28 Dec 2012

Christmas = ? (Joy?)

Christmas has been and gone now and I'm trying to take a few moments to reflect on what I will take away from Christmas 2012. 

I don't know how your Christmas was but I really enjoyed mine. The standard set up of the day is that my family wake up about 7:30 and we open our stockings that Father Christmas has brought us before getting dressed and ready for Church. Go to Church for a shorter than normal service of celebration and then back home to either drive to my Aunt and Uncle's or make sure our house is in a decent state to host everyone. This year it was at our house and my brother had taken it upon himself to do the Lion's share of the cooking; he is excellent. So then my Aunt and Uncle and their kids arrive along with my Grandparents and we all have a celebratory drink and open a few presents. Then lunch happens, followed by "The Bomb" (a Summers/Allen tradition of layers of ice cream fashioned into a Christmas pudding shape). After this is the "fatting out" time - or time when we all lie on sofas watching the Queen's speech/chatting. The rest of the afternoon is a mixture of game playing, napping, joking around and playing with new toys. This all culminates in evening tea about 5:30-6pm which is loads of leftovers and sandwiches if we have room to stuff anymore in. Our evening normally consists of skyping my family in the States and seeing them before they have their Christmas dinner and watching Downton 

So why was this year good? Well my Grandad hasn't been in the best of health over the 
last few weeks and it was touch and go as to whether he or my Nan would be joining us for the

day. My Grandad isn't a Christian and my Dad had prayed with him on Sunday that he would be healed - Christmas Day he was feeling a lot better. Praise God! We are always hoping and praying that he will realise his need for God and try to give him as many opportunities to find out more as we can.

As well as this I have to confess that I hadn't been feeling particularly Christmassy in the run up to Christmas. We have limited Christmas decorations at my house in London and despite being at a number of Carol Services, the true wonder of Christmas seemed to 
elude me. Maybe it's because of the relentless retail industry that misses the point of what 
we celebrate, or maybe it was a lack of time/effort to really come to terms with this story.

Whatever it was, come Christmas Day it was gone. 

Firstly, remembering that Jesus was a gift and that I am lucky to have received him. Plus giving makes me happy. Being generous is a blessing to both receiver and giver alike. Christmas is a beautiful opportunity to exercise this gift. 

Next, everyone at Church was super joyful and happiness encourages my heart and makes me happy; I find that if I surround myself with people who are sad/depressed it can make me feel that way too, whereas if I have people who are appreciating life around me, it motivates me to think that way too. Seeing people rejoice in Jesus' birth is such a boost to 
rejoice too.

Lastly, I think Christmas sometimes is portrayed as a perfect time with families, rather than the realistic time with family. Clearly a day is never going to be perfect and if you think it is going to be your expectations are likely to be disappointed. I doubt Mary's expectations were to give birth in a stable, yet a wondrous day in history happened there - she didn't let her expectations ruin the day. I don't mean we should all have ridiculously low expectations, rather that we should be willing to see what God is doing around us. I think I understood something more of that this year. Expectation is overrated.

How was your Christmas?

24 Dec 2012

Christmas = ? (Family time)

For me spending time with my family is a big part of what Christmas is all about. Whether it's cleaning the house together, playing games, visiting a carol service or getting presents ready, family time holds something special for me. 

I think this has definitely grown since living away from home. There's something novel about being back with my family that I don't think I particularly appreciated when I was growing up. It's a chance to be able to be my crazy self with my equally insane family, who get me and who seem to love me for that.

I think I've been struck by how lucky I am to enjoy spending time with my family. Not everyone does. Working with young people I've been surprised at how many of them aren't especially looking forward to Christmas; whether it is the reality of broken, dysfunctional families, or the prospect of disappointment in the present department due to financial difficulty. Many of my kids were not excited at all. 

I guess I am able to enjoy spending time with my family because I have spent years cultivating and investing in positive relationships with them. That isn't always the case with other families. I found it interesting to read this article published in Nov by the Evangelical Alliance - it talks about lots of research done about Christmas and concludes that the majority (67%) of adults think spending time with family is the most important thing at Christmas. One of the sad facts is that Jan 8th is the day when there are the most inquiries about divorce after the stress of Christmas. 

Thinking about it Jesus was from a relatively dysfunctional family - his parents were the object of a scandal before he was even born. They didn't plan enough time to get to Bethlehem so they could get a room. I can bet there were arguments when it came to settling for a stable. After Jesus was born he and his family had to flee to a foreign country (Eygpt) so that King Herod couldn't kill Jesus, can't imagine things were all rosy for them as refugees. He had a number of siblings who no doubt had the usual fights growing up. Then later on when Jesus was 12 his parents managed to leave him in Jerusalem in the Temple and didn't realise until they had left the city, both thinking he was with the other parent. Bad communication. Later on his own family didn't agree or support his ministry showing people he was God's son. Harsh.

Jesus knew what families were like. They let us down, they don't always live up to expectations. Yet they were important enough for him to be born into one. 

