Cross – word of the week

There are quite a few words that I could choose for this week’s word: holiday springs to mind (actually I meant to blog that one last week but I was too busy writing other blog posts of things we were getting up to on holiday whenever I was sitting at my laptop), and also chocolate (having given it up for Lent, it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week as the day that I can eat it again has drawn near). But I’ve gone for….

Cross

Although with 2 young boys to run around after I do often find myself getting cross, that’s not the sense of the word that I’ve been thinking about in the lead up to Easter Sunday. I’ve been thinking about a certain Roman cross, the tool of torture and execution upon which Jesus died. Not a particularly pleasant thing to think about, but I believe (along with other Christians) that it was His death that took the place of all the wrong things that I do. These wrong things (for example, getting cross at my kids, or being jealous of what others have) are what separate me from being close to God. But God loves everyone — yes, even me, even social outcasts, even criminals, even those who believe in other gods — and wants us to know Him, which we can do by believing in Jesus and what He did for us, if we choose (there’s no obligation).

The particularly amazing thing about what we celebrate at Easter is that death isn’t the end of the story. I believe that three days after He was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead. He beat death, he has the ultimate victory over all wrongs. And the key point in this for me is that anyone who believes that Jesus is alive again, can have a personal relationship with Him, with God, and that includes an everlasting life with Him in heaven after our short life on Earth. That’s what I’m celebrating this and every Easter, because I think it’s the greatest day in history in terms of how I live my life.

The greatest day in history,

Death is beaten

You have rescued me

Sing it out Jesus is alive

The empty cross, The empty grave

Life eternal You have won the day

Shout it out Jesus is alive

He’s alive

Oh happy day, happy day

You washed my sin away

Oh happy day, happy day

I’ll never be the same

Forever I am changed

(Tim Hughes)

The Reading Residence

Jars of change for Lent

A few weeks ago in church, we heard about WaterAid jars of change for Lent. The idea is that you give something up for Lent, and every time you would have/do whatever it is you’ve given up, you put some change in the jar roughly equal to what you would have spent on it. You can decorate the jar for fun too. At the end of Lent, the money you’ve raised goes to WaterAid, who will use the money to help provide safe drinking water in countries that desperately need it.

We thought that this sounded like a good idea. I’d been thinking about what to give up for Lent anyway, and it was a good excuse to have some fun decorating a jar with Andrew – we used an empty marmalade jar. Andrew had been given a ‘paint your own mug’ gift for his birthday, so first of all we did that, and then used the paint to start our decoration on the jar.

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I found some stencils in our craft box, and (surprise, surprise) Andrew chose the rocket stencil! Of course he insisted that we use red paint (the colour of Thunderbird 3), and I suggested we add some yellow detail at the bottom for the fire from when it blasts off. He also likes the colour pink, so we painted a pink band around the top. That was enough painting for one span of Andrew’s attention, so another day we finished off the jar by sticking on some small squares of paper with PVA glue in a kind of mosaic style – lots of fun and messy! Again, just about enough for his attention span, and finished off my me. Some red tape around the rim of the lid and ta da – it was finished.

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Then we had to actually decide what to give up. When I say ‘we’, I mean Tom and I – I don’t think trying to explain to Andrew about giving something up would go down too well, and besides, he’s a bit young yet. But he can start to understand by watching us, as with so many things in a toddler’s life. My abstinence had to be chocolate, as that is something I will really miss and eat quite a lot of as treats to keep me sane on our busy days (which is most days with my boys). Tom decided on bananas, as he eats at least one a day and loves them. I know, bananas are much more healthy than chocolate anyway, but he’s not so fussed about that – if you can believe it.

Tom may be unusual in giving up bananas, but both of us are not unusual in the act of giving something up for Lent. This tradition has been going on for centuries. The 40 days before Easter, which starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday or Pancake day, is a time of reflection for Christians. It’s a time to think about what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and rising again – to make up for all the bad things we do that keep us distant from God – in the lead up to Easter when we celebrate this. Traditionally Christians used to fast, so give up all kinds of food, in this period, because this was a way to focus their minds on contemplating Jesus. Some do still fast, and others give up just one or two things, whether a food like we’re doing or something else, and spend the time that would otherwise be spent on this activity praying or reading the Bible – in other words, spending time with God.

