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Daniel Burke

Lonely at Christmas

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Growing up an only child had its pros and cons. The pros were that I rarely got hand-me-down clothes and I didn’t have to share my parents’ attention. The cons were that I didn’t have anybody to back me up if I was in trouble and sometimes it could a get a little lonely. My extended family is scattered around the world; I have cousins in the UK, the Caribbean, Australia and Algeria. While this means I get the occasional international holiday with free accommodation (what a bonus!) it also means that Christmas time can get lonely. Scrolling through Instagram and seeing photos of my friends with their brothers and sisters and cousins leaves me feeling left out.

The Reason for the Season

Although Christmas is one of the most magical times of the year, it can also be the most difficult for some. Perhaps, for whatever reason, you’re feeling alone this Christmas. Here are two things that I believe could help you!

Ultimately, when it comes down to it, the reason we celebrate Christmas is to remember the birth of Jesus and what it means for our world. Presents, delicious dinners and festive celebrations are secondary.

In Isaiah 9:6 we read

“For to us a Child is born, to us, a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (AMP).

Wherever you are and whoever you are with, you can take time to remember Jesus. With God, we are never truly alone – even when it can feel like we are! He is with you, and as the scripture says, He can be your father, and your family, this Christmas.

Welcome Home

As I walk through the doors of my church, one of the first things I see is a big sign that says “Welcome Home” and I believe that this is especially true on Christmas Day! Churches all over Africa will be having a Christmas service, and often a Christmas Eve service too! If you’re not sure what to do on Christmas Day, there is a church family waiting to celebrate Christmas with you.

If you can’t get to a church, you can have what I sometimes call “home church”! On the days that I’ve been away, or unable to get to church, I have “church” by myself in my room. With technology, it’s become even easier as I can stream a podcast and listen to worship music without even leaving my house! If you want to read the Christmas story, you can find it in the Bible in the book of Matthew 1:18 to 2:23 and Luke 1:5 to 2:52.

Whatever you’re facing this Christmas, whether its loneliness or your first Christmas without a loved one, please remember that God is with you. He cares about you and He’s only a prayer away. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 we read that:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (ESV).

If you need comfort this festive season, I would encourage you to seek it from the greatest comforter of all. During His time on earth, Jesus experienced great loneliness and suffering himself, which means that He can empathise with the pain that you and I feel. You are never alone.

Happy Christmas! But why is the birth of Jesus such a big deal?

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You can’t get out of bed at the moment without knowing that the majority of the world is gearing up for a celebration of sorts.  There is a general sense of happiness and warmth, combined with excitement and at times stress which isn’t normally present. People have hung lights, brought out the decorations and are shopping with enthusiasm all in the name of celebrating Christmas.  But why? Surely, it’s not just because we need a reason to spend money and eat more than is good for us.

Whether you follow the Christian faith or not, if you celebrate at all at Christmas you can’t escape the fact that at the heart of this season is the birth of Jesus.  Why then, after more than 2000 years, does the world we live in still take a moment to mark the birth of this one individual?

1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000

There are many people who dispute the uniqueness of Jesus.  To some, He was just another person but there might just be more to it than that.  According to scholars, there are more than 300 prophecies foretelling of the birth of the Messiah or God’s chosen saviour of humankind.  For one person to fulfil even a fraction of those would be ridiculous odds, in fact, according to a study done by the Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena college if you took just eight of those 300 hundred prophecies the likelihood of one person fulfilling them is just 1 in 1017.  Peter Stoner who conducted this study describes in his book Science Speaks it this way:

“Let us try to visualize this chance. If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all of the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.

“Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote using their own wisdom.”

So if this is true, what does it mean for us? for Christmas? and for everyone who celebrates this special season? It means that beyond the traditions and celebrations at the heart of this season was a child whose birth defied odds and set Him apart from anyone else who has ever lived. Jesus was and still is a big deal! He is God made flesh, sent to Earth to live among men and to save humankind from self-destruction.  Whether you choose to ignore this or embrace the truth of who Jesus is, is up to you.

If you would like to know more about discovering Jesus and knowing God for yourself please click on the like.  We would love to help you.

