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Pressures and gifts

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Christmas Presents

We’ve all felt that unspoken pressure when handing over a gift. Will they already have it? Will they use it? Will it be enough? Will it fit?! Perhaps this Christmas you’re feeling that pressure!

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

God is a giver and the gifts that He gives are good. If he created the dazzling lights in the skies around us, then we can trust that gifts he places in our lives and in our hands will be good. We can be sure that the gifts he gives us will be of use to us. His gifts will be enough. His gifts will fit us!

God is the giver of good gifts. He is reliable, trustworthy and unchanging. Unlike some of the other things we’ll give and receive tomorrow! And don’t we see that and celebrate that in the ultimate gift that God gave?

Jesus.

The gift of Jesus didn’t come perfectly wrapped with a ribbon and a bow, but arrived on earth messy and helpless.

The gift of Jesus didn’t arrive with much of an advertising campaign, but was revealed to a few on the fringes of society.

The gift of Jesus didn’t come with a return policy or a gift receipt, he was sent by God as the only option for a broken world.

And did the world have this gift? Would they use it? Would it be enough? Would it fit?

Well, this gift of a Saviour wasn’t something the world already had. The gift of a sin forgiver was useful and necessary to a depraved humanity. The gift of God in human form was more than enough for us. This gift of Jesus perfectly fitted the gap between God and man.

We didn’t have it and we need to use it. It is more than enough and it fits. God’s good gift is Jesus and there’s no need for a return policy this Christmas. Let’s celebrate and walk in that today!

Going slow doesn’t stop living…

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It was the event of the year for this African village. The whole community was buzzing about it. All week they had been talking about it in their excited Ugandan tones. We couldn’t wait for 10am on Friday morning to roll around to experience it all.

10am on Friday came and hundreds of children, teenagers, and parents filled the large grass area in front of the stage. Yet nothing much else seemed to be happening. Set-up was only beginning and there was little sign of the event starting. A couple of hours later and this was still the case.

You don’t have to be in Africa too long to realise that time doesn’t seem to mean much to the African. Schedules don’t dictate. Starting times are loose. A little time could mean a thousand years. The old African Proverb states that being in a hurry doesn’t prevent death, and going slowly doesn’t prevent living.

But perhaps, rather than time meaning nothing in Africa, what if time actually means everything?
What if rather than rushing to the next thing, they are content to dwell in the present?
What if instead of ignoring the interruptions of the day, they see them as opportunities?

Perhaps this is why African culture seems so beautiful to me.

What if we learned to worry about deadlines less and care about time more?

Now I don’t mean constantly turning up late for things, disregarding appointments, or ignoring the challenges ahead of us in our days. Our culture runs by time and we need to respect that.

But how much more could our relationships be transformed by slowing down and enjoying time together? How much greater could our focus be in the things we are involved in, rather than allowing our minds to be distracted by all that is coming next? And how much more could we see God in the divine interruptions rather than the mundane appointments?

It seems to me that Jesus understood this.

“A man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.” Luke 8:41-45

Life presses on us from all sides. People make incessant demands. Diaries dictate where we should go. And all too often we just go along with the flow.

So let’s create more space to breathe. Let’s make more time for the people around you. And let’s be more present in the present.

Going slowly doesn’t prevent living. In fact, going slowly may just help you to find it.

attraction

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A few years ago Sarah and I sat in a McDonalds in Dublin having some lunch. Across the table from us was a man who we had just met earlier that day on Grafton Street, and just a few hours later we were enjoying some lunch together. He was originally from Romania, and now found himself on the streets of Dublin…quite literally. It was humbling to listen to parts of his life story in his broken English…and to share parts of ours with him too.

After a short time together we parted and went our separate ways….only to find just a short time later that he was beside us again. We had another short conversation, but later on the same thing happened. We realised he was following us. In fact, over the course of the next couple of days we saw him several times on Grafton Street and beyond. Our small act of kindness had led to him wanting more of our hospitality, our money and our time.