So that’s what I intend to do this Lent. Whenever I think about eating some chocolate, whether as a bar or in something, instead I will pop some money in our jar of change, and spend some time in quiet reflection of what Jesus means to me. It’s handy that most of the time that I eat chocolate is when the boys are in bed or quietly amusing themselves, so I should have no excuse to not spend that time quietly. It may mean spending less time doing the things I like, like sewing, blogging, social media-ing (don’t think that’s really a word but it sounded good to me), but I know that I will benefit from it, I always do when I spend time with God.

Are you giving up something for Lent? What are your reasons behind it? Maybe you too could think about doing a jar of change? I’d love to hear if you do 🙂

We will rock you, rock you, rock you – Nativity play

No this post is nothing to do with the song by Queen! The title refers to the lullaby that Andrew and his friends sang in the nativity play at church on Sunday. This is the second year that the 18 months to 3 years group in Children’s Church has taken part in the annual spectacular that is the HT nativity play (HT = Holy Trinity, Cambridge). They were stable animals, who came on stage just after baby Jesus was born, and sang him a gentle song, the traditional lullaby of Little Jesus Sweetly sleep…

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir
We will lend a coat of fur
We will rock you, rock you, rock you
We will rock you, rock you, rock you
See the fur to keep you warm
Snugly round your tiny form.

They’d been practising it in their Sunday morning sessions, and also at the Wednesday afternoon group that we go to at church. Most of them were a little stage struck, but it was very cute to see them all dressed as animals gathered around the manger whilst the music was playing. Andrew did do the rocking action with his arms, and uttered the odd word. I have a video, but as I don’t know whether all parents want their children online, I won’t post it here, nor photos with more than just my boys in.

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As parents, we’d simply been told that they would be stable animals, so it was up to us to choose their costume. It was funny how most ended up being a sheep – all those white/cream knitted wooly jumpers and fleece jackets came out, with various items of headgear to represent the sheepish ears and facial features! My attempt at a sheep head was to take a white knitted wooly bobble hat that we already had, and hand stitch some black ears on. These were made out of an old pair of tights – I cut the two feet off and stuffed them with the rest of the length of the leg on each side. So a bargain and simple to make sheep costume.

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After the play, there was a short talk given by one of the pastors, Diana, explaining more about the meaning of Christmas. She gave an illustration that I thought was very clever, so I thought I’d share it here. Jesus was born into the world as a gift to us from God, and there are three ways that we as humans tend to respond to this gift, which Diana illustrated by offering a beautifully wrapped-up gift to one of the other pastors, Matt…

1. We ignore Jesus (the gift) and get on with life without Him – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift but he just stood there, silent and with arms crossed, and didn’t reply to any of her “here you go, here’s a present for you” offers.

2. We learn about who Jesus is and what he did when he was alive, but don’t go any further than this superficial understanding – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift, and he acknowledged it, but was happy just to look at the wrapping paper, say how lovely and shiny it was, how pretty all the different colours were, and thank her for this nice wrapping paper.

3. We get to know Jesus as a personal Saviour, and believe that through His death and rising again we can draw near to God – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift, he acknowledged it, and ripped open the wrapping paper, thanked her so much for the amazing gift, tried it on straight away (an adult-sized reindeer onesie!!), and showed much joy and appreciation of this kind present.

This Christmas, as we’re opening presents, I will remember this illustration, which reminds us why we give presents at this time of year – to celebrate the biggest gift that we have ever been given. How will you respond – 1, 2 or 3?

Counting down to Christmas

On Sunday, the boys looked inside the first stocking on their Advent calendar line of ‘socks’ (as Andrew refers to it); they got a chocolate treat, and we decided that they can take it in turns to consume the contents of the day’s sock – odds for Andrew and evens for Joel. This is our way of counting down the days until Christmas, which will soon be here. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and since having children it has become exciting seeing it from a child’s perspective again. The boys love spending time with their grandparents, uncles and aunts, and they get to do a lot of this over Christmas. Of course presents feature quite a lot over the days that we spend with family, and it is lovely to see the genuine joy expressed as a toddler rips the paper off and excitedly looks to see what’s inside.

