Amazement

One of our family traditions during the Advent season is to visit a local church (St John’s Golden Church) which has a ‘Festival of Christmas Trees’, with trees decorated by both people in the church and various community organisations. The Christmas trees are all through the church auditorium, in the café, up hallways, and in other rooms. They’re everywhere!

When we visited last year Son#1, who had just turned two at the time, was amazed. He walked up and down the hallways stopping at each Christmas tree saying ‘That’s a pretty one… that’s a pretty one!’

I love how young kids can be so easily amazed by things. It’s a shame most of us lose that child-like amazement as we grow up.

Amazement and Christmas have always been linked. In Luke, after the angels tell the shepherds about Jesus’ birth, the shepherds hurry off to find this baby in a feeding-trough. After seeing Jesus, Luke says the shepherds told everyone and that all who heard were amazed.

The reason for their amazement? Here was the fulfilment of prophecies from long ago. Here was the saviour, the Messiah, the King. God arriving in the flesh as a little baby. Jesus was here, and that was amazing!

Maybe we all need a bit more child-like amazement in our lives. What better way to start than by spending some time this Christmas being amazed by Jesus. That he was born into our world to be our saviour, Messiah, and King.

Thank you God for sending your son: our saviour, our King.

May we be constantly amazed by this love that you have shown the world.

Image source

Advertisements

Jesus’ birthday cake

birthday-cake-edited

Over the past few years our family has been much more intentional about observing Advent and preparing for Christmas. We set up our Christmas tree the weekend before Advent starts, do a Jesse Tree which uses the Jesus Storybook Bible (more on that here), and, this year, Kim has wrapped up heaps of Christmas children’s books and the boys get to choose a new one each day.

All of this points towards Son #1 starting to anticipate Christmas more and more. Last week we were talking about how Christmas was like Jesus’ birthday, and Son #1 declared that we should make Jesus a birthday cake.

I asked him how he thought we should decorate the cake?

His answer – with rescue vehicles!

Now, I suspect this is heavily inspired by his birthday cake earlier this year (the picture up the top of this post), which was also adorned with a full set of rescue vehicles (police car, fire truck, ambulance), however isn’t it a surprisingly apt answer?! As, after all, Christmas is celebrating the birth of our rescuer, Jesus.

Perhaps the only thing Son #1 was missing as a cake decoration was a crown, or a throne – something that illustrates that not only was Christmas the birth of our rescuer, but also the birth of our King.

All who are weary…

We’ve had a bit of sickness in our house over the past few weeks – I seem to have been hit the hardest and I’m only now starting to feel close to ‘normal’ again. In the midst of the weariness that sickness brings, the song Come As You Are (by Crowder, not Nirvana…) kept popping into my head, particularly the following verse:

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure

I assume the lyrics are based on Matthew 11:28-30, which reads:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

How awesome it is to have a God who knows that there will be times in our journey when we are weary, for a multitude of reasons. A God who will always provide us with rest.

I like how Brennan Manning discusses these verses in The Ragamuffin Gospel:

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy burdened” he assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love. He knew that physical pain, the loss of loved ones, failure, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal would sap our spirits…

Thank you Lord that in the midst of weariness we can find rest in your unending grace.

Image source

Great is thy faithfulness

Capture

Just before Christmas we welcomed our second child into our family, Son #2. Babies certainly make you reassess your priorities – hence my silence on this blog for the first half of the year!

His name means ‘supplanter’, which we were initially unsure about given its origins with Jacob and Esau. However as we considered it more we started to view the name meaning through a different lens: our previous struggles with infertility.

We started trying for a baby in late 2009. At the time we were filled with excitement about the prospect of a child just around the corner, but as the months and then years went by and no baby came we grew increasingly disappointed and hurt, especially Kim. I’ve touched on our journey with infertility before (Sacred and holy moments) – eventually I received a belated birthday present in early 2013 – Kim was pregnant – and Son #1 arrived later that year.

