One True Christmas Gift

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Christmas is round the corner and we all know what that means.  There is a stereotype of a busy mum at Christmas, and I don’t know about you but I find that I am that stereotype.  I love Christmas – did I mention that? – but let’s face it, it’s a crazy time.  It’s a time when I make crazy decisions and I overreach to new and surprising heights.

Advent is a time when we feel pulled in several directions all at once.  There are children’s parties and grown-up parties (which non-parents just call parties), church outreach events, church social events, Christmas shopping, over-excited children, gift wrapping, travel, relatives, Christmas cards, sometimes Birthdays (e.g. mine), Secret Santas, school performances, more baking than usual and (we hope not but maybe) the occasional bout of flu.

So at this busy time, when we can become so much like Martha of Bethany, rushing around in a sweat and scowling because nobody is helping, it’s all-the-more important that we try to be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him – I assume it’s not just me.

There are many resources around to help us meditate on the Lord Jesus during the Christmas period, and I wanted to recommend this one to you – One True Gift – as it’s new and it’s a little bit different.  Sometimes a different angle can help us to refocus.

It’s by Tim Chester, who I think is brilliant.  If you haven’t read Total Church, which is now really old, then please do.  You don’t have time now, but maybe in January.  I really enjoyed reading his Advent devotion in John’s gospel, One True Light a couple of years ago.  He’s a good man and he communicates the gospel in a down-to-earth way, which is very helpful when you’re knee-deep in overambitious Christmas crafts.

The thing that makes this book a bit surprising is that it’s a 24-day meditation on Philippians 2, which isn’t usually seen as a festive passage of Scripture.  But since it’s about the Son of God coming to earth as a human baby, who would grow up to serve and even to die, and is therefore now raised up to the highest place from which he’ll return one day to judge the world, there are plenty of good reasons to meditate on this passage in the run up to the celebration of the astonishing and marvellous incarnation.

So while I’m doing my worst Martha impression in the run up to Christmas, here are three ways in which, by God’s grace, I expect this book will help me:

I’ll be rebuked by Jesus the servant:
“‘I’m willing to serve,’ we might say, ‘but not that person – not after the way they’ve treated me.’ Yet Jesus washes the feet of Judas knowing that Judas already has 30 pieces of silver jangling in his wallet.” (p. 47)
Jesus is my example to learn from and to follow.

I’ll be encouraged by the love of Jesus.
“Jesus died for your sins.  When he hears you grumbling and arguing, he didn’t turn away in disgust.  In his love he turned towards the cross, arms opened wide to take the nails.  And now in his love he turns towards you, arms opened wide to embrace you.” p. 77.
Jesus is my Saviour to love and to trust.

I’ll be awestruck by the incarnation:
“we are left with this conclusion: the baby in the manger is none other than the LORD, the covenant God of Israel, the Creator, the one, true God.” (p. 41)
Jesus is my Lord to praise and to worship. 

If you don’t buy this book, I do hope you’ll find another way to make sure you’re feeding on God’s word each day this advent, so that your acts of service and good works are done for Him, our Saviour and Lord and the true star of every show.  This book is very accessible, so I’d recommend giving it as an early Christmas gift to a friend or your mum, or anyone you think might be willing to take a closer look at Jesus this Christmas.  You can buy it here from the Good Book Company.

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Book Recommendation: Hope When it Hurts, Kristen Wetherell & Sarah Walton

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There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought.  It is the cross.  And there is a still further sign that you will live in tis love forever.  It is the empty tomb.*

The cross is so precious to Christians – to those who know what it means for them.  But it seemed at the time to be a catastrophic end to a promising life.  Shattered dreams, hope lost.  And yet, the cross is where our King triumphs.  He pays our debt in full.  He breaks the power of death: our great enemy, our big problem.  Our God’s greatest victory was won through agony and apparent weakness.  And so it’s not surprising that as Christians, we suffer.

There are those who will tell you that suffering only comes from lack of faith, or disobedience, or even God’s mistakes.  But it’s a lie.  In this broken world, we should expect to suffer.  That’s why I want to recommend this book to you, Hope When it Hurts.  It’s a series of short chapters meditating on 2 Corinthians Chapters 4 and 5.  You could read one a day, or read big chunks at a time.  Either way, I think it’s a really precious resource.

This book explores the value of weakness: not only is weakness inevitable but it is also used by God to show his power and to bless us.

This book explores the blessing there is in suffering, as it draws us nearer to the all-sufficient God.

This book is honest about life – written by two women who are learning these lessons as they go along – and points us to the good, sovereign, gracious God who has a plan and will not abandon us.