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Although all the celebrations are exciting in themselves, I also hope that my boys will come to understand the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Advent (from the Latin ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’) is a time when we as Christians often reflect on how Jesus, God’s son, came into this world as a baby. It was a very low-key event in earthly terms – his teenage mum from Nazereth (a small unassuming village back then) travelled heavily pregnant to Bethlehem to comply with the ruling Roman orders, and gave birth there in a shed of animals; only a few shepherds (who were fairly low in social status back then) heard about the birth immediately and visited soon after. Yet the reason why Jesus came meant that his birth was extraordinary, and certainly something that deserves a huge celebration over 2000 years later.

So why did Jesus come to Earth? The short answer is: because God loves us. Every week at our church, the kids all gather at the front before they go to their groups and we sing an action song together. This Sunday, the first in Advent, the song was a fantastic reminder of God’s love for everyone He’s made – here are the lyrics, and, if you can stand the slight cheesiness, a video of the tune and actions…

Some of us are big and tall
Some of us are very small
Some of us like pink and some like blue
Some of us like reading books
Some of us like feeding ducks
That’s because we’re different, me and you

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
God loves you! God loves you!
That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
We’re part of the big family of God!

Some of us have curly hair
Some of us have specs to wear
All of us have different families
Some of us are very loud
Some of us don’t make a sound
That’s because we’re different, you and me

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

[© 2007 Song Solutions Daybreak, www.songsolutions.org, CCLI# 5100093]

…One of the points of this song is a very important one for children to pick up – to know they are loved no matter what they look like or what they enjoy doing, because in a world of bullying and peer pressure to conform to what is socially desirable, it’s easy to feel different and left out. And the point in this song that GOD loves everyone no matter who they are is the link back to the reason why Jesus came that first Christmas.

All the bad things, big or little, that we do, think and say in our lives separate us from God who is perfect. But God is not at all happy with that situation, because He loves us so much, and wants us to know Him as our loving Father. So God sent His only son Jesus into this world as a baby, who grew up and showed the people living in the Middle East at the time some signs of what God and Heaven are like, and then was crucified in order to take the punishment for all those bad things WE do on HIMself. But because God is greater than death, Jesus came back to life and beat death. It is through His death and rising again that anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus can know God in a close relationship and ultimately have everlasting life with Him in Heaven. It is through God’s love for us, the fact that He doesn’t want to be separated from us by bad things, that Jesus came.

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I have to admit that I’d like to spend more time this Advent reflecting on what Christmas means to me, because with two active boys to look after (one of whom doesn’t sleep beyond 4.30am most days or nap for long at a time), going out and doing all sorts of other stuff, and being somewhere on a continuum of tired to exhausted most of the time recently, I have found it hard to take any opportunity I have each day to sit quietly and pray (and not fall asleep!) So the fact that I have an Advent calendar right in front of me when I sit on the sofa will hopefully serve as a reminder to share my thoughts with Jesus daily, because it really is amazing when I do 🙂

 

 

 

 

Our shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

For a few years now we’ve been joining in with Operation Christmas Child – the world’s largest children’s Christmas project, run by the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse. The mission of the project is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Since having children of our own, we have really appreciated how blessed we are to have enough money to feed and clothe them, as well as buy them other nice things, and to have family and friends who give us so many gifts for them that they are never in want of anything. For many children around the world, this is not what life is like.

The idea behind OCC is for people in the UK to send shoeboxes packed with gifts that children in less well-off countries would like to receive. These gifts can include various items from toys and stationary to toiletries and woolies. The shoe boxes should be wrapped up in bright and cheerful wrapping paper, and a sticker stuck on indicating if the gifts inside are for a boy or a girl and which age range they are suitable for.