At that point we thought the pain of infertility would start to fade, but that was not the case. As we continued to feel the pain, even with the presence of Son #1, we realised just how deep the emotional wounds of infertility go. We’d always been keen to have a large family however our struggles with infertility made us begin to doubt whether this would actually be possible.

So when we decided to start trying for our second child, we were understandably preparing ourselves for another long journey. How surprised we were then when this time, instead of taking three years, it only took a few months for us to conceive.

So Son #2 is, for us, the supplanter – not in the sense that he has supplanted his brother, but that he has supplanted our broken dreams of a large family and given us hope that this may be possible in the future.

 

As I lay in bed the night Son #2 was born I had the old hymn Great is thy faithfulness running through my head. Written in 1923 by Thomas Chisholm and based on Lamentations 3:23, I sang out my praise using these fantastic lyrics.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Thank you Father. Amen.

Sacred and holy moments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The upcoming birth of our second child (due in less than two weeks!) and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner remind me of a chapter from Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist, where the following quote comes from:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

The bolded section resonates with me when I look back on my life so far. Two of the moments which, both at the time and on further reflection, have been the most sacred and holy were also my most raw…

The first moment was when I was made redundant from my job in 2010. I’d been working for the company for the first three years Kim and I had been in Dunedin and, while there had been a lull in work – not great if you’re a consultant – being called into the manager’s office and told that I was going to lose my job absolutely blindsided me. I remember feeling completely numb returning to my desk after the conversation. I nervously headed home at the end of the day and it wasn’t long before I shared with Kim what had happened, tears streaming down my face. The following day I spent at home and found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor and crying out to God – asking “why?” In this moment I felt so close to God, it was incredible.

The second moment was while Kim and I were in the midst of infertility, holding on to the hope of a child after three years of trying to conceive. In October 2012 we attended our church’s annual camp at Pounawea in the Catlins. After one of the sermons there was an opportunity for those who wanted prayer to be prayed for by others. We asked for prayer and were surrounded by a small group of familiar faces. As I tried to explain what we wanted prayer for I found myself choked up with tears, unable to get any words out. Up until that point our infertility journey had emotionally impacted Kim much more than me, but in that moment, opening up to others about our pain, I struggled for words. We were covered with prayer on that day and I recall a great sense of peace about the situation following this. One year later our wee surprise arrived – an incredible blessing after trying for so long.

In both of these moments I was faced with a loss of control and certainty about the future. I was weak, vulnerable, on my knees, crying out to God. I’ve found that these moments of inadequacy and uncertainty are such amazing opportunities for God’s grace to shine through.

In his book, Man Enough, when discussing vulnerability Nate Pyle says:

There are going to be times in our lives when we are not strong enough to change the situation. Cancer. The loss of a job because of an economic crisis. Losing a loved one in a car accident. Only when we realize how truly little control we have over the world around us will we being to accept just how weak we are. And if we can embrace our weakness in the world and stop the pretense that we are super-natural he-men impervious to the threats of a broken world, then we will begin to see the strength of Christ move in and through us.

This is so true, and is something I will continue strive towards in the future. I want to be someone who is vulnerable and aware of the inherent uncertainties of life, who is willing to share these weaknesses with family and friends, and who endeavours to create an environment where others can also be vulnerable.

This is crucial to creating a close-knit community of disciples, where we journey with each other to seek Christ through the good times and the bad, where our human-ness shows through in sacred and holy moments. One further quote from Sarah Bessey:

[God] never shied away from our most piercingly human experiences – birth, pain, death, sickness – and so, can we not find him and his redemption ways there still?

Finally, I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians recently and what Paul writes in chapter 12 speaks directly to this topic:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Image source

Learning to pray

Lords_Prayer

Our son turned two today – he was very excited, especially about the birthday cake and candles, which he has been anticipating since we went to a birthday party a few months ago.

He’s been making amazing strides in his language over the past month, and we’ve begun to teach him how to pray, which has been lovely.

