Adventus

Today is Advent Sunday though I won’t open my calendar and light my candle until Wednesday.

Adventus is the Latin term used to celebrate the arrival (or return) of a ruler; of the triumphant entry of the Emperor. It was a time of great expectation, of excitement. In Christianity there is a link in thinking to the aramaic word “Maranatha”, meaning “Come, Lord Jesus”. An expectation of Jesus returning again as King rather than child.

What are your expectations this Advent? Is it a time of expectation or a time of stress? Of watching old Christmas films or worrying about the arrangements? What are we looking for over the next four weeks? To borrow from the last of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, that always premiered at this time of year, are you waiting for The Return of the King?

Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

The early Christians were heavily persecuted for 300 years and they focused heavily on the hope of Christ’s return rather than so much looking back to his birth. For those persecuted around the world today Advent remains a time of looking forward in hope. That despite their circumstances something better is coming and they are not abandoned. Do remember them this Advent.

Enjoy the calendar and candles; the preparation and parties. But may you find time to find a deeper hope this season too.

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Identity

I forget where I have put things. It’s not something I can blame on advancing years. When I was a teenager my family would call me the “absent minded professor” as I could pass exams but leave a trail of forgotten things everywhere.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

This morning I got to the back gate on the way to a rare meeting in the office. Then I remembered I needed my ID card. I couldn’t get in the office without it. Over 20 minutes later, delving in the pockets of a pair of trousers hung up in my wardrobe I found the elusive piece of plastic…

When is the last time you forgot something important? I had prepared everything else the night before but overlooked this.

Sometimes our lifes and our minds get so cluttered that we forget important details. Like what our identity truly is. As I temporarily lost my card it’s easy in the busyness of life to forget who we really are or look in the wrong places.

I can get pretty down on myself for making mistakes. Phrases like “People who have got things together don’t do things like this” and “can’t you get it right” go through my head. Undoubtedly there is room for improvement. But I’m also reminded, as a believer in Jesus, that my acceptance is not based on my performance. He saw my mess and loves me anyway. I have a higher identity.

For many people who choose to follow Jesus identify is a real issue. In India, to be a faithful citizen is to be a Hindu. In places like Egypt it is virtually impossible to change your faith on your identity card. And if your identity card says you are of the majority faith then your children are considered to be so too. Equally to have an ID card with Christian on it means you suffer discrimination in employment, education, etc. But for many Christians in such countries knowing their true identity is even more important.

May you know your true identity today.

Dealing with delay..

As I write this I should have been in hospital recovering from an exploratory procedure done under general anaesthetic. But I got an apologetic phone late yesterday evening saying that they needed to cancel as there were no beds available….

Now, unlike many, I am not in pain as I wait for this minor op. But I had got myself emotionally prepared for something rather uncomfortable. When it didn’t happen it was a bit of a let down in a way. I am in limbo, waiting, and it’s hard to plan ahead, especially with Christmas events coming up. But God has his time for everything and it was nice to walk in the woods with Nat, my daughter, this afternoon instead. 😀

Many persecuted Christians find themselves in limbo too. I heard this week of a lady in Iran 🇮🇷 who was allowed to go out on bail for a very high sum. Money that was scraped together by family and friends. But she is still in limbo knowing she is being closely monitored and could be put in jail at any time. Her crime? Being involved in a house church. Many believers are at the mercy of authorities, employers or family. A life living in limbo; of constant delays for justice and what is rightly theirs.

On a positive note the calendars for the persecuted church are going well with only 17 unsold at the present time. May the money raised be of some encouragement to those who sometimes feel like they are forgotten.

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

If you are experiencing delay or limbo in your own life today may you know that the God of Hope is with you (Romans 15:13)

Emotions

How well do you handle your emotions? Someone once compared me to a Swan swimming serenely on the surface but with legs going frantically underneath. Do you ever feel like that?

I struggle with handling anger at times. I was away at a conference on Good, bad and the ugly emotions at the weekend, at a beautiful place called Ellel Pierrepont. It was very good.

it really struck me that it wasn’t just my genetics and the spiritual battle that influenced my anger responses but also how I wrongly handle disappointment. Lots to learn on having greater acceptance of frustrating events. Things like being kinder to myself for mistakes and allowing small gaps of space to recuperate. How do you handle anger-are you a “stuffer” or an “exploder”?

if you have not seen the film “Inside out” it’s really good about how our different emotions combine and how we need them all.

Many persecuted Christians have gone through some really traumatic things. In places like Syria 🇸🇾 and Nigeria both children and adults have experienced horrible experiences which have impacted their emotions. Open Doors provides counselling to help restore shattered inner lifes as well as practical and spiritual help to rebuild lifes. It makes a real difference.

Sacrifice…

As I write it’s Remembrance Sunday. A day when we remember the sacrifice of so many brave men and women who laid down their lifes for their country. And for those who survived, who suffered huge physical and psychological wounds.

They gave their lifes that we may have freedom.

Someone asked for prayer yesterday for a 10 year old with a life ending illness. Many are giving all they can to help. I was struck by the gratitude of the family for all they do have, rather than the challenges they face.

Are we; am I, grateful for all I have despite lifes challenges? To be honest, not enough. But my freedom, as a citizen of UK and as a Christian,was bought at a tremendous price and cost and was not easily won. For me, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate symbol of laying down of a life so my freedom could be won. The song below reminds of this.

