Repeat the Sounding Joy

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Happy Advent, friends! Are you feeling the pressure? Your social media feed is filling up with pictures of brightly decorated Christmas trees and children sitting on the lap of a stranger in a (fake) beard.  Maybe you’re behind. Maybe you’re hoping to avoid getting a tree. Maybe you’ve got the flu.

I’m reading through Luke’s gospel this Advent. I started early because I’m inadequate so I need extra days. We’re also reading through Luke in our women’s Bible study group, so I’ve got another chance at listening to what God is saying in case I wasn’t paying attention when I read it in the early hours of the morning! What a gracious God.

So I bring you two encouragements from Luke on this grey Sunday morning – one from my Advent devotional and one from my Bible study:

  1. Jesus is coming

Christopher Ash is helping me to look forward to the coming of Jesus. That is, the return of Jesus in his glory. This perfect Jesus, this humble King, this turn-things-upside-down revolutionary is coming back for us. That is good news! As my friend Jason Roach once said in a sermon I loved, “Jesus reigns – and that’s a good thing!” Now that sounds obvious, but as with many simple statements about Jesus, I need to be whacked over the head with it every single day of my life.

I don’t tend to keep up with the news (sorry), but as there is a UK general election coming up in December, even I am trying to keep track of what’s going on. It’s a stressful time and a time when the nation is divided. The thing that causes me the most stress is that I don’t know who I can trust. Politicians say words, but how do we know whose words to believe?

With this backdrop, what glorious news it is that we have a King who reigns eternal. He’s reigning now: he not only knows the outcome of the election but he’s also ruling over it. And one day he will come back and bring us into an eternal, perfect kingdom with the ultimately good leader who will never die. A happy nation! Now that is something to be joyful about:

As we reflect on the Jesus who came as a baby all those centuries ago, let us never forget that we are waiting, longing, yearning, praying for that great day when he will return… The more deeply we understand him in his first Advent, the more passionately we shall long for his return, when we shall see him face to face; and the more joyfully we will celebrate his arrival at the first Christmas. Christopher Ash, Repeat the Sounding Joy, p. 9.

2. Jesus came for losers like me

If Christmas makes you feel inadequate, I’m sure you’re not alone. There’s so much going on and expectations can be all too high. I think we can get it into our heads that Jesus really expects us to be on top of things, and that our children should really not be screaming outside the bedroom door while we write blog posts. They really shouldn’t have tantrums at the Christmas fair. And you definitely shouldn’t be panic-buying on Amazon on 23rd December. He is folding his arms and tutting at us. And even if he isn’t, someone else will be.

Last week some of the women in our church read together the astonishing passage in Luke 4 in which Jesus reads this bit of Isaiah and then says it’s about HIM!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now we’re not the sharpest bunch of women in London (ha!), but even we noticed that Jesus says quite clearly here that he came for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. So not the rich, the free, the I’m-fine-thank-you-very-much or the look-at-my-pristine-children/tree/tablecloth? No. He came for the needy.

I don’t mean we shouldn’t try to make Christmas a lovely time for our families. I also don’t mean we should resent someone else’s lovely tablecloth (!). But how liberating it is to know that Jesus came for the inadequate. This frees me up to be happy when someone else has done a much better job than I have this Advent. Because I don’t have to prove myself.

The challenge of course here is that I don’t usually think of myself as a poor prisoner or as blind or oppressed. But spiritually, that’s where I’d be without the Lord Jesus coming to save me. That’s why Christmas is worth being excited about.  All the other stuff is just the tinsel or the extra sheep in the nativity play (no offence). Jesus – and his good news to the poor – he’s the main event.

 

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Postscript: By the way, I do regularly feel burdened with a desire to try harder to get more people reading my blog. I’d love to do this because the people who do read it seem to find it encouraging, and I know that many mothers (and others) are in need of encouragement. However, I feel that I’m never going to be able to devote the time needed to “generate more traffic.” I also don’t want to become a commercial blog with dozens of affiliated links. I’m not knocking that at all, but that’s not what this is. It’s not what this will ever be. I just wanted to put that out there, so we’re all clear! Thank you SO much for reading. x

 

Redeeming Advent – Review and Giveaway!

This is exciting – I have a book to recommend and a free copy to give away to one lovely reader.  Brace yourselves, I know it’s still November but this is another festive book – this time by the lovely Lucy Rycroft, aka Desert Mum.

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Over the years I’ve recommended several advent resources to you, since I love Christmas and I know it’s an ideal opportunity to get yourself (and your children) excited about Jesus. I mean, in Him all things were made!  And yet He became flesh and lived among us! A mere 2000 years ago!