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In previous years we’ve always done one for a boy, just because I happen to have seen gifts that are more suitable for boys, and since having boys myself, I guess my eye is drawn towards these items in shops anyway. This year, however, when we popped into a few shops, I mainly saw things suitable for girls (or gender neutral) so we went for that. Andrew helped me choose what to buy, and I explained that we were getting these things as presents for a little girl who lives far away from us but who would love to have some nice presents this Christmas, just like he will. I’m not sure he gets the concept of someone living far away from us, but he seemed to understand that we were buying the gifts and putting them in the box for another child.

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OCC like the gifts in the box to include items from all four categories: toys, stationary and school supplies, toiletries and other (sweets/hat/gloves/jewellery etc.) Our gifts included a bumper pack of wax crayons, a ‘Hello Kitty’ notepad/pencil/rubber/sharpener set, a beany teddy, a slinky spring, toothbrushes, soap, flannel, necklace, hair clips. All together these cost us around £10. In order to help with shipping costs, OCC also suggest a £3 donation, which can be done online by credit card.

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We decorated our shoebox with red wrapping paper on the bottom, silver wrapping paper on the lid, and a ribbon stuck on the lid (you’re not supposed to wrap the whole box up or seal it by tying ribbon around the box, because sometimes they need to look in it for customs or other reasons), and finished off with a reindeer tag on the lid. We hope that the little girl who receives it will enjoy opening it and finding out what’s inside.

If you’d like to find out more about Operation Christmas Child, and even get involved yourself by packing a shoebox (or two, or three), visit the OCC website.

A helper for life

Every Thursday morning, the boys and I go to a group at church – it’s for women of any age, most of us have children of various ages, and there is a lovely student who looks after the toddlers (who love her!) whilst we read a passage from the Bible, discuss what we’ve read, and pray with each other. This term we’ve been looking at the book of Acts (short for Acts of the Apostles – they were Jesus’ first followers), which was written as an account of what happened to Jesus and his followers after He had died and risen from the dead.

The first chapter of the book describes how Jesus stayed with his followers for 40 days after he rose from the dead, then, as they were all eating a meal together, Jesus went back up into heaven. We were discussing in our group how the followers might have felt at this moment; I think I would have felt like a complete emotional wreck – I’d have been through the grief of seeing Him killed, the joy and amazement of seeing him alive again, and now he goes and leaves again by disappearing up into the clouds – what’s that all about?! The followers’ response was to pray together, which is probably the only response that could make any sense of their situation.

However, Jesus had promised them something which would appear after he had left them, and we see what this was in chapter 2 of Acts. The followers had gathered for the traditional Jewish festival of Pentecost as they would every year. During this celebration, God sent the Holy Spirit to them, which is described as being like a violent wind that whooshed among them and like flames of fire that came between them and fell upon them. As Christians in the present day, it is this sending of the Holy Spirit into the world that we celebrate and remember today (and every year) on Pentecost Sunday. So it is very apt that our group has been looking at Acts leading up to today.

We can read an account of how the Holy Spirit was sent to Jesus’ followers back in the first century AD, but what relevance is this to our lives today? God’s plan was that the Holy Spirit would stay with anyone on Earth who believes in Jesus and what He did for us, throughout the centuries until Jesus comes again. As the Holy Spirit stays with us and we are filled with Him, His role is a ‘helper’ – there are several ways in which He helps me in my life. Here are a few examples, along with Bible verses that refer to these too:

  • How to live my life….
    • He leads us and guides us (John 16:13; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18;)
    • He teaches us (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13), and specifically to pray (Romans 8:26-27; Jude 1:20)
    • He speaks to us  (Acts 8:29, 10:19, 11:12; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:11)
  • How I’m feeling….
    • He puts God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
    • He gives us deep down joy even in suffering (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
    • He encourages us in good and hard times (Acts 9:31)
  • How I interact with others….
    • He speaks through us to others (Matthew 10:20; Acts 2:4)
    • He gives us the power to do what God wants us to do in helping others (Luke 4:14;  Acts 1:8; Romans 15:19).
    • He unites us with each other in peace (Ephesians 2:14-18, 4:3)
  • The big and deep bits….
    • He shows us who Jesus is, that Jesus is present in our lives (John 16:14-15, 1 John 3:24; 4:13), and He transforms us to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
    • He lets us draw near to God the Father, and shows us the profound and amazing things He has done for us and given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Ephesians 2:18)

For me, the Holy Spirit is key in how I became a Christian and how I continue to live for Jesus. As a child and a teenager, I felt like I knew a lot of the theory about God and Jesus as I read about them, but it wasn’t until I experienced the Holy Spirit that I really knew what it was like to live a life for Jesus – it’s difficult to describe this because it’s an experience rather than something tangible like a book to read. Life isn’t always easy, Jesus never promised that it would be, in fact He told us it would be hard at times, but He also promised that the Holy Spirit would be there to help, and I’m so glad that He is!

