Preparing for Christmas ๐ŸŽ„

Life has been busy over the last week and I also haven’t been as organised as I could be. But virtually all the Christmas cards are out and most of the presents are wrapped. And today I put up the Christmas trees. Not the greatest examples of the breed but they brighten up the room. ๐Ÿ˜€

I was struck by a reading this morning about Christmas trees.

“Although no one can make a biblical case for Christmas trees, we gather around ours with joy…The ornaments reflect the decorative splendour with which His kindness adorns our lives….The season is upon us and in celebrating we make it His”.

As ever, in all the busyness of Christmas, it is so easy to lose the reason for it. I am very prone to do that, as I sit here with wrapping paper around me…. may the true light shine out. The flickering Advent candle reminds me that there is light even in the darkness.

As you look at your Tree and the candles this Christmas may you know the brightness of the light that illuminated that dark sky over Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Persecuted Christians look to the light of Christmas as a very special time. Children around the world look forward to it. Yet for many it’s not all about the presents but much more. But for many others-adults and children-it is very difficult or impossible to put up Christmas trees. Or stars or other celebratory items. So let us be thankful for what we do have!

Joy to the world..

Well, I am way behind on writing my Christmas cards but tomorrow is my youngest daughters birthday ๐ŸŽ‚ so we need to celebrate. It is very special for her to do so. There will be joy, especially when her sister arrives to join the celebrations!

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Two thousand years Angels appeared to shocked shepherds and proclaimed “good news of great joy”. Good news comes in many ways. This was the fulfilment of a centuries old promise. Long awaited hopes fulfilled are amazing. The coming of God into the world brought great and unexpected joy then, and He still does today. What are your greatest hopes today? And your greatest source of joy?

Persecuted Christians look forward to Christmas. Where it is possible to celebrate, it is a time of great joy, a small release from normal pressures of life. But for others, it is more difficult because of poverty and pressure, including threats of being attacked. As we rejoice let’s remember them.

Getting the all clear..

Hospitals. For years I have managed to avoid them but yesterday on the third attempt I had my appointment in day surgery. For the first time in over two decades I had a procedure under General anaesthetic.

I have prostate issues and previous tests had shown suspicious marks which the doctor thought may be cancer. But by yesterday’s investigative surgery they had all disappeared! A real answer to many prayers.

There were two men in with me, each younger, having operations for kidney stones. And a chap with serious back and hip problems. Hospitals make you realise how many people have illness they try to cope with on a daily basis.

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Because of my prostate I have to self-cathetise. But living in this country that is quite feasible and free on the NHS. If I lived in many countries it would be possible that I would be dead by now because of the lack of basic health care for conditions such as mine.

For many persecuted Christians around the world poverty is often reinforced by discrimination. It can be more difficult to get access to government health facilities or you can be turned away completely. This has happened to victims of violence in India for example.

In closing, I am grateful to God for my healing and for the NHS. And let’s remember those who suffer so much from poverty, discrimination and loss that we find hard to imagine.

Seeing the unseen…

I was watching the bright light of the sun rays come in through the window while eating breakfast. Normally unseen, there were so many particles moving up and down on the warm updraughts. It was quite a dance! Now I know why my furniture gets so dusty!

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It struck me, thinking about it, that there are so many things we don’t see but are nevertheless present. Positive things, like sound. On a negative note, covid and other bugs. But other things like radio waves, TV signals and the 4G that powers your phone. There are many stars I can’t see with my naked eye. All unseen but very present and without which life as we know it wouldn’t exist.

Just because something isn’t seen doesnโ€™t mean that it’s not real. Jesus talked about not being able to see the Holy Spirit but like the wind you can see its affects. It would have been difficult to see Mary was pregnant for the first three or four months but nevertheless the miracle baby was growing there. There is a mystery about the Christmas story. But because we can’t rationalise everything we experience (or “see” our dreams and hopes) doesnโ€™t mean there isn’t something happening.

Christians who suffer persecution around the world live in faith. They rely on the reality of what Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we cannot see”. Believers who suffer much hold onto a hope they cannot see, because they experience the reality of it in their daily lives.

Day by day

When my girls were young and we were on a long journey they would utter the immortal phrase “are we nearly there yet”! The countdown to Christmas can seem to take so long for children. And waiting for what we long for in our own lifes can seem to take forever too. Prompting in us, as we wait, many “why” questions which we may never find the answer to. But in God’s timeframe, a thousand years are as a day. Waiting in expectation teaches us patience and perspective. As a not very patient person this is a good lesson for me.

The Advent candle ๐Ÿ•ฏ is a good measure of time. It does go down…but slowly, in stages. Yet the light it gives is wonderful. I like the verse in Psalm 119 that talks about God’s word being a lamp to our way and a light to our path. Sometimes we only have light for the next step but that is sufficient for what we need now. May you know guidance in your own next steps.

Many persecuted Christians can only see the next step, when all around is darkness. Some children,like Rafif, have experienced much darkness in their lifes. But the support of Open Doors helps to bring light this Advent.

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?

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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.

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

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.

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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 “canโ€™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. ๐Ÿ˜€

Many persecuted Christians find themselves in limbo too. I heard this week of a lady in Iran ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท 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 ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡พ 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.