The Light Shines in the Darkness

Sometimes, every fibre of your being tells you that the darkness has won. The darkness has snuffed out the light and there’s no way forward; no hope for the future.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We’re just less than a week into a brand new year. Over the past week or two, many people have been looking back and looking ahead. A number of people I know have been saying that 2017 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2018 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2017. The personal trials that we face are very real. Shattered relationships, lost loved ones, sickness, depression and more can threaten to crush and swallow us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we look a little wider we see unspeakable atrocities across the world. Innocent people slaughtered, children being trafficked for the perverse desires of others, natural disasters, wars, violence and more. While anyone who has the opportunity to read this is probably living relatively comfortably, there are millions of people living in extreme poverty. Most are wondering where they might find their next meal. The numbers of those who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum is in the millions. Our world seems to be beyond help. How can there possibly be a way back from this?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I’ve seen some of the world’s injustices first hand over the past few years. I’ve sat in the homes of the poor and heard their heartbreaking stories. The nature of my work means that I am constantly immersed in stories of people who are powerless to change their circumstances and who are at the mercy of others who take advantage of them in the lowest possible ways. Constantly hearing such stories has brought me to tears several times. This world can be such a dark place.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The good news is, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark it gets, the darkness will not overcome. Yes, it will feel like the darkness has won and that there is no way to turn things around, but there’s something bigger going on.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the darkness is no surprise to God. He hasn’t been caught off guard. He is still in charge, and He is still sovereign. Even before time began, even before the darkness began to descend, God had a plan to shatter the darkness with light … light so powerful that it can never be put out. That light is God Himself in the person of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

As you start this year, a year that will no doubt bring a mixture of joy and disappointment, remind yourself that no matter how dark it may seem to be, you don’t have to fight the darkness alone. In those moments look for the light that shines in the darkness. It may seem faint at times but it’s there.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an updated post, first published in January 2016.

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Reality Bites

Do you have big plans for 2018? I know that I certainly do.

I can no longer put off the urgency of what I’ll be doing by saying, ‘next year’.

This is where reality bites. Later this year I hope to be cycling right across Australia.

The Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast will be a huge event that will make a major impact for children living in extreme poverty.

The ride will start on Saturday the 15th of September. We will arrive at Compassion’s head office in Newcastle, NSW on Tuesday the 16th of October, having cycled over 4300 km. There’ll be 28 riding days and 4 rest days. The average riding distance for those riding days will be just over 150 km. Our longest days will be just under 200 km.

I have quite some experience with the ride aspect of the trip having cycled across Australia five times previously but knowing that this time will be in support of Compassion is an extra thrill for me. That previous experience doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Far from it.

So far, I’ve cycled across Australia in my twenties, thirties, and forties. This year I’ll be in my mid-fifties. The distances will feel longer. The training will be harder. The aches will last longer.

So, what’s getting me back on my bike after all these years?

For just over four years I’ve been working for Compassion, a Christian international holistic child development organisation.

I’ve visited Compassion’s work in 7 of the 25 developing countries we serve and I’ve met many children living in extreme poverty who are being released from poverty in Jesus’ name. I recall the faces of children like little Ammanuel in Ethiopia as his mother stood in the small room with its dirt floor that is their home.

She told me through her tears that neither of them would still be alive today if it weren’t for Compassion. That story and many others like it compel me to do whatever I can to bring hope to more children.

If you’d like to support my ride you can do so in two ways.

You can sponsor a child living in poverty. By using that link your sponsorship will count towards my fundraising goal while releasing a child from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Sponsorship gives kids safe places to play, the chance to see a doctor when they’re sick, education, and the opportunity to discover Jesus’ incredible love for them.

Sponsor a child. Give them a brighter future so they, and eventually their own children, can live free from poverty.

The other way you can support my ride is by making a direct donation to my fundraising page. Your donation will touch the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our world through Compassion’s Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund.

Every child in poverty is vulnerable, but some children are at risk of the most deplorable situations in the world.

Children whose parents who have left, died, or are unable to provide for them, children exposed to exploitation and children with special needs are highly vulnerable. They often find themselves on the edge of extremely dangerous situations like child labour, gang violence, trafficking, and life on the street.

The Long and Winding Road

So there is quite literally a long road ahead for me this year but the journey starts now. I’ll be doing my best to fulfill my responsibilities in training, fundraising and then riding. Will you support me on this massive venture?

It’s unacceptable that millions of children are living in extreme poverty so I’m putting my body on the line to do whatever I can to make a difference for as many of those children as I can.

Will you help me give more children a chance to live, dream and hope? Sponsor a child today or donate through my fundraising page.

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Has Christmas Lost its Meaning?

(This is based on a post that I republish each year around this time.)