Here is a song that I have in my head for today – it is a song asking God to please ‘send the fire’, and the fire it refers to is the Holy Spirit, just like it was first experienced by Jesus’ followers as described in the book of Acts.

Light of the world

This winter I’ve been very aware of darkness. With an active toddler to entertain, I’ve noticed all too well the fact that on an overcast day it’s pitch black by not long after 4pm, so we can’t have a trip to the park or do any other outdoor activity after his afternoon nap which usually comes to an end around 3.30pm. Instead, as there are few groups on in afternoons, I’ve had to come up with indoor activities like baking, play dough, craft or (as a last resort) DVDs to keep him amused, and although he generally likes these, I can tell he’d rather be running off some energy outside. Roll on spring and its lighter evenings!

Apart from this annoying aspect of darkness for us at the moment, I do love to see Christmas lights twinkling in the streets, which you can only see when it’s dark; Andrew has noticed them too this year, shouting enthusiastically as he points out various shapes like stars and trees that he can see in lights as we walk home from the one afternoon group that we go to on Wednesdays. I also love open fires at this time of year, providing light and warmth on cold, dark winter’s evenings – not that we have one in our flat, but I love just thinking of that image.

For me the twinkling lights and image of an open fire are, when I stop and think about it, a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Jesus, the little baby who was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, grew up to become a man, who lived life as a human, just like you and me. But he wasn’t just an ordinary man, rather he was God’s son, sent to this world to die for us, to make up for all the wrong things we do. During His time here on Earth before His death and rising again, Jesus called himself various things when He was explaining to people who He was and why He was here – He made several statements starting with “I am….”, one of which was:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

The people He was talking to directly at the time would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah, a prophet who told of Jesus’ birth long before it happened, who said this about Jesus coming into the world:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” – Isaiah 9:2.

So when Jesus said He was the light of the world, this would have reminded His listeners of the prophet’s writings about someone who would come to fulfil a very special role. But Jesus’ message of who He is was for “Whoever” – everyone, in all places and throughout history right up to now and the future, not just those he was speaking to about 2000 years ago.

The thought that I’ll always have a light guiding me through life’s darkest times is extremely comforting, and let’s face it, the world can be a dark place both literally and metaphorically. I’ve been through some dark patches personally, and even if it wasn’t an obvious light like a spotlight or headlamp at the time, I look back and can totally see God’s light shining into my life through other people and events, and that brought me out of the dark times.

It’s at Christmas that I’m most often reminded of this great promise that Jesus made about being the light of the world, which is why I thought I’d share this on Christmas Day. If you’d like to read more of the statements that Jesus made about Himself, then I’d recommend reading John’s Gospel, a book from the Bible (4th in the New Testament) – if you can’t easily get hold of a whole Bible, then you can read online at Bible Gateway, it’s not a very long book and would take maybe a few hours to read in total. You never know, it might just shed some new light on how you think of Jesus this Christmas.

Happy Christmas everyone! 🙂

To us a child is born

It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.

Guarding the Advent calendar from early morning predators - you never know who might want to get at your mini socks!

Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.

It's a bit fiddly to get at the contents of these socks, but I'm determined to do it without help, and that's part of the fun of it!

In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!

Wow! There's shiny stuff in these socks - cool!

In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.

The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.

Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.

In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.

Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!

Ha ha, I have chocolate.... not sure I should share it with Mummy, Daddy and Joel....!