For many persecuted Christians, life is a daily risk and choice to follow Jesus. In places like Iran and Central Asia believers have received longer jail sentences because of refusing to give authorities the names of other believers. In North Korea a man said of his friend who was being terribly tortured “When he came to Christ he made the decision that one day he would die for Christ. Every Christian in North Korea has made that choice. My friend knew that one day he could get caught and on that day he had to be steadfast ..and loyal to Jesus. I am convinced he can take the suffering because he constantly reminds himself of the joy set before him”.

Courage. Purpose. Sacrifice. Hope. Let’s remember them, with gratitude.

Doing things differently…

I was reading about when Jesus told Peter, who had been fishing unsuccessfully all night, to put his nets out on the other side of the boat. In the daytime when fish don’t bite. An amateur telling a professional what to do. But Peter did it and the result was more fish than the nets could cope with…

Sometimes we have to do something differently to achieve results. And it’s hard to go against that feeling that we know best and it won’t work. But Peter took a step of faith and Jesus was right. Lots of fish and a life that was transformed.

Now Jesus was and is unique and special. But I wonder how many possibilities-at work, at home, in wider life- I miss because I don’t try something slightly different?

For people who become Christians in countries where you are persecuted it is a big step to make. It is a counter cultural decision; counter intuitive. It attracts rejection and worse. But for those who do, like Brother Rauel in Colombia, a former guerilla leader,it is the most positive life changing decision they make, despite the cost.

What will you do differently today? And how can you be the difference…in your situation, in others lifes?

Rest and sabbath

How good are you at resting? Do you consciously take time out of your day and week just to sit, to unwind, to be thankful, to take a walk and kick the autumn leaves? Or is it something that you feel guilty about?

The Ten commandments include a requirement to rest once a week and to keep it holy (set apart). It was to be a day deliberately different from the rest. Genesis says that God himself rested on the 7th day after creating everything. It was in the context of stopping that He saw that things were good.

I am pretty rubbish at resting and relaxing to be honest. There is always something to do and I feel bad if I’m not doing. Even if I do rest I can struggle that I don’t “feel rested”. The irony is that I can be quite inefficient even within all the activity. Apparently the Russian communists tried an experiment by banning Sundays (or any other days) as rest days to improve productivity. It worked-for a short while. Then productivity dropped even lower than it was before. Our bodies emotionally, physically and physiologically need periods of recuperation. We need to reconnect with ourselves, each other and with God. It’s best to follow the manufacturers instructions. I hope you can rest today.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). For many persecuted Christians it is hard to rest because of the pressures of life and in many places hard to meet. But because they value meeting with other Christians so much they will go out of their way to carve out time and space to be with them. It is special.

You can hear about and pray for persecuted Christians at a special meeting this Sunday evening at 8pm.

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/resources/prayer/idop/

I mentioned in my last blog about my calendar. Hopefully I have now mastered the technology to be able to show it to you. Thanks for all who have bought one but plenty are still available. Minimum donation of £6 plus p and p.

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

Seasons

A very short one today. I have now completed the 2022 calendar. Even better than last year and still in A4 size. I am trying once again to raise money for Open Doors so cost is £6 each. To get them professionally printed cost £3.60 each but worth it. Will try and work out how to upload when not so tired!

It’s amazing where the year is going and the leaves are really turning now. We all go through seasons in life, age wise and in respect to activity. Sometimes it’s a time of growth and other times a hard time. Sometimes it’s just plodding on. For many persecuted Christians it’s a case of just keeping going; for others incredibly hard seasons come.

Whatever you are facing at the moment may you have strength and even joy in it. This weekend coming up is International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. Please do remember those 340 million around the world who suffer for their faith.

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/resources/standing-strong-live/

A walk in the woods..

It was really good to spend 45 minutes in Belfairs Woods after lunch. I have lived in Southend for 3 years and it was the first time I have been. It was lovely to see the interplay between light and shade and seeing the colours of autumn coming in. And the squirrel collecting nuts for winter.

It’s been quite a stressful week in some ways and at times I have struggled to emotionally manage all the decisions and responsibilities. So it’s good to remember that in all the seasons of life that there is beauty and hope.

It can be be hard for persecuted Christians to have hope at times or experience beauty. But God is faithful. This is an old video but tells the story of one of the most amazing woman who I have had the privilege to meet. In a place of no beauty she brought beauty.

Managing conflict..

Last night we had a church meeting where some difficult matters and differences of opinion needed discussion. While it was respectful it wasn’t easy either.

How do you manage conflict? Is it something that you thrive on or run away? A place where you feel happy to say your piece or a context you shy away from? My Dad had very strong opinions on certain matters and I learnt growing up to keep my views to myself to avoid arguments I would never win. It wasn’t worth the aggravation or do I thought. Even as an adult it was only matters I felt really strongly about, such as chosing to follow God’s leading to Africa, where I would disagree. The dangers of not stating your case, of course, are that you bury feelings that come out in other unhelpful ways and you lose self-respect.

Conflict is a frequent consequence of becoming a Jesus follower. In “Honour and shame” cultures such as in the middle and far east the decision of an individual is seen as subservient to the greater good. To leave the family religion is seen as bringing shame to the whole clan. A person must be made to reconform or be thrown out or even killed. To stand strong in such circumstances takes considerable courage and commitment.

On a happier note I am putting together a calendar for sale on behalf of Open Doors. Do let me know if you are interested. Most are landscapes but I have included a rose to keep some supporters happy!