If you’re not suffering right now, it’s likely that you will do in the future and/or that someone close to you is.  It’s also really important that we don’t trust in our earthly comforts but that we trust in God, through the “easy” times as well as the “hard” times.  Yes, we’re heading for a perfect world, but since we’re not there yet I think you will find this book to be worth its weight in gold.

If we think that suffering and blessing can’t co-exist, we will always be seeing shallow pleasures and comforts, and we will miss out on the deep blessings of walking closely with Christ in suffering.  The world to come means that we can be pained and privileged at the same time. (Hope when it Hurts, p.82.)

*From Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, quoted in Hope When it Hurts.

True – Part One

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A weird thing happened to me yesterday – two different people got  in touch with me to ask me to recommend Christian books for babies.  That’s never happened before, and it got me thinking.  It’s worth asking people for recommendations on children’s Christian books and music, because let’s face facts – there is quite a range available.  And by range, I mean some stuff is spot on, and some stuff is ambiguous, and some stuff isn’t good.

Does it matter? Let’s take music to start with.  I grew up in a family where we learnt the words to (secular) songs, and I find it impossible to consider a song without thinking about the words  (I’ve since learnt that this is not universal).  I’ve spent hours trying to figure out lyrics, listening with headphones (my mum was best at this) – and by the way hasn’t Google just taken the fun out of all of that?  But I digress.  So, I was raised to think that lyrics do matter.  Now I am married to a worship leader who chooses songs for our church to sing, and who also writes songs (in his spare time, ha ha ha ha HA!).  So he also thinks that song words matter.  If we’re singing to God to praise him and to encourage each other, shouldn’t we be singing stuff that’s true?  And by true I mean true.

So let’s honour our children by remembering it matters what they listen to and sing along to.  Children are sponges (some more than others, as I’ve discovered), and will quickly learn the words to songs even if they have no concept of what they mean.  So we should really be explaining things to them for a start, and also making sure we’re teaching them good stuff – dare I say it, sound doctrine.

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Not quite ready for some music!

Here are two examples.  I don’t want to point fingers but I think it’s helpful to use examples.  Both of these songs are written by people who have written some great stuff, so I’m not saying anything about them as people, but I have comments about these specific songs.  Firstly, one from Hillsong kids:

It’s not a secret,
It’s not fairytale,
It’s not made up
,

Jonah was in the whale,
For three whole days,
123!

The greatest treasure,
The word God’s people wrote,
It’s in the bible,
Where Noah built a boat,
And it rained and rained,

The rainbow’s in the sky,
To show God’s promises are true,
The rainbow’s in the sky to show the world,
He’s the only way,
For your everyday.

OK.  Firstly, Jonah has very little to do with Noah or rainbows.  Why put him in the song?  It’s confusing.

Secondly, the rainbow is in the sky to remind us that God will remember his promise not to flood the whole earth again, which is quite specific:
1I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Genesis 9.
I suppose it does remind us that God’s faithful to that promise (and other promises), but I find the chorus a bit ambiguous.  I’m not pinning all of my hopes on God because of a rainbow, but rather because of the resurrection.

And thirdly, “he’s the only way, for your everyday” (not sure if you mean every day or everyday, but that’s a different issue*) – Jesus is the only way to the Father.  That’s a wonderful promise.  I feel like “for your every day” is quite a vague (and disappointing) ending to this sentence.  But OK, the song is about the rainbow (not John 14:6**), however the rainbow doesn’t really show me that God is the only way… does it?  If it does I can’t see how, and not sure my children will figure it out either.

So all in all, I wouldn’t ban my kids from listening to this but I would want to talk to them about it, and to be honest I would just put something else on which is clearer and doesn’t mix up Bible stories.  And again, Hillsong have written many good songs and I’m grateful to them and to God for that.  Please don’t take this as an attack on them.

My other example is shorter.  There’s a great CD called “Mr Cow” by Julia Plaut which has many good songs on it.  However, the ten commandments one has the refrain “these ten rules are all you need” (in fact, that’s the name of the song).  Well… if you mean they’re all you need except for the fact you can’t keep them and therefore you’re desperately lost and need a saviour, then yes I agree.  But since my children are naturally legalistic (being human and all), I don’t want to affirm that by letting them think that ten rules are all they need.  In contrast, Randall Goodgame’s Ten Commandments song is spot on:
“The ten commandments, no-one can keep them all,
The ten commandments, not even on our best behaviour…
The ten commandments, that’s why we need a saviour.” (from Sing the Bible 2).
I’d rather my children learnt this truth than that they actually learnt the ten commandments (which they will also do, from the song.)

So I hope I’m helping you to see that it really does matter what we teach our kids through music.  Maybe this was obvious already?  But when I’ve said stuff like this to friends they sometimes haven’t even thought about the words, so I hope it was worth mentioning.