 

Doing the right thing

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It’s amazing if you think about it, that the world’s financial system operates on the basis of trust. The fact that investors place their money willingly into the hands of another party is because trust has been built up: assurances are given in the form of reputation, track record and maybe even shared risk. But ultimately, one party has to trust the other to fulfil their investment promises and obligations.

A lot of what holds a society together exists in the form of intangibles such as loyalty, commitment, integrity, and of course, trust. Legal systems depend on it. Western press freedom requires it. The enjoyment of a safe, well-functioning society starts with these values. They are deeply rooted in the human psyche, and resonate with us when we detect their presence, and cause us to hold back when they are absent.

It goes without saying that the protection of these values holds great importance with regards to the proper functioning of our world. They are the basis on which we dream of better societies, make impassioned speeches, and look hope-filled towards a tomorrow where we have learnt from our mistakes. Because all humans, in all cultures, share these values, there’s an ability for us all to build towards a common view of a well-functioning society.

Which brings me to doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing by your family, your friends and your common man, is not only noble, but also critical. It’s reflective of these values of trust, loyalty, commitment and integrity. Committing to the preservation of these, even when you become unpopular, is always the best course of action for any human and ultimately for the culture at large. With each of us lies the responsibility to be a guardian at the gate as it were. Guarding the world around us from an unrestrained slide into lawlessness, grace-lessness…trust-lessness. It’s an unapologetic reclamation of honour and prudence. These words and actions less-often seen and often only found in dusty books and films harking to a bygone era. But fashion aside, they mean beautiful things: high respect, merit, esteem or good judgement, wisdom, common sense… the very qualities we need to uphold our values and something no healthy person would protest. When we do the right thing amidst persecution and hardship, we are like centurions of a high moral order, protecting our world from a decline into darkness, and saying no to a slow deterioration of the intangibles that help us to construct the society of our dreams. It is indeed very cool to be morally astute.

It may seem pointless in the moment, and not worth the sacrifice and rejection, but people do respond positively to acts of bravery done in the defence of doing the right thing, even if it takes time to be recognised. A striking example of this would be the life and work of William Wilberforce, an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to stop the slave trade. Wilberforce, born in 1759, was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education, writing in his diary that his great purpose in life was to suppress the slave trade, and as a result he dedicated 20-years to the fight on the industry. We look at this today, fully supporting his decision, but you may not realize that this was not a popular view in his day at all. Even saying it like this, so swiftly, we easily gloss over the immense weight of opposition and personal conflict he would have lived through. His support of these political and social causes resulted in severe criticism, with some arguing that he was ignoring injustices at home while campaigning for the enslaved abroad. One of the great ironies of his life is that he died just three days before his work that led to the abolition of slavery (an Act), was assured of passage through parliament. He never enjoyed the satisfaction of winning the greatest fight of his life. Think about the immensity of that. Ask yourself, “can I resist popular opinion for the sake of doing what is right, even if faced with criticism and rejection, with the possibility of never seeing the fruit of my actions?”. A more modern example of this is Nelson Mandela, who following imprisonment of 27 years did not rise to power to wipe out his enemies (something most others would have done), but stood for forgiveness and unity amidst pressure to be anything but that.

Which brings me to the point of my message: perseverance in doing the right thing may mean doing it for those who will never thank us, those who will never know about us, and those who have not been born yet… but we should do it anyway.

Resistance to the championing of these morals, manners, and a sense of social responsibility is profoundly short-sighted and only the forte of those with divergent agendas, who are themselves prisoner to nothing but selfish ambition and unhealthy worldviews.

Side note…

Like me, you may find it fascinating that we share such commonality in moral values irrespective of the part of the world we come from or who raised us. It’s wonderful actually. At the heart of these values lies the instinct that all human life matters and that people have intrinsic value no matter who they are or what they have (or have not) achieved. It is also worth considering the likelihood of a divine hand behind the commonality of it all. Evolution alone does not require a moral code, as at the heart of it is the view that those most adaptable to change survive. In contrast, at the heart of a divine creation with a moral code, the oppressed are uplifted, despite their weakness and inability to adapt. If you would like to find out more about this view on the divine, click this link to start exploring.