But let’s be real – Christmas is a hectic time. It’s a time of chaos. It’s a time when you’re short on time. It’s a time when each of your children is in several shows that you can’t miss. It’s a time of wrapping paper and black treacle.

Friends, it’s a time of glitter.

With this in mind, Redeeming Advent is a book that I recommend particularly if you find December pretty overwhelming and you need some help to bring Christ into focus amidst the haze of gingerbread and cinnamon fumes.

Each chapter is a little bit like a blog post – imagine having a lovely new festive blog post to read every day of advent? What a treat. Lucy takes everyday examples from down-to-earth motherhood and helps us to lift our eyes to Christ, who is with us in each ordinary moment of the day.

Lucy’s style is very warm and welcoming. For example,  I’d say that Lucy and I are on about the same page regarding Santa, but she’s much more polite about it than I am. I think it’s because, although she lives in York, she’s not actually northern. And whilst I live in the South, I definitely am (please see evidence here). I have been known to call Santa (on this very blog) a big fat lie who drinks sherry.  Eek.

This would therefore be a book that I’d also happily give to a friend who wouldn’t call herself a Christian, as I think she’d enjoy it and be challenged to think a bit more carefully about this baby in the manger. In fact, if you’re reading this and you’re not sure about Jesus – please do try the book! You might even win a copy – see below.

At the end of each short chapter there’s a suggested prayer – which can be very helpful indeed when your brain isn’t in gear or you’re distracted. Let’s face it, sometimes you can’t remember your own name during advent, so a little help on the prayer front is very much appreciated.

This is a thoughtful, sincere and joy-filled companion to the Christmas season, and if you’d like to win a signed copy, please Like my Facebook page (if you haven’t already) and comment on this post on there.  If you don’t use Facebook you can comment below instead.  I have in the past asked people to comment with the title of their favourite Christmas song but people didn’t seem to want to do that… maybe this year will be different?  I wait in hope. The deadline for the giveaway is midnight on Wednesday 20th November.  If you don’t win (or even if you do), you can buy the book here.

The Gift

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Bear with me, I know it’s early November but we’ve got to get organised, peeps!

Christmas is the only time of year when it’s normal to send your friends and family cards with words about Jesus on them.  We might feel that these words – these miraculous, life-giving words – are falling on blind eyes, buried underneath Amazon parcels and Santa cards. However, I believe that God can use his words to draw people to himself, even amidst the din of Wizzard and (give me strength) Michael Buble.

If you’re looking for a little book to give to loved ones this Christmas to help them think more deeply about life, then I’d love to recommend to you Glen Scrivener’s The Gift. Glen is a fantastic communicator and this is a truly refreshing read. He writes in an accessible, down-to-earth way about Christmas and all the joys and reality-checks it brings, and he presents the good news about Jesus in an attractive way.

This is a book that is Christmassy but not cheesy. I love Christmas, and this helped me get excited about it. (We’re going to bonnie Scotland this year! Can’t wait.) You don’t want a Christmas book that briefly mentions Christmas and then swiftly goes into a six-point bible overview. You also don’t want schmaltz. Well I don’t, anyway. In this book, Glen uses the theme of gifts to describe what God has done for us in sending us the most precious gift imaginable.

I almost forgot to mention that at one point he even (wonder of wonders) quotes Billy Joel! One of my absolute favourites. That man raised me (along with, you know, my actual parents).

There’s a film too! At the end of the book you’re invited to go online and watch a short film called Let Me Go There. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m excited!

Just so you know I’m not just saying all this (not sure why I would!), I’ve now bought 6 copies to send to some lovely friends this Christmas. I’ll be praying that this year they’d choose to enjoy the ultimate Christmas gift.

Which way, Toto?

 

I recently applied for some jobs for the first time in twelve years.  Cue (in between much prayer) panic, self doubt and the distinct feeling that I’m really, really not in control.

When making big life decisions, here is a proverb that we might find helpful:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

(As an aside: it seems to me that British Christians are not too hot on the book of Proverbs.  Not sure why that is?  I’ve made a sweeping genrealisation there and I’m not going to delete it! I’ll get back to you if I make any headway on Proverbs.  I bought that Tim Keller book but I think it might be stuck under my bed somewhere.)

In the midst of the job hunting,  I attended a seminar about being a Christian millennial (I don’t consider myself a millennial but was hoping to gain sympathy for them), and one of the things that came up was the struggle with making decisions.  Rachel Jones (she’s written a book – here it is), had a simple list that people could use which would help them to make decisions. I believe that this sort of practical wisdom is needed, especially if the decision you’re making seems like it could change the course of your life.

