Christmas gifts

CHRISTMAS is a demonstration of the love of God for all people. It embraces not just the birth of Christ, but His life, death and resurrection. Many visitors to Israel experience something of that amazing love in personally enriching ways, and I too have had that privilege.

Visiting Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and standing in the Shepherds’ Field where angels proclaimed the arrival of the Christ-child, brought a fresh awareness of the Christmas story. I understood anew the reality of the meaning of His name, Immanuel, God with us.

As I sat in the magnificent church on the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the words of one of the Beatitudes captured my heart: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Many people find Christmas particularly difficult; the grief of their lives intensifies in the  heightened air of excitement and anticipation. There are those who are mourning – those who are bereaved, those with broken relationships, the loss of hopes and dreams. To each one, Jesus brings His gift of comfort. He gently says, ‘Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.’

As I walked the streets of Jerusalem where Jesus once walked I was reminded of how He reached out to the poor and needy, those who lived on the edge of their communities. Jesus reached out to all in need – and He does that for all of us today. At Christmas time there are those who feel alone and lonely. To each one Jesus brings His gifts of love and acceptance.

As I talked with Jesus in the serenity of the Garden of Gethsemane, the words of an old hymn came to mind:

I come to the Garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses


And He walks with me, 


And He talks with me


And He tells me I am His own.

The words of the contemporary Christian song, Servant King, also capture the pathos of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as He awaited His arrest and coming crucifixion. It speaks of the garden of tears where Christ chose to bear our heavy load, where His heart was torn with sorrow, but in obedience to His Father, He declared: ‘Not my will, but Yours be done.’

In what is meant to be a festive occasion there are those who are carrying heavy loads. To all, Jesus offers His gifts of empathy, kindness, care and compassion. He invites everyone to give Him that heavy load, and receive from Him His love, joy and peace.

Christmas is a time to reflect upon the love of God, demonstrated to us through the birth of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the One who knows us intimately, loves us deeply, and who offers us Life with a capital ‘L’.

This Christmas may each one of us accept His gifts and embrace them in all their fullness. The love of God, His peace, joy and hope – wonderful gifts that are His personal gifts to each one of us.

Advertisements

That’s Freedom!

MANY YEARS AGO, long before my kids—and many of my friends—were born, I came into an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time, life at home was problematic and I was hurting like crazy.   I was 16 years old when I heard about God’s love for me, and how he had sent his Son into the world to demonstrate his love for all people. I responded to Jesus’ gentle call, a call that remains the same today as it was back then:

JesusCome to me…and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   (Matthew 11:28-30).

It was so simple. The words I read in the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus, captured my heart and I was sold out for him. Just as much as he loved me and gave his all for me, so I wanted to love and serve him.

But very quickly Church got in the way. In particular, fundamental evangelical churches, followed by Pentecostal, Charismatic and Anglican. I got sucked into a range of teachings that all but destroyed my understanding of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Over the decades I tried so hard to fit into church life, to conform to the particular brand of Christendom I happened to be in at the time—and failed miserably. In the meantime, with an horrific history of abuse to process, my life began to unravel and I had to step out of church while I concentrated on the hell of healing, a process that took many years. With my life back on track, I once again tried to ‘get back to church’.

God had other ideas, and with one final revelation of a horrid incident of sexual abuse by a denominational church leader, I realised that ‘church’— at least not the ‘church’ others may perceive it to be—is not for me. What I had been trying to follow for decades was nothing but a bunch of lies that came with utter betrayal that was clearly ‘not of God’!

As a result of the healing work God has been doing these past months, using a surprising choice of people, I am not only rid of the restrictive baggage of a blinkered religion that tried to put God in a box, but I have entered into the most joyous time of my life. I now have a precious, intimate relationship with my God, including with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that is life-enriching and one that I can gladly, freely share with those around me—regardless of whether they go to church or not. To quote the title of John Farnham’s song, something of an anthem for me: ‘That’s freedom!’

My kind of Church

My kind of church

To be like Jesus

THIS WEEK I felt bombarded by images of the Church – capital ‘c’, the Church as a whole – behaving badly. I say the Church as a whole because, whether we like it or not, we have all sinned and well and truly fallen short of what God intends for his people.

When I read our national broadcaster’s report on domestic violence in the Church, I felt like crying. Crying for those women mentioned in that report (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028) who experienced such ungodly behaviour from those in their homes and churches who claimed to be followers of Jesus. And I felt like crying for what we the Church have done to others down through the ages in the name of Christ. I felt sickened by our hypocrisy, our lack of love and kindness, our pride and sanctimonious attitude towards those who struggle with life’s cruelty.

Then I met up with a guy in my resort community who mentioned he and his wife went to church. When I expressed interest he told me that he was very different from those in his fellowship. Oh? ‘Yes,’ he told me. ‘My ideas on the apocalypse, the end times, differ from most people in the church. They base their thoughts on…’ I politely cut him off and gently told him I try to base my faith on Jesus, his example and teachings.

As I thought about the many failings of the Church and the distress and heartache many experience there, I looked at what I really believe about God and how I want to live for him, perhaps how I could make a difference in our confusing, chaotic world. I realised that at the core of my being and the way I want to live my life is, to put it simply, to be like Jesus.

What a difference we could make in our own lives and in the lives of our families and friends if we lived as Jesus lived, if we treated one another with his loving kindness, respect and concern.

What a difference we could make in the lives of those in and outside of the Church who struggle with life and are screaming out for love, acceptance, kindness and care – if we treated them as we ourselves want to be treated.

What a difference we could make in our communities, our churches, our world if those of us who claim to be his followers were just like him, without our religious trappings, our denominational differences, pride, prejudice, cruel condemnation and judgemental stance.

Many years ago Jesus called people to ‘Come, follow me.’ That call remains today. Now, more than ever, the Church – all who call themselves his followers, and those who stand and watch on in dismay – must heed that call and become once again the salt of the earth and the light of the world that he has called us to be. To be like Jesus:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30, New International Version)