bit like slaves, although we were heirs to the estate.”
The stern guardian to act like a personal tutor, and ever present teacher, rapping our knuckles when we get too cheeky, smacking us when we did wrong, and even pointing us to a more grown-up maturity, was – the Law of Moses. It was given, Paul says, to be like a school teacher, a personal guardian or tutor, to help us grow up into our majority, ever watchful, ever corrective, because we were heirs of a great estate, but still too young, too childish, to take the full responsibility. Till then, the guardian insisted we did every word he told us. One day we’ll be free of this bondage. But it was not meant to crush us, but to put us on the road to freedom, not to condemn us, but to encourage us to be responsible, grown up inheritors of our great fortune. Then – the coming of age arrived. Galatians Chapter 4 v. 1-5
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
That’s the message of Advent. Not just the coming of God’s Son, but because of that, our coming of age. Now you don’t have to be treated like a naughty child, wilful and screaming ‘No’ all the time, crying for your own way, and having tantrums when you don’t get it. Now the time had fully come.
‘You Christians, you are no longer to be seen and not heard, drilled and schooled and disciplined. Now you are treated as sons and daughters who inherit your Father’s vast estate.’ That’s one of the differences Christ’s coming has made; but make no mistake, it’s a big difference.

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December 10th – The Coming One

This is an Advent meditation. Just for a change. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth changed the way we reckon time. His coming was the first century – yet he belongs to all the centuries of this earth.He was born a Jew – yet he belongs to all men. He was born in a scruffy village called Bethlehem, near Jerusalem – yet he belongs to all cities, all towns and all villages. He called himself “Son of Man” – men called him “Messiah”, “Son of God”. His coming split history in two. His coming changed not only the way humans see God, but even the way God treats humans.Amnesty was declared.The King of Heaven became a subject of earth. He, almighty in power, rules – not by force, but in love. He reigns – but his throne is an ugly gibbet. His work was finished – yet it continues. He came – and he will come again. He is heaven’s lion – who was the lamb.
Was there ever such a coming? Was there ever such a being? Were he an invention – it would have needed him to have invented such a one.
The coming of one who is never away. The beginning of him who has no end; nor was there a time when he was not. He, the Word, the Life, the Truth, and men called him ‘Jesus’, or in Hebrew Y’shuah, which means ‘deliverer’, ’saviour’. This is from John’s Gospel, Chapter 1 9-13:
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.
A Prayer: Lord God, ever present, who is unseen, yet clearly visible in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth, we marvel at the coming one who is already here; the unknowable, who makes himself known; the all powerful in human hands; the ever present in one place at one time; the Majesty of all Glory, in a cowshed;the King of all creation with human spit on his face; the wisdom of all worlds, scorned by human fools. For the mystery of your coming, redeeming and saving and healing, we worship, we marvel and we adore.

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Thought 4 The Day

Man can defy gravity, but not the grave. (Anon)

Through the year calendar

December 2010
« Nov «-»  

Click on any previous date in the above calendar to read the relevant Through The Year post
Believe it or Not
Sometimes you just can't believe it's true!
A Word in Time
Life has a funny way of connecting us all!
Cooke's Tour of The Bible
Frank Cooke's journey through the Old and New Testaments
Take 2
Some useful life lessons
Mind Stretchers
An open mind is a healthy mind!
Bible Bloopers
Even the Bible has its funnies!