Beneath the Wrapping

(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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What’s Your Christmas Soundtrack?

One day you’re walking through the shopping centre as normal, then the next day, WHAM!

Not just Wham, but Mariah Carey, Michael Buble and a host of others singing Christmas favourites. I think I first heard Christmas music playing as the soundtrack to my shopping experience back in late October this year.

For those who enjoy the music of the season, you’ve probably had a good couple of months of ever-increasing Christmas melodies ringing in your ears. For those who don’t, you won’t have to block your ears much longer.

I’ve got over five hundred Christmas songs on my iPod and they’ve been filling our home and car with Yuletide cheer … whatever that is … for weeks. 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 on our stereo.

What is your favourite Christmas music?

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

A few of my favourites.

I couldn’t possibly fit all my Christmas favourites in one post, but here is a handful.

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.

A new favourite this year is a reworking of the old Slade classic, Merry Christmas Everybody. Yes, I’ll admit it. I do enjoy a little Robbie Williams. I’m also a fan of Jamie Cullum so this combination is just joyful.

One of the strangest Christmas songs ever released has got to be this one by Bob Dylan. Bob is definitely a favourite of mine and so this one’s certainly worth a mention and a viewing. It seems that everyone in the video is having an amazing time, except Bob. It’s weird and wonderful.

This collaboration between Elvis Costello and Stephen Colbert is just wonderful.

I certainly feel that friends don’t let friends go through life without knowing about the great Gregory Porter, so I absolutely must include a song from one of the greatest voices of our time.

While I could go on forever with Christmas favourites, maybe I’ll finish off with this one from Diana Krall.

Let me know about your musical tastes around Christmas.



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Can I get a busy badge?

You’ve had the same conversation a thousand times. You meet up with someone who asks how you’ve been and you answer by telling them … ‘busy’. Their question isn’t about your level of activity, it’s about your personal wellness, yet you still feel the need to assure them that you’ve been a productive member of society. I know this because I get caught up in it too.

Many people have written about this before but it still seems to be such a problem for so many.

Busy speaks about a level of activity, often a flurry of exhausting exertion, without considering whether all that hustle and bustle is effective in any way. There may well be a more productive way of achieving what we need but when the goal is being busy, and telling everyone how busy we are, that doesn’t really matter.

Can I get a busy badge?

Why do we feel so compelled to assure everyone that we’ve been busy? Is that really the measure of our worth to others … or even our own attempt to justify our worth to ourselves?

I guess the starting point is convincing ourselves that ‘busy’ isn’t life’s ultimate aim. There’s nothing wrong with being busy when we need to be but it’s not the goal we should be seeking above all else,

Wasn’t technology going to save us all?

On top of the constantly growing expectations of others soaking up our time, we now add more busyness into the mix with our use of technology.

Advancements in technology promised us an easier, more productive life, yet all that seems to have happened is that we’ve lost the ability to switch off.

Our technology usage has blurred the lines between work and play like never before. We’re checking personal emails and social media updates while we’re at work and checking work emails and catching up on work projects while we’re at home or out with family and friends. That means that our employer never has our full attention and sadly, neither do those closest to us.

We’ve sacrificed that which should be most precious to us on the altar of frantic activity.

Hanging Out for Holidays

We’re a couple of days into December and well into what many call the ‘silly season’. The lead up to Christmas and New Year festivities pound us with activities and deadlines. Everything needs to be ‘finished before Christmas’.

Many of us take annual leave at this time and so we feel the need to complete every project on our desk before taking that leave. That usually means that we crawl across the finish line of the year, battered and bruised from the frantic pace we’ve held for the year, having just enough time to bandage our wounds and ‘almost’ recover before the whole thing begins again for the next year.

We’ve got to stop going at full speed towards the end of the year, imagining that we just need to get to the start of our leave so we can collapse in a heap.

We don’t just need that extended time to stop and refresh at the end of a busy year, we need time weekly and daily.

Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Sadly, those of us in the church have bought the lie that we have to be forever run off our feet too. In fact, a lot of the time we buy into the whole busyness thing even more because we have this strange image in our heads of God watching us and shaking his finger at us whenever we sit down to breathe.

This constant striving to work harder and harder within our daily lives and the church says more about our idea of who God is than anything else. If we imagine that we’d better look busy because we don’t want Jesus to catch us taking time out, we’ve missed the point entirely.

The truth is, God is the one who came up with the idea of rest. If we think God wants us to be constantly striving without rest, we’ve given in to a ‘religion’ that requires our efforts to appease God. That was never his plan.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:2 (ESV)

Been Busy?

The next time someone asks you how you’ve been, how will you answer? Will you keep on assuring them that you’ve been busy or will you give them a deeper answer that speaks about something other than frantic activity?

You know that the world will keep crowding out times of rest and recreation so how about being more intentional in planning time daily, weekly, monthly and annually for time aside from the craziness? Then once it’s scheduled, guard it jealously. Don’t let it be the first thing that gets bumped from the schedule when something ‘more important’ comes up.

If you’re too busy to schedule in those times it’s a very clear indicator that you need to say no to those things that scream for your time but aren’t necessarily beneficial. Learn to say no so that you can say yes to the right things in your life.

And don’t forget that we are spiritual beings. Spend time connecting with God. You might just discover he doesn’t want you to burn out trying to achieve your busy badge.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or illfitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)



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What am I going to do with a goat?

(This is an updated post from previous years.) If you’ve been to a shopping centre recently or watched any television, you’ll know that Christmas is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of businesses that are keen to ‘help you celebrate’ with their products. While the big day is still just under a couple of months away, we know that it all starts to ramp up from here.

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.

Balance

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.

Compassion

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 toilet block with lots more in between including chickens, cows, toothbrushes 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 the last six 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 health bundle 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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Happy Birthday, Jesus

(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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