I was reminded of this incident recently when I read this verse:

“…the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.” Luke 15:1

The drop outs and outcasts of the day were coming to Jesus. They were following Him. They gathered close. In fact, it seems they saw something attractive in Jesus so much so that they wanted to be near to him. His life and his actions were so counter cultural, and so full of mercy, grace, passion and love that multitudes got close to hear what he had to say.

And I remembered our Romanian friend who saw something attractive in us that he wanted to be around. And it made me sad, because I began to question how many ignored, lonely and forgotten people have been attracted to my life recently? How many are finding my actions so attractive that they want to gather close? And how many people are hearing more from Jesus out of the messy whispers of my life.

Challenged by the memories…

beautiful night. beautiful feet.

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their reaction said it all. the cries of derision left us in no doubt of how uncomfortable these teenagers were with what had been suggested.

no way would they wash the feet of their friends. or the 13 year old that they rarely speak to.

our group of 30 young people had been visualising the sights and the smells of the last supper. we had demonstrated the set up of a meal together. they took on the posture of those around a table. they imagined what it might have been like to have had your master wash your feet.

but i don’t think anyone thought we would actually practically model it out.

and as their horrified responses to us inviting them to wash the feet of others in their group, they suddenly discovered the audacity of the Master Jesus in this situation. the dirty and grimy feet. the intimacy of the act. the servanthood of the leader. the example to the world.

more and more i’ve been struck recently of the power of experiential bible story telling. of simply letting the text speak, drawing people into the story, asking probing questions and listening to the responses.

for me this was one of the most powerful nights of the last 3 years of our youth group. and it hammered home the truth of taking time to develop, grow and nurture a group. to lead young people step by step forward and move them to a point of response in their lives.

would love your thoughts on how we can do this more. in what other ways can we help people experience the Scriptures?

watch a video made from the night here

today’s parable

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so today i played an important role in a parable. i found myself acting as a main character in one of the stories Jesus told. perhaps you yourself have heard, seen or even been involved in this drama before. today i was a part of it.

it goes something like this…

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“i was hassled and a little stressed. running late for a very important meeting. a board meeting at the national headquarters of our church denomination in belfast. it was my first time being present on this board so i had a lot on my mind. important stuff obviously.

then i saw someone in need. selling something. needing money. hungry possibly. poor definitely.

but i couldn’t stop. no way. i was late and i had an important place to get to. i had to go and do some church business.

so i rushed on past. decided not to look into their eyes and smile this time. felt that would raise false hope. so kept my head down. sure someone else might stop. someone who has time on their hands and less pressing issues.

felt bad for a moment but it was soon a distant memory as i settled down to consider the events and programmes that were running for young people across the country. sure i was doing my bit.

and it’s okay though, cos luckily later this afternoon i was heading to do my bit with a group of young people before rushing up to Coleraine Uni to speak to the students of the Christian Union at night. and those were my important things in the day.”

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“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man…?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
luke 10:36-37

outcasts and arabs

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okay, so be honest here. what thoughts go through your head when you see this photo? or when you see someone from an arabic background? or a turban?

i think for the first time ever the reality of the ‘wise men from the east’ has struck me. fortune tellers from the middle east. most likely arabs with turbans. those who read the stars for signs. it was these guys who were among the first worshippers of Jesus.

and then there’s the shepherds. outcasts of their day. mistrusted. treated with suspicion. those on the fringes of society. these were the first people on earth to discover that God had stepped into time.

no celebrities. no royalty. no westerners.

and what does this tell us about the heart of God? for me its a reminder of his heart for the outcast. for the misunderstood. for those on the fringes. for all the world.

it’s december!!

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so where did that come from??! it’s upon us and were just 3 weeks from Christmas.

it’s sarah and i first christmas together as a married couple and i guess we want to set patterns in our life that are positive and that we can carry on. i really want my attitude and actions to reflect the true spirit of what Jesus came to bring at Christmas.

i love this video and it inspires me to make a difference. and make a change too.

i want to do this in my personal and family life. as well as within youth at church. hoping to launch this year’s ‘christmas conspiracy’ this sunday night but more of that soon!!

watch…

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