You may have realised I have started "tweeting" a bit more these days - I read a tweet on there today that I wanted to share: 
"To avoid family rows this Christmas: give people a piece of your heart, not a piece of your mind." 
also this one, "Christmas present suggestions:- To your enemy, forgiveness. To children, a good example. To yourself, respect. To everyone, love.
Both tweeted by Nicky Gumbel, founder of Alpha

I want to make the most of the time I have with my family; and I hope some of the above advice helps you if family isn't the easiest thing at Christmas.

17 Dec 2012

Christmas = ? (saying goodbye)

Christmas seems to be a time when you see a lot of people - there are generally gatherings of mulled wine and mince pies and it's great to catch up with people you haven't seen for a while. 

It's also a time when people might be assessing where they are going/what they are doing as they approach the end of the year.

My friends Jon and Sarah had their leaving party on Sunday. They are leaving to move to the states (San Fran) on New Years Eve. Leaving parties are sad. Thankfully the joys of modern communication means that hopefully I'll be able to stay in touch - and who knows - good holiday destination!

Saying goodbye made me think a little bit about Jesus - not to be overly theological but I wonder what it was like for him to leave constant community with God and the Holy Spirit and come to earth. Did he actually leave or was it more he was just in a different place but the relationship was still the same?

I am always moved by these verses in Philippians (2:5-8 Message)
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

They talk about Jesus totally giving up and saying goodbye to his "God" status and becoming just like us. That is insane when you think about it. 

I'm glad he did though. 

14 Dec 2012

Christmas = ? (opportunities)

It should be no surprise that Christmas is a FANTASTIC opportunity to speak to people about Jesus.

Not only is Jesus the real reason for why we celebrate Christmas, but there are so many Church related activities that happen at this time...for many this is the only time they will engage with Church. Whether it's a Cristingle Service, Carol Service or Midnight Mass lots of people go for the tradition factor. 

Today in my job I got given a BEAUTY of an opportunity to speak about Jesus. 

We were in a school about to lead a lunch club about Christmas when a member of staff who used to work with me (#shoutoutjen) encouraged my team to sing a Christmas Carol to her little classroom of young people. After we had belted out the first verse of Hark the Herald I mentioned they could hear more at a number of carol services that were happening around Lewisham.

Following from that they asked me if I would perform the reading I am giving at my Carol Service tomorrow. So I jumped at the chance to practise my John 1:1-14 reading and was absolutely loving it when afterwards the young people were like - "but what does it mean?" 

Got a go at explaining a bit about Jesus and a bit about the Bible. Hoping I didn't confuse them but that some truth was communicated. 

The Message translation of the Ephesians 5:15-16 says "So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!" 

I want to make the most of every opportunity to speak and live for Jesus.

13 Dec 2012

Christmas = ? (Busy)

I've decided to do a little series on Christmas...I was inspired by a friend of mine's blog and so am unashamedly going to do something similar...but clearly with a bit of a Nai-spin.

So Christmas is possibly the busiest time of year...well for me anyway. I feel like if I'm not working (which has stepped up because I'm planning Christmas parties for all of next week) then I'm either shopping for presents, rehearsing for my role in my Church's Carol service, wracking my brains for secret santa ideas, working out how to decorate our house without buying anything, or trying to see people who are having Christmas parties/gatherings/birthdays/leaving parties etc. 

It's hard work!

Yet should Christmas be busy?

Is it right to be looking forward to Christmas day as a day where I will finally stop and have a day off "doing" things? 

Does that detract from what it's really all about?

I find it interesting that while Jesus came to earth quietly in a stable with not much fuss, we rush and cram our days in efforts to "celebrate" this fact. 

Something to think about.

6 Dec 2012


So I don't think I've mentioned before how "wacky" my team are. In the first week another member of XLP staff mentioned how perfect they were for me as they were just as mental as I was...

...well on that note, I want to let you know a bit about what we are getting up to in Feb. 

We are going on another mission trip to Ghana! (I say another, for me it will be my 3rd time out there, for these guys it's their first) Why? I hear you ask. Well XLP has partnered with an organisation called AACO (Ashanti Akim Community Organisation) and has built a school in a rural community in Ghana called Dampong. We visit every year to see the progress of the school and our pupils, to visit local primary schools and to encourage and pray for local people. Here is what I did last Feb

Anyway, in order to go on the trip my team need to raise lots of money. Going back to how crazy they are...they have decided to make their own fitness dvd!

It's 15 mins of pure hilarity and for the bargain price of £3 (or £4 with outtakes) you can watch it whenever you would like.

Just so you have some vague idea of what you would be purchasing here is a trailer they have made to advertise. 

Note: Any money you give us will go straight towards funding the trip and being able to bless people who need encouragement. Please pray for us in our preparations too. x

1 Dec 2012

That which cost me nothing

This evening I went to a Christian worship event, or gig, or concert or whatever you might want to call it. However, it wasn't merely me going to listen to good music (although that happened), it was also a time to join together with others to worship God. 

I went to see Rend Collective Experiment and Matt