Don’t Miss the Moment

For some, it’s a school play, for others a local church presentation, and then there are the big productions that that happen each year at this time. The original Christmas story is acted out across the world in many ways.

For many years I was involved in a local production that took the audience on a journey to Bethlehem and to a small stable with two new parents staring adoringly at their new baby.

The last time I had opportunity to be involved was two years ago. I was one of the wise men. Hard to believe, hey? 

Being on stage in the final scene gave me some unique insights.

From where I stood I could cast my eyes across the room to catch the audience responding to the nativity scene with its live animals and a real baby playing the part of Jesus.

There was a donkey, who mostly behaved, three sheep and a few chickens. What is it they say about working with children and animals?

What became clear over dozens of performances over the three nights was the difference between those who simply immersed themselves in the story and the scene before them and those who were more interested in capturing the moment on a smorgasbord of electronic devices.

There were some who managed to capture a few images but still stay connected with the story but those who seemed to have the single goal of recording the scene seemed to lose the wonder.

From children to adults, those who just let themselves be carried along by the story would beam with joy and amazement. You could see the delight in their faces as they encountered some of the surprises in the scene. Many were very obviously moved by a simple portrayal of the first Christmas.

Conversely, those who spent their whole time trying to capture the moment saw the larger than life story through their tiny screens. There was no wonder in their faces. There was only concentration as they tried to grab the best angle and attempt to record the full 360 degrees of the immersive experience. Will they ever watch what they recorded or will the files be deleted the next time they start running out of space on their device?

Snap. Let’s go.

Thinking about what happened reminded me of a holiday in Kalbarri decades ago with my dad. In the mornings I would drive to some incredibly picturesque spots, dad would get out of the car, walk a few steps, take a couple of pictures, then get back in the car.

In the afternoons, Pauline and I would go back to those spots to explore a little more and to more fully appreciate God’s creation.

Don’t miss the moment.

I love taking photos and even recording some video now and then but I still want to be part of the moment. I don’t want to lose the wonder for the sake of some images that can never truly capture what I’m experiencing.

This Christmas I hope that I’ll see some happy photos of people enjoying the day. I even want to see some Christmas food shots. I love that social media lets us share each other’s day, but don’t spend so much time on creating the perfect shot that you miss everything the day can be.

In the same way, I’m hoping that you allow yourself to be truly immersed in the stable scene that we remember at this time of the year. Don’t give the Christmas story a quick read through. Spend some time among the animals with Mary and Joseph and consider the enormity of the occasion.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23

God with us. That’s incredible. Put down the distractions this Christmas and let that truly soak in.

My wish for you is that you’ll really capture Christmas this year in a way that you perhaps haven’t before or maybe haven’t for a long time.

This Christmas I hope and pray that you’ll create memories that you can store in your heart rather than just the kind of memories that you can store on a hard drive.

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Please Buy Me a Goat

(This is an updated post from previous years.)

Once again, I’m conflicted. If I’m honest, I don’t really need anything for Christmas. If no one bought me a gift for Christmas, or any other occasion, I could survive. In fact not just survive but continue to thrive.

The conflict comes from the fact that I still enjoy receiving gifts. I love the unwrapping and the excitement of having something shiny and new. I also love the fact that people care enough to choose something for me.

It concerns me that while I’m enjoying lovely new things that I don’t really need, there are people in many parts of the world that don’t have the basics that they need to get on with the daily task of just keeping their families alive.

If Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, surely we should be doing something that honours him and his heart for the poor, rather than overindulging while most of the world goes without.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we should all be miserable and not fully enter into the celebrations at this time of year.


I suppose that’s where we all need some kind of balance between the giving and receiving of gifts between friends and loved ones and our wider responsibility to those in need around the world. We live in a global village but most of the villagers are missing out.

Those of us who’ve been blessed by simply being born in the right place should spare a thought for those who only ask for the gift of life this Christmas.

I might not have a lot of use for a goat but for a rural family in a developing country, the simple gift of a goat could be just what they need to break free from poverty.


So where do you buy a goat and how do you get it to someone who needs it?

Compassion Australia’s Gifts of Compassion is open and ready for business. Their gifts help people who are battling desperate poverty. They can take your money and turn it into a very real solution to poverty.

You can buy everything from mosquito nets to a rickshaw with lots more in between including chickens, cows, sewing machines and baby vaccinations.

Your support really does make a difference.

I’ve visited churches partnering with Compassion in seven of the 25 countries where they’re working and I can personally vouch for the work they do.

When you support those in poverty through Compassion, the aid really does make it to those who need it. In fact, it was after seeing the work of Compassion that I decided that I would do all I could to advance their work which is why I’ve now been working full-time for Compassion for just over five years.

This Christmas I do want to receive something for myself, wrapped in thought and love, but I also hope that someone will give me a goat or a chicken or a toiletry kit for someone I’ll never meet.

What about you?

Go on … you’ve thought about it before but unless you let your loved ones know now it’ll never happen. Ask those you love to buy something for someone else this Christmas.

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Shopping for Jesus

If you look carefully, among the lights, tinsel and brightly coloured decorations at your local shopping centre, you might also see a modest display depicting a stable.

All the usual suspects are there, Mary, Joseph, the animals, some shepherds and in the feeding trough, a small baby.

I read an interesting article around this time last year titled, “Most Australians like seeing baby Jesus in a manger at the mall”.

