One phrase that I have heard bandied about on TV is ‘the spirit of Christmas’. I have no idea what that actually means but I think it is a reference to events incorporating family, friends and fun that occur at this time of year. The issue I have is not that such things are unimportant, but that the real meaning of Christmas is not in such events but in one event: the advent! The coming of the Son of God to this earth to bring salvation, healing, forgiveness, hope and life for all humanity. However, you spend your Christmas this year, take time out to give thanks to God for stepping into human history for your sake and for mine!
So far, this autumn has been fairly mild. We have had some rain, buy most days have been fairly clear. Usually, we associate autumn with mists and cold morning starts. Maybe they will come in November? One thing I really do not like doing is driving in mist and fog. I have experienced some very scary journeys in such conditions. The issue is that, if we cannot see the road ahead, we cannot prepare ourselves for what it will bring. Each twist and turn meets us as a surprise and any hazard only appears to us at the last minute.
At the moment, I feel like we are all in a bit of a fog. We do not know what the future will bring or even when the mist that has descended at present will clear. Each week, things change. Spring seems a long way away. All of this breeds a level of anxiety and insecurity and I am sure all of us, during the present period, have experienced good days and bad days as a result.
There is one thing that is certain, however, and that is that God holds our futures in his hand, whether that be for us as individuals, or as a church. He knows the end from the beginning and none of this surprised him or caught him unawares. Our trust is not in governments or councils, or even in the NHS. Our trust for the future must be in God and in Him alone, for there is no firmer anchor to help us hold steady than him!
20th January was identified as Blue Monday. It was the Monday of the third week of the new year which is associated with high suicide rates as people fail to come to terms with a cold January, the arrival of Christmas credit card bills, the distance from the arrival of Spring, and much more. All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, experience highs and lows that are often associated with external factors that we cannot control. Our greatest safeguard against such things is endeavouring to keep our own mental wellbeing in good order so that we build resilience into ourselves. This is not always easy as we are complex beings each with our own set of triggers that can take us in all kinds of directions.
To help us, God gives us His peace. Philippians 4:7 says, ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ This verse is given in the context of dealing with anxiety. The peace of God is his gift to us. I pray that in these days you will be filled with the peace of God so that you are able to overcome the anxieties and stresses of the season.
God Bless, Richard
Like most people of a certain age, I struggle to maintain my weight. I finished last year a stone heavier than I began it. Since the beginning of this year, through a combination of regular exercise, portion control, a change of diet and self-discipline, I am within touching distance of being back where I was a year ago. I will then need to continue doing all these things to maintain it. In all of this, I am no different to anyone else but I do want to maintain a level of fitness and health that will sustain me into the future.
Our spiritual life is no different. If we are to retain our spiritual fitness and health, we need to include in our lives the spiritual disciplines that will sustain it. This includes regular exercise through prayer and reading of the word. It means exercising portion control regarding what we allow our minds to dwell on through television, radio or other media. We may even need to change our diet by using daily reading notes, commentaries and other aids to help us understand the Word. But most of all, we need self-discipline to put all of these things in place. The church at large is full of flabby Christians. It is time to get fit and healthy so that we ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12:1).
God bless, Richard
On my travels, I never cease to be amazed and frustrated at the sensitivity of the person scanner at Dubai International Airport. On the way to India, I was stripped down to my jeans, T-shirt, shoes and underwear but still managed to set off the sensor. On my way back, I thought I would pre-empt it and take my shoes off before passing through. Failed again! An alarm sounded, at which point I said to the security officer, ‘What more do you want me to take off?’ I am sure the day will come when I will be standing nearly naked in the middle of Dubai airport being frisked by a burly man determined to find something potentially dangerous on my person! How a pair of rubber soled shoes with leather uppers and no trace of metal can set off a sensor is beyond me. I am not alone in falling foul of these scanners as a trail of people are sent back through to discard further items before setting off the alarm once more. I wish they would get an engineer to turn down the sensitivity a little.
Sometimes, we can all be a little over-sensitive. Life’s circumstances and experiences can cause us to overreact when someone says something out of turn to us, or we can find ourselves being overly emotional at the slightest thing. I am far more likely to cry at a movie on a plane, especially if I have been away for a couple of weeks. Whilst such responses are a natural part of being human, each of us must be careful that our reactions are not destructive to those around us. If somebody does react in a way that we find difficult, it is also important for each one of us to give grace to one another and not let it destroy our unity.
Sometimes, in the midst of all I am doing, I can become weary. This tiredness is not through lack of sleep particularly, but through lack of space. Whilst I try to build downtime into my routine, at times unavoidable things encroach on that space and that does not always leave sufficient recovery time. I do try to guard my Friday (day off), and generally succeed, but unfortunately, the rest of the world does not work on a Sunday to Thursday basis and things crop up that have to be done on a Friday. I am sure we all have such challenges in the busyness of modern life.
At such times of tiredness, two scriptures stand out for me. The first is Psalm 23, where we see the shepherd caring for his sheep: ‘he restores my soul’. Sometimes we need to have our soul restored in order to function and that can happen as we take time to wait upon the Lord. The second scripture is Matthew 11:28: ‘Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’. This is a promise of God that, once more, the rest of God that restores our wellbeing is with Jesus.
If you are tired, weary or burdened, come to the Lord; wait upon him; rest in Him, and see if he will not restore your soul.