How Pentecost is like the Olympic Flame

Most of you are probably thinking ‘Oh no, not someone else banging on about the Olympic Flame’, though there must be some people out there who aren’t fed up of the Olympic coverage already (mustn’t there…??). If you have been interested enough to click onto this post and start reading, you’ll (be relieved to) find out that I’m not going to focus on the Olympics, but rather show how Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrated today, has some similarity to the Olympic Flame. I have to admit that I got this idea from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, a very cool guy for someone who wears such a funny hat, he’s even on twitter and his tweets are very down to earth  – don’t just take my word for it, check him out all you twitter peeps 🙂 I liked his idea and thought it was very relevant with all this Olympic Flame revelry going on, so I thought I’d share my take on it with you (his full message can be found here).Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after Easter. In the UK it usually falls sometime around the late May bank holiday (depending on the date of Easter which moves each year), though of course this year the bank holiday is a week later in June because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Here is a description of the first ever day of Pentecost from the book of Acts (chapter 2 verses 1-4) in the Bible (taken from The Message version – a modern-day translation):

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they [the first followers of Jesus Christ, i.e. the early Church] were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”

This describes how God sent his Holy Spirit to be with the early followers of Jesus on the first ever day of Pentecost. You see, Jesus had previously died and risen from the dead three days later (as I wrote about at Easter), and then, just before Pentecost, had gone back up to heaven leaving His followers behind. But it had always been God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to help His followers on Earth after Jesus was no longer around in person. And this is just what God did on that first Pentecost.

The early followers of Jesus, the early Christians, needed this Holy Spirit, a ‘helper’, to give them the words to say, and the perseverance amidst the adversity they would encounter, when telling others about Jesus and being involved in bringing more people to follow Him. When the Spirit was sent, it was like a ‘wildfire’ that spread through the followers. Can you see where the Olypmic Flame parallel is starting to come out here? That first Pentecost was the start of the flame relay, and it’s a relay that has been going on ever since, and will carry on forever.

When someone first decides to become a Christian, to follow Jesus and put Him a the centre of their life, they too become ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, they get the flame in the relay, just as the first followers did ages ago, just as Christians have over the centuries, and just as continues to happen today. This may sound a bit weird and potentially a reason to freak out about becoming a Christian. I know that for years I was happy enough to read all about God and Jesus in the Bible, and accept and believe in all the written words (the ‘Word’ part of believing), but I hadn’t actually encountered God from a personal perspective – that was what happened the day I first experienced what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit (the ‘Spirit’ part of believing). There were no actual flames involved (I suspect we would have set the building’s fire alarms off these days!), but I can relate to the metaphor of a rushing wind.

Before this experience I was a big sceptic of this kind of thing, and I guess that’s why it took years for me to really accept that God could still work in this way in the 21st century. But even I was finally able to let my barriers down, and I’m so glad I did, because now I can see that being a Christian makes so much more sense with both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ side of things together. The day I accepted that flame passed to me, it changed my life. I can’t say that it instantly changed me into a perfect person (still a LONG way off that!) but I do know that it is having this flame which helps me in my life as a Christian. It’s not always easy, for one thing we get a lot of stick, but it would be a whole lot harder if I didn’t have a way of interacting with God on a personal level. I believe that He can guide my thoughts, my words and my actions (if I let Him, not always the case) and show me what plans He has for my life, which (experience tells me) are way better than anything I could have come up with by myself.

The Olympic Flame analogy isn’t quite perfect for the Holy Spirit, because the great thing is, you never have to give up the flame and pass it to someone else. So it’s like a special relay where every participant keeps holding a flame even after someone else gets a flame too. In fact not only that, but you can ask God for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in your life whenever you like, if you feel like you’ve drifted away or had a particularly challenging time that’s used up all your spiritual ‘energy’. So it’s like each flame never goes out, never runs out of fuel, and there’s always enough to go round everyone who wants it at the same time. Pretty amazing!