I believe that, but not everybody does. It seems to me that there are two common ways to look at a big crossroads-type moment in your life.  And I think I can flit between both of these methods:

One is to read the above Proverb and then wait on the Lord for him to show you the straight path.  The Lord knows which job he wants me in.  Therefore I’ll pray a prayer of submission to God’s will (v6) and wait for a strong feeling about one of them.  Or I’ll wait for a clear sign that I should take one and not the other.  I’m not leaning on my own understanding (v5), so that means I need to allow God to show me the right path.

Method number two might be seen as a more practical approach.  This is where we know that God cares about our hearts, and in his grace he’s given us practical wisdom.  So I’m going to focus on loving God with all my heart, submitting to him, and therefore it doesn’t matter which job I choose.  I don’t need to panic, because the job I do day-to-day doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  I can stack shelves or sell stocks and shares – what God looks at is my heart.  As long as I’m working for him and his glory, I’m free to choose any job I like.

There is truth in both of these, but my recent job hunt reminded/taught me that there is an important middle ground.  I’m a conservative evangelical Christian, and my church culture would favour method number two.  We don’t sit around waiting for signs from God.  We pray, then we do something.  I think we even read books with titles like that.  But what I was recently reminded of is that God does actually really care what job I do.  And he can intervene.  And he does intervene!  He intervenes more than we conservative, pro/con list-writers like to admit.

It’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s for the glory of God.  But that’s not quite right!  God’s word says “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.) It’s not that God doesn’t care what you do, but he does care much more about how you do it.*

Hunting for my job, I prayed and agonised over decisions, but in the end I just had to do what to me seemed best.  I applied for the only job that seemed to be an option.  And God intervened in a ridiculous way.  (It all coincided with a big multi-church weekend away I was on, so those who didn’t see me coming and hide got to hear all about it in real time.) And looking back on it, I’m really encouraged that God does care massively what job I do, and he has good things in store for me, and he does direct the course of events for his own glory.

So as I’m praying for my children – what school they should go to, what activities they should do, what jobs they might do in the future – it’s such a joy to remember that a) God cares much more about their hearts than any of that other stuff, and b) he does care what they do, and he will have them on the path he’s prepared in advance for them to be on.

 

*This reminded me of a very specific bit in The West Wing.  See here if you’re interested!

Mum(?)

I’m writing this one from glorious Cornwall. That’s me and my son, crabbing.

I recently watched the award-winning British comedy series Mum on BBC iPlayer. Some bits made me cringe and some scenes I didn’t even watch. But it had moments of genius. There’s a magnificent conversation about tolerance in the final episode (“I can’t stand intolerant people”), and the observational humour is at times just really, really clever. I mean, really.

I’m not here to write a review of Mum, but it did get me thinking about our society’s confusion about motherhood. In each half-hour episode, the central character, Mary (Mum) is the steady, gravitational force around which all other characters orbit. She feeds them; she listens to them; she provides them with safe shelter. There are a lot of things going on in the programme, but this is certainly one running theme.

In real life, we all want someone to be that person for us. We all need food, safety and shelter. We all need someone to listen to us. In the church community, we hopefully have several “mums” (and “dads”) who serve us in this way. This is one major way by which The Lord provides for us.

We all want this, but it’s much easier to be on the receiving end of it than to be the one giving it. Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” He said that “whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” We believe these words, but boy do we need to be reminded of them. How many of us were looking forward to a nice rest this summer? To putting our feet up? How many of us were disgruntled to discover that our summer holiday actually involves more work, more service, more providing-for-others?

Spoiler alert!

It saddened me that in the final episode of Mum, the take-home message seemed to be that Mary needed to put herself first for once. All this time she’d been serving everyone else, and biting her tongue, and putting other people’s feelings before her own. But finally she became enlightened to the truth that she was entering a new season of life – one in which she could walk away from those who needed her and just enjoy herself.

This is where I think our society is confused. We want to celebrate mothers (and other servant-hearted people, or “local heroes”) and the strong communities they gather. We well up at the memories of all the home-cooked meals and steady, reliable sanctuaries we’ve benefitted from. But we also tell each other to look after number one, follow our hearts and make happiness our goal.

Of course, the irony is that Jesus is so right, and as our creator he does actually want to bless us! When we put the needs of others first, we find blessing. When we serve one another, we find real, joyful community. When we look to the needs of others, we find that we’re all provided for.