While you’re unwrapping your gifts this Christmas I wanted to take a few moments to unwrap the real Christmas story.

We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts on Christmas Day but it’s important that we take time to remember what Christmas is really all about. It’s more than just the gifts and the jolly man in the red suit. It’s more than a ‘feeling’ or ‘spirit’ that makes us feel warm inside. It’s more than time with family enjoying good food and good times.

I find it interesting that any time someone suggests removing the word ‘Christmas’ from our celebrations at this time of year there are cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ yet we still pay so little attention to what that word actually signifies.

While it’s generally accepted that the 25th of December isn’t the actual date that Jesus was born, it’s the day that has been chosen for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. That means Christmas is really a big birthday party.

So why should we be invited to the birthday party? Jesus was born around 2000 years ago. Why do we still celebrate his birth?

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, and this is where it gets tricky, according to the Bible, Jesus is actually God in human form so this is no ordinary birthday.

Here’s a little bit of the Christmas story from the Bible. This account is from a book of the Bible written by a guy named Luke.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no vacancy for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Aha! So that’s where the manger and the shepherds come in.

That’s pretty much the story of Christmas. God living among the people he created. It’s an amazing thought but it’s even more amazing when you thread the whole story of Jesus’ life together. After all, usually when we celebrate someone’s birthday we don’t just remember the day they were born, we celebrate who that person has become and what they’ve brought to the world.

If we’re still celebrating the life of someone born around 2000 years ago, we’ve got to assume that they lived a remarkable life. If you want to find out more about the remarkable life of Jesus, I’d encourage you to grab a Bible in an easy to read translation and then read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) to find out about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

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Bing and Bowie 40 Years Later

I’ve got over four hundred Christmas songs on my iPod and they’ve been filling our home and my car with Yuletide cheer … whatever that is. Everyone from Michael Buble to Diana Krall, Bing Crosby, Run DMC, Barry White, The Wiggles, Guy Sebastian, Jimmy Barnes and even Russel Coight, along with many others, are singing about Christmas.

And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without this song. It’s very much part of the soundtrack of my life. I’m not a huge fan of the song Little Drummer Boy but I am a fan of both Bing Crosby and David Bowie so I love hearing their Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth medley around this time every year. The chat at the start of the video is cheesy and somewhat awkward but I just love it.

Bing Crosby was my dad’s favourite singer and Bowie has always been a favourite of mine so to have the two of them combined has always been pretty special for me.

While the single wasn’t released until 1982, the video was shot in September 1977, just over 40 years ago, for Bing’s Christmas special. Unfortunately he never saw the special aired. Bing Crosby died of a heart attack in October 1977. Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas was broadcast on CBS in the United States on the 30th of November, 1977.

Little Drummer Boy was written back in 1941 with Peace on Earth written especially for this collaboration.

Do you have a favourite Christmas song? Do you have a favourite artist at Christmas time? Does Mariah Carey’s very successful Christmas album get a spin at your place each December?

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Stop Helping Hackers

Christmas is just days away and no doubt there’ll be many people receiving gifts of technology which will require passwords. So how do you ensure that those shiny new devices don’t make you a target for hackers?

Internet security firm SplashData has released their annual guide to helping, or hindering, hackers. They’ve been taking a look at the worst passwords used online in 2017 and have come up with their list of the top 100 worst passwords. The thing that makes them the worst is that they’re the most common, meaning that those with less than honourable intention will be using them to try to break your security.

If you see your password among the top twenty-five below, your data is in serious danger. It’s time to change your passwords or get ready to get hacked.

  1. 123456
  2. Password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. letmein
  8. 1234567
  9. football
  10. iloveyou
  11. admin
  12. welcome
  13. monkey
  14. login
  15. abc123
  16. starwars
  17. 123123
  18. dragon
  19. passw0rd
  20. maste
  21. hello
  22. freedom
  23. whatever
  24. qazwsx
  25. trustno1

As in previous lists, simple numerical passwords remain popular, with five of the top 10 passwords on the 2017 list using only numbers. Then there are all the usual favourites such as ‘password’, ‘starwars’ and for those trying to be a little tricky, but failing, ‘passw0rd’.

If you want to create stronger and less hacker-friendly passwords you should be using at least 12 characters with a combination of upper and lowercase letters and characters. You should also ensure that you use different passwords for different websites.

If you’re looking for a better solution you might like to try a password manager application.

I’ve been using LastPass for many years. It’s a password manager which makes web browsing more secure. It will keep all your passwords secure and help you generate strong passwords.

Nothing can really guarantee you won’t get hacked, especially if one of the services you use is hacked, exposing even the best passwords, but it’s worth putting a bit of effort into keeping your data secure.

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