So have you ever thought about what it would be like to accept the flame? (the Holy Spirit that is, not the Olympic one – I wouldn’t be able to run very far with that!) It might sound like a big step, and I know how it feels to be standing on the edge of that big step thinking about whether to go for it, but I would definitely recommend it as a life-changing experience. If you’re not even sure about, or haven’t heard about, the ‘Word’ side of things, I’d recommend reading one of the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible – the four ‘Gospels’, which recount Jesus’ life, death and rising again. The book of Acts (which describes Pentecost) carries on from where they stop. A great way to explore what you think about both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ is through an Alpha course, where you can ask questions and discuss your views with Christians who would love to do that with you. These run in churches all over the world. Why not look up one near you if you’re interested?

What’s so good about Good Friday?

It’s a Bank holiday, right? No wait, we get to eat hot cross buns – that must be what the Good refers to. I love a nice hot cross bun, especially indulgent when topped with melting Nutella – yum! I’ve been contemplating whether my bread fast should extend to sweet buns. Technically I guess it should, but it’s Good Friday, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. Tough call. Although I can’t deny the goodness of hot cross buns, I know that they are not of course the real reason why Good Friday is good.

A cross of hot cross buns

The word Good here is used in the sense of ‘Holy’. On Good Friday, Christians like myself remember that Jesus died on a cross (that cross is what inspired the tradition of a cross on a hot bun). In the time leading up to his death, he was living in an area of the Middle East that was at that time under Roman rule. He was brought before the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, because he claimed to be the Son of God, which the Jewish priests thought was blasphemous. After that he was sent to the Roman governor, Pilate, but after questioning Jesus he decided there was no reason to sentence him. However, with mounting pressure from an almost riotous crowd of priests and others, demanding that he be crucified for claiming to be God, Pilate ultimately, in fear, handed Jesus over to be put to death. Jesus hung on a cross, tortured for several hours before he died, in between two criminals who had been tried and found guilty of crimes, even though Jesus himself had not actually been found guilty of anything under Roman law.

So why on earth call this day of torture and death, by one of the most excruciating means ever devised by man, Good?! Well, that’s not the end of it! (And remember that Good here is in the sense of ‘Holy’ – Jesus’ death and what happened afterwards were a sign of his ‘Holiness’ or ‘Godliness’). Jesus’ body was taken away, wrapped up in cloths and placed in a tomb, as was the custom at the time. On the third day, what we now celebrate as Easter Sunday (i.e. Friday = 1, Saturday = 2, Sunday = 3), some women who knew Jesus well went to his tomb and found that his body had gone. He then appeared to them, and later to some of his disciples (friends who had followed him closely before his death), showing them that he had risen from the dead and was alive again. These people, who had witnessed his death and then got to meet him in the flesh, alive again, became the first to believe that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God – they were the first Christians, and they went on to spread the Good news of what had happened to others.

You see, Jesus’ death and rising again were exactly what had been foretold (prophesied) in the scriptures, the religious texts, that the Jewish priests would have known inside out – but they just didn’t recognise him when they actually met him during his time on earth. It was written in these scriptures that God would send a ‘Saviour’, who would sacrifice His life and rise again from the dead, in order to make up for all the ways that all of us people fall short of being perfect like God. So we could then draw near to God, be forgiven for our wrongs, and live a new life in Christ, one that lasts beyond our time on Earth. We just have to accept that Jesus died for us, and follow Him, putting Him at the centre of everything we do (which I’ve found you automatically want to do if you’ve accepted the enormity of what He did for us). This message is the Good news that those early Christians went around telling people about, and what ultimately (several centuries later) I got to hear when I was a child, and then later came to understand and accept in my life for real during my early twenties.

So what’s the good bit about Good Friday for you? Do you have a soft spot for hot cross buns like me? Or do you like to take advantage of the Bank holiday and go somewhere different or do something fun? If you’re curious to find out more about the original reason why Good Friday was called that, get in touch and I’d be happy to talk some more about it. For now, have a Happy Easter everyone! 🙂 We’re just about to go on holiday for a week. I’ll leave you with the words of one of my favourite songs (check it out on youtube)….

The greatest day in history, Death is beaten
You have rescued me
Sing it out Jesus is alive
The empty cross, The empty grave
Life eternal You have won the day
Shout it out Jesus is alive
He’s alive
Oh happy day, happy day
You washed my sin away
Oh happy day, happy day
I’ll never be the same
Forever I am changed

(by Tim Hughes)