McCrindle research has shows that 9 out of 10 Australians feel that nativity scenes are part of Christmas and should be in our public spaces.

Even among Australians who practise a religion other than Christianity, 91 per cent are happy to see nativities, while 86 per cent of those who have no religious beliefs are also supportive, according to McCrindle.

While I’m encouraged to know that most Aussies still see the connection between baby Jesus and Christmas as important, we still seem a long way from allowing a place for the grown-up version of Jesus in public.

We seem to like the Jesus of Christmas.

I wonder if that’s because a baby is cute and inoffensive. Baby Jesus doesn’t throw the money changers out of the temple. Baby Jesus doesn’t call us to leave behind what the rest of the world is chasing to follow him. Baby Jesus doesn’t hang brutally beaten and bleeding from a cross in our place.

Despite protests from his wife and father-in-law, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2006 movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby prefers baby Jesus to adult Jesus. In the scene in the video below, everyone gets to choose their ‘favourite version of Jesus’.

Choose your Jesus

It’s a funny scene but there’s a lot of truth behind it. Many people seem to think they can choose their own Jesus. I hear people saying what they believe Jesus would and wouldn’t think about a range of issues without actually going to the source of information that truly reveals who Jesus was and is … the Bible.

I’ll certainly be celebrating the baby Jesus this Christmas but I refuse to leave him in a manger. The miracle of ‘God with us’ is truly awesome but the fact that God dwelt among us by taking on flesh must lead us to thinking of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Focussing on more than just the baby Jesus at this time of year makes the Christmas story even more wonderful and has consequences for each of us that stretch into eternity. That baby grew into a man who would change history. He changed history because he was not only a man but the God who defined history in the first place.

If you’re one of the majority of people who enjoy seeing the nativity at this time each year, let me encourage you to marvel at the manger but then look beyond to see Jesus for who he became and who he is.

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RetroRadio – Phil Cooke

RetroRadio is a series of posts of radio interviews from my time working at 98five Sonshine FM covering everything from issues of spirituality to chats with visiting musicians and celebrities.

Hopefully, the interviews spark a few memories and a few thoughts.

Back in July 2007, I spoke to Phil Cooke. I’ve just relistened to the interview and so much of what he has to say is still incredibly relevant today.

He’s produced TV and film programming in more than 60 countries around the world, and in the process, been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest Christian and nonprofit organizations in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.

Phil was Executive Producer of “Let Hope Rise – the Hillsong Movie” released to theaters nationwide, and Producer of “The Insanity of God” a feature documentary that premiered nationally as a Fathom Event. According to former CNN journalist Paula Zahn, Phil is rare – a working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology. He’s appeared on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, and his work has been profiled in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. – PhilCooke.com

We chatted about his work and the media in general as well as a range of other ways in which Christians are portrayed.

Phil had a lot of great insights into the most effective ways for Christians to harness the power of the media in its various forms. One thing that came out very strongly a number of times in our discussion was the need for people who want to share their faith story to understand the culture they’re trying to reach.

If you want to hear the interview just use the media player below.

[Note: All RetroRadio interviews on RodneyOlsen.net are a snapshot of the time they were recorded. We all grow and change and so the opinions and thoughts of those in the interviews at the time of recording may or may not necessarily be the same as they are today.]
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It’s outrageous. People are furious. It’s all ruined. Life will never be the same.

Over the past week, I’ve seen a fair bit online about a certain chocolate company making changes to one of their offerings. They’ve changed the wrapping and some of the flavours in one of their assorted collections. Heresy. How can they be so cold to do such a thing just before Christmas?

I’m seeing words like ‘furious’, ‘outrage’, ‘horrible’, ‘atrocity’ and apparently customers have been thrown into a ‘frenzy’.


I love chocolate, I really, seriously do, but changing recipes and wrapping is not something that’ll raise my blood pressure. I might be a little disappointed when an old favourite is retired, but I won’t be firing off an angry missive to their customer service department.

What an incredibly privileged life we lead when altering a luxury item like chocolate causes us such concern.

Do you know what I find an outrage?

I find it outrageous that we’re discussing chocolate when more than 385 million children around the world have no idea when or if they’ll eat again. They are the ones who, through no fault of their own, are living in extreme poverty. They had no control over being born into poverty, just as most of us had no control over being born into a land of plenty and excess.

An ‘atrocity’ is when we care more for someone messing with our ‘entitlements’ than for those facing an uncertain future, those who daily stare death in the face.

There are many other situations in our world that should cause us concern and anger. Trafficking, slavery, domestic violence, our treatment of those seeking safety within our borders and so many more.

I’ll certainly be eating chocolate this Christmas, probably definitely more than I should, and I won’t be feeling guilty about it. I’m not for one moment suggesting that we don’t celebrate and celebrate well, but sometimes we need a little perspective to help us understand how incredibly blessed we are to be able to enjoy life’s luxuries.

This Christmas maybe we can reflect with gratitude on what an incredible life we have been gifted. But wouldn’t it be fitting that we also let the ‘outrage’ inside us grow and rise as we think about people around the world who face daily struggle to simply stay alive? I think it’s a mark of maturity when we can hold those two things in tension.

Enjoy the chocolate and all the other good things that come with the season, but please save your outrage for the true injustices in this world.

(If you’d like to make a difference for some of those facing an uncertain Christmas, why not buy a gift that will make a global difference through Gifts of Compassion. A small gift can make a big difference.)
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