Well I haven’t even got onto books yet.  Perhaps we should make this a two parter….

(To be continued)

*Don’t get me started on everyday and every day!  But I genuinely don’t know which they mean and that’s not their fault – I don’t have the official lyrics.

**Incidentally, if you want a good song about John 14:6 then Colin Buchanan’s is great (hoo cha hoo cha hoo cha cha).  Does anyone know a good one about rainbows?

Have a Happy Advent

Several blog posts are in my mind at the moment, but haven’t made it onto the blog.  That’s not much use to you, sorry.  Hopefully after my daughter’s birthday party this Saturday there’ll be a post about that and other things coming your way.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend this book to you: The One True Light by Tim Chester.  It’s available here.  I don’t have much time to tell you why it’s a good idea to get excited about Jesus this Christmas, but I will re-blog my post, Joy, from last year above this instead (or you can click on the link).  We are so blessed to have resources like this book to help us focus on Christ, the one true gift who truly satisfies.

I’m starting these advent readings now, because I’m pretty hopeless at reading the Bible on my own once a day 7 days a week (gasp!), so I wanted to give myself a head start.  I hope you find this or something similar a blessing to you this Christmas.

Hearts not Garments

Miriam

 

I find that parenting can often be a lot about keeping up appearances. What I mean by that is it’s often easy to slip into the habit of dealing with skin-deep issues rather than prioritising the heart.  In church this week we looked at Mark Chapter 7, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for putting ceremony and tradition above God’s word:

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are merely human rules.
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ vv 6-8.

It’s pretty strong stuff.  Do you see Jesus is saying that by observing their own made-up rules, they’ve actually ‘let go’ of God’s word.  He later says they’ve nullified God’s word.  In their efforts to look and feel holy, they were actually rejecting the true and living God.

Of course, it’s not just the Pharisees’ problem.  This tendency to want to look pure rather than actually having a pure heart is a habit of a lifetime for me, and it often affects the way I train my children.

Have you ever had that awkward (/mortifying) moment in the toddler group when your child resolutely refuses to say sorry?  They’ve kicked/punched/bitten/snatched from little Bobby, but no matter how hard you try to get them to apologise, they just won’t – all under the watchful eye of Bobby’s mum.  The problem is I think I’m more embarrassed than I am concerned about the fact my child isn’t genuinely sorry.  If he does say ‘sorry’, then he’s done the socially acceptable thing and therefore I’m not really too bothered whether he is sorry or not.  I can breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

Or sometimes I can have regularBible/praise/prayer routines in the home and I can sit back on my laurels and think that my children have the right attitude, but that isn’t always the case!  If they’re singing a song of thanksgiving to God but fighting over who gets to sing ‘Amen’ at the end, then perhaps I need to go over with them (yet) again why they’re actually singing the song in the first place!  Argh.

I can sometimes be more concerned about their behaviour than about their hearts.  And I can be more encouraged by their achievements than about their characters.

I do this, for (at least) two reasons:
1. I’m a people-pleaser more than I’m a God-worshipper.
I care more about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me; I want to please people more than I want to please God.
2. I’m a box-ticker more than I’m a heart-surrenderer.
It’s much easier and more instantly satisfying to set an achievable goal and then achieve that goal, than it is to die to myself and give God my absolute everything every single day.

I recently read in Joel 2v13 God say to his people, ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments.’  Aside from being beautiful rhetoric (I’m always won over by a good metaphor), this is such a helpful admonition to me as a mum.  Tearing garments was often a sign of repentance or mourning.  God wanted them to repent and mourn with sincerity, not just for show.  I’ve never actually torn my garments (on purpose), but I often think that by showing something on the outside I don’t need to bother with it in my heart.  It’s a continuous battle:

Seeming on top of things Vs Showing complete dependence on God
Talking of dependence on God Vs Truly relying on God
Homemade Birthday cake + irritable mum Vs Tesco cake + kind mum
‘Quiet Time Slot’ Vs True repentance, praise and worship
Gourmet dinner + misery Vs Chicken nuggets + love and patience

I do have friends who are good at this heart-not-garment business.  Which is encouraging!  It is possible after all.  Their children aren’t always the best behaved or the best turned-out and they don’t even know all of the answers in Bible time.  But they know grace; they know God’s provision; they know Jesus is King.  And in the Kingdom of God, those are the things that matter.

For more on this, I’d recommend ‘Shepherding a Child’s Heart’ by Tedd Tripp.  If you’ve read it, you’ll be thinking ‘Yeah Catherine, tell me something I don’t already know!’  Sorry!  But hopefully it’s still good to be reminded.