Ever since the day he was born we’ve been praying with him. The first blessing he got was from his Nan in the delivery suite, when he was only a few minutes old. Later that night, I vividly remember holding him as Kim slept in the hospital bed, bringing his face close to mine and praying that he would grow into a strong man of God.

Prayer is a part of daily life for our family, something he has been, and always will be, exposed to. We pray with him at least a few times during the day; grace at dining table (he’s always reaching out to hold our hands once he’s in his high chair (probably because it means dinners almost ready!) and once he’s in bed.

More recently he’s been asking for prayer, especially at bedtime and sometimes more than once. He’s been sick quite a bit (for him) over the last month, so when we ask him what he wants us to pray for he says ‘peace’ in his cute little voice. I find that our prayer with him definitely gives him comfort – he almost always will be peaceful and fall asleep after we pray.

Kim has been teaching him he doesn’t have to have wait for us to pray, that he can talk to God all by himself; he just needs to say ‘peace Jesus’. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it.

This has got me thinking about how we learn to pray. I’ve always felt some sort of deficiency in this space, like I’m not very good at it. But over recent years I’ve become more intentional, learning new ways to pray and spiritual disciplines, attending a course that our church in Dunedin offered a few years ago, and studying the Bible more.

It heartens me to know that even the disciples seemed to struggle with prayer, asking Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11. What followed was the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve often overlooked in the past. During our church’s week long prayer vigil this year, I spent some time reading NT Wright’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. It gave me a much deeper understanding of what this particular prayer is really about, and helped me think more about how I pray in practice. NT Wright likens the Lord’s Prayer to a framework, scaffolding rather than the whole building. It made me realise in particular that I have a tendency to spend a lot of time praying about my needs or the needs of my nearest and dearests, but not nearly enough time praying for God’s kingdom, asking forgiveness, and just genuinely honouring and praising God. A new perspective I’d overlooked, but am trying to focus more on now.

I’m never going to be a perfect pray-er – I, like my son, will always be learning (who isn’t?!), but who better to learn from than Jesus!

9So this is how you should pray:
Our father in heaven,
may your name be honoured
10may your kingdom come
may your will be done
as in heaven, so on earth.
11Give us today the bread we need now;
12and forgive us the things we owe,
as we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
13Don’t bring us into the great trial,
but rescue us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13 (as translated by NT Wright)

Image source

Whakataukī

whakatauki

One of the privileges of my job is being able to attend conferences which have some amazing keynote speakers. I was at a conference in Nelson last week where Tā Mark Solomon, the chair of Ngāi Tahu, addressed the delegates about the ambitions of his Iwi – probably one of the most successful and pragmatic Iwi in New Zealand (Ngāi Tahu’s rohe covers most of the South Island, minus the Nelson/Marlborough area).

Tā Mark touched on the tribe’s whakataukī (proverb) which is:

Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei
For us and our children after us.

He emphasised that this proverb sits at the heart of all that Ngai Tahu do.

This got me thinking about the importance of having a vision and values and ensuring these are instilled in your family, team or organisation. When done well, values give us direction, they give us purpose.

The key is though, that it’s not just about developing them, filing them away and forgetting them (as is so often the case). Tā Mark emphasised that they need to be at the heart of everything you do. You need to continually reference back to them and assess what you do against them.

Kim and I have often talked about developing a core list of values for our family to adhere to. I like the idea of basing these around biblical concepts, and often think of the following verses when considering what we should include:

Micah 6:8: No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Acts 2:42: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

Revelation 2:19: I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

This topic has also been present in my mind as we look to call a new senior pastor for our church. It is so crucial to have a church vision and values that is continually reinforced and at the heart of everything we do. It’s also so important to have buy-in and agreement from the congregation that this is what we are about.

Having been back at our church for about nine months now, from my perspective the current vision, values and mission statement appears to have been a tick box exercise (or at least is now, probably ten years after it was developed), as I haven’t heard it mentioned once during a service or in any communications. This isn’t saying that the vision itself is wrong, just that it doesn’t appear to be at the heart of decision-making or what we do as a church.

Image source