So I’m not having a go at Mum, as it really is very well done and it is an astonishingly accurate reflection of the culture it’s reflecting. I envy the writer! And I wouldn’t even say not to watch the final episode, because you’d miss the bit about tolerance. But this summer if you’re feeling a bit ragged and sorry for yourself, as we’re all prone to do, let’s repent together and thank Jesus for giving us people to serve and love. What a mind-blowing privilege it is that one day, Lord willing, they might look back and thank Him for the ways we served them.

None the Richer

Happy Mother’s Day, UK friends!

This morning at church a lovely friend (who’s a single mum) gave me a Mother’s Day card. She was really happy because her twin 8 year old boys had bought her a card and small gift. She beamed as she told me how they’d come to her and asked for money so that they could go and buy her something. She was delighted that they’d been so thoughtful.

Mother’s Day is a funny one sometimes because since your young children rely on you for everything, you often need to contribute to your Mother’s Day treats! If you’re hoping for breakfast in bed, you’ll probably have to stock the fridge yourself with the food you fancy. Sometimes we can use this as yet another reason to complain. But I wonder if we could choose instead to be thankful, and to consider what it might teach us about how our Heavenly Father treats us. My friend’s joy over her sons’ gift reminded me of this CS Lewis quote:

“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what that is really like.

It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.)

When I serve God, by looking after my children or cleaning my flat or leading a bible study or giving someone a lift somewhere or cooking someone a meal or encouraging my sister or any of the other good things God has planned in advance for me to do, I’m using the gifts he’s given me to honour his holy name. I mustn’t ever think that I’ve somehow earned something from God or that he needs me to do these things. He lacks nothing. And without him I am nothing, so I’d be utterly unable to serve him if he hadn’t graciously enabled me to do so. That is in some ways obvious, but nevertheless mind-blowing. It kill pride, and reminds me that it truly is my privilege to be able to serve him. I would do well to remember that the next time I’m sweeping up crumbs or holding a writhing toddler during a quiet moment at church.

When we cheerfully give to our Heavenly Father, knowing that it was with his own gifts that we were able to do so, he is pleased. How amazing! If I delight in my own children, how much more will He, the perfect parent, delight in me?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12.1.

Swing it, shake it, move it, make it

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I love CBeebies – which is a British TV channel for young children. I’m always impressed by how talented the presenters and cast members are when they perform their annual ‘CBeebies presents…’ show. This year’s was Thumbelina. Nina-of-neurons fame is obviously terrific and did a lovely job.

I did feel sorry for Thumbelina though, because she spent most of the show telling people she didn’t know who she was. How terrifying for her.

I missed a bit – went off to cook the tea – and then saw the finale, which was a song:

“Thumbs up, you can be what you want to be…
I want to be free, I want to be me,
That’s what I’m gonna be.”

This is the doctrine of the young generation:

I can be whoever I want!
You can’t tell me who I am!
I’ll choose who I am!

And by the way… who am I?

After my children watched Thumbelina, we sat down to read the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke Chapter 1.

Imagine if Mary was a young girl now, and listened to the messages of the iGeneration:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” Mary answered. “I won’t let anybody push me around.”

And the famous Magnificat, the song of Mary, would have been more like this:

“My soul magnifies me.
And my spirit rejoices in me: I’m awesome.
From now on all generations will hear me roar!”

I know this is very silly, but just imagine it for a moment, because is is the attitude our children are being encouraged to have. If Mary had said this, she’d have missed out so badly! And she’d have been so wrong! She’d have lived and died in obscurity. Nobody would have heard her roar.

Our children shouldn’t expect an angel to visit them and tell them what their life will be all about. Instead we have God’s word, which gives us clear answers to questions about who we are and why we’re here. Praise God for that! None of us has to wander through life, wondering who we are.

The advent devotion we’re using said this:

The serpent’s lie says, “You won’t be happy unless you are in charge of your life.” (Here I added, “Thumbs up you can be what you want to be!”) The truth is, God is in charge and God is good.  Mary did not demand her own way.  She gladly gave herself to God.  True happiness is ours when we give our lives to our good God.

And the following day read:

The truth is that God made us to love him and live for him… You were made for God… Our dreams are too small compared to God’s purpose for our life.

I’m not going to ban CBeebies, but by God’s grace I’ll try not to sell my children short by telling them they can be what they want to be. Praise God! He has given them, and us, an identity and a purpose. “No human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2v9.

Happy Christmas, friends. X

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*In case you’re not British, or you’re a young whippersnapper, the title of this post refers to a song by the Spice Girls… ‘Who do you think you are?’