Friday 25 November 2011

Just Christmas?

This is a copy of my December article for our church magazine.

By the time you read this missive, the whole country will be in a state of fervour. The shops will be milling with people, decorations and trees will be going up in homes and offices, parties will be taking place, gifts will be bought and many people will be longing for a holiday. I am tempted to say, ‘For goodness sake, it’s just Christmas!’

Interesting word, ‘just’! At one level, it means ‘merely’, ‘only’ or ‘insignificant’. At this level, it’s a word that we overuse. ‘I was just saying ….’ At another level, just means what is fair, equitable, right and proper, and it is highly significant. The courts of our land administer ‘justice’, mediating between what is right and what is wrong. At this level, it may be a word that we underuse or in which we fail to appreciate the whole meaning.

Can we use either meaning of ‘just’ as a description of Christmas?

I think our celebration of the birth of Christ is the most important date on the Christian calendar. Some might argue that it is Easter, but without the birth of Christ there would be no death or resurrection. Christmas is not insignificant. It is not ‘just’ Christmas, it is the time when we celebrate the humble but glorious coming of our God, in human flesh, to be Saviour to the world.

What about a just Christmas? In our nation, the season tends to heighten the divide between the haves and the have-nots, and may pressurise the have-nots into buying gifts that they cannot afford for people who may need them, whilst the haves buy gifts they can afford for those who don’t need or want them! Is this just? Is it the right use of the resources that God graciously allows us to have? Or do we buy into the spirit of the age which is consumerism?

One church, Morningside Baptist Church, Edinburgh, has begun a ‘Just Christmas’ campaign. The idea is to think about Christmas differently, and maybe to spend just half of what you normally do on Christmas gifts and food. Since you would normally have spent the other half, too, you won’t miss it by giving it to BMS World Mission, Christian Aid or a similar mission or aid agency!

Food for thought? Maybe you will want to think differently about Christmas. It is not just Christmas, but it could be a Just Christmas!

Whatever you do, may you know joy in the Saviour Jesus Christ!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Character and Reputation

I came across this quote recently, from basketball coach John Wooden;

'Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.'

'Nough said!

Sunday 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

It is days like Remembrance Sunday which remind me that people still have a need for God!

This year, I widened our church service into a remembrance for all who have loved and lost - in other words, all of us. Having taken quite a few funerals in the past couple of years (for a Baptist, anyway!), I invited the relatives to come back to church for the occasion. About a dozen extra folk came along, which was great. A few backed out at the last moment because the grief, for them, was too raw.

We reflected on the nature of loss and the hope of resurrection, making sure that the service was as user-friendly as possible to a group of people who were not used to church. We concluded our service with an opportunity for people to come and light a candle for those they have loved and lost. About half of the congregation came out to do so, including those who were specially invited.

It was a moving way to remember that we all experience loss, and that God grieves with us whilst holding out the hope of life to come.

Friday 11 November 2011

66 Books in 66 Cities in 66 Days!

As most church pastors would testify, you never know what might happen on a given day. We might have plans, and the day mapped out, but God can change them.

Yesterday was such a day! I've had a busy fortnight and the plans for yesterday were for an early meeting, some sermon preparation, lunch at the church with our seniors, a committal followed by a thanksgiving service for a church member, evensong at the Cathedral where one of my deacons was being installed as an honorary ecumenical canon, followed by supper at the deacon's home. All of those things happened, except the sermon preparation!

Out of the blue, I had a phone call. My church administrator had tried to emphasise my busy-ness and put off the caller, but he described it as being 'fairly urgent'. And so I found myself talking with Pastor Victor Robert Farrell. He was, he said, on the 66 Cities Tour, speaking about one of the 66 books of the Bible at each city in one way or another. Our city was Day 61! Could we meet?

I have to admit it was a 'heart-sink' moment as I saw my preparation time drifting away! However, I agreed to the meeting, and I'm so glad that I did! VR, or Robert, as he is known, turned out to be a real live-wire. God moves in mysterious ways, and since our Seniors' Lunch was happening, I was able to offer lunch and chat with Robert at the same time. He asked pertinent and insightful questions about the challenges facing our city and our church, and then shared from Book 61 of the Bible with our Seniors' group for no more than 5 minutes, in a lively and inspirational way. I also put Robert in touch with our BU President-Elect, Chris Duffett, who happens to be in the city on most Thursdays, and who had followed the tour on Facebook.

I confess that I had neither heard of Robert nor the 66 Cities tour, but you can read about them here and here.

Today has gone more as planned, and the sermons are well on the way - thankfully!