The goal is growth

So neither he who plants, nor he who waters, is anything, but only God who gives the growth. -1 Corinthians 3:7

Notice the emphasis at the end: the goal is growth, and growth only comes from God.

Funny that, because we’re pretty good at focusing on the planting and watering. Who are the really good planters, and who are the really good waterers (if you ask me, I could plant just as well as they did). The writer of course is acutely aware of this human tendency for recognition and praise. We are so easily distracted by the desire for greatness!

The goal is growth. The goal is thus God.

Yes of course we all love growth. Seeing someone go from a pace of infancy in any part of their life, to maturity and strength is just so inspiring. But heck, we make a pretty good dish out of knowing who did what and how much credit they deserve for doing that. And oh (mind you) how we expect the same praise for our planting and spraying. And we often fail to remember that we can’t even make a single leaf grow.

God’s focus is not on who waters and plants, but that it grows.

It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. A bit of a disappointing surprise. Maybe because some of us spend a lot of time planting and watering in genuine service to God, only to feel cheated and less valued when we fail to get the recognition we deserve. Give honour where honour is due and all that.

But this is probably one of the great learnings to glean from this passage. That we shouldn’t be concerned about our efforts in the pursuit of His Kingdom half as much as we should be on He who makes things grow. Like it’s saying our efforts are in vain if God’s not in it.

I have to be fuelled by the right stuff.

If God is focused on growth, so must I be, irrespective of the part I play in the growing of another. I cannot constantly wait for, hope for, and be fuelled by the praise and recognition of people for my contribution.

Planted some hope in someone’s life today? Great, move on. Watered some dreams today? Fantastic, don’t make a big deal out of it. I have to change my spiritual posture as if I was a farmer: head down, and keep ploughing the land God has given me.

 “…neither he who plants, nor he who waters, is anything..”

The fuel of any effective Christian service is this: my gratitude for the gift of salvation which removed from me eternal separation from God. I am nothing, He is something! From this place I offer my life back to God in service.

It’s in this place of humble devotion that I find the strength to lay down my desperate, secret need for the good opinions of others. It’s God’s approval rating I should really long for anyway.

And I seek the grower, while planting and watering in the lives of others. I seek the grower, for the abundant growth in my own life. And while others may crown me with praise and honour, in my heart I continually throw those crowns back at Him.

Because – in heavenly irony – in Christ, He has made this nothing, something.

I just can’t get my head around faith

Some people go through their entire life and never experience the kind of love that sweeps them off their feet. And such people often go through their entire life believing such a love does not exist.

Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a person that thinks that love is a waste of time; a pursuit better left unexplored. We don’t hold love responsible for people’s failings to believe it. The majority of us continue to move towards love, despite the real possibility of getting disappointed all over again.

Now take the idea of religious faith, considered by many to be an irrational pursuit. This sentiment is captured so well by Jack Nicholson’s character, Edward, in the movie The Bucket List:

“I honestly envy people who have faith. I just can’t get my head around it.”

To Edward, the idea of abandoning his mental faculties to a being or presence that he does not hear or see and consequently cannot work out for himself, is too great an ask. After all, as a successful businessman he deals in weighing up risk and reward, so if he can’t see it, why would he bet on it?

But what if the pursuit of true faith does not require the abandonment of reason. What if faith is as close to us as the experience of love.

Uncertain?…yes. Risky?…yes. Requiring openness and trust?…yes.  Need time to mature?…yes. Sometimes messy?…yes. Seasons of confusion?…yes. But through it all – just like love – we learn to embrace the journey of faith and become utterly, immovably convinced of the presence of an enigmatic force that beckons us towards greater things, and is yet, strangely comforting. Like a déjà vu of home. The ability to have faith is not actually as removed from us as we sometimes think. What we need is a keen sense of adventure and a willingness to explore the depths. To be brave.

You see, conversely:

Some people go through their whole life and never experience the kind of faith that sweeps them off their feet. For this reason, some people go through their entire life believing that such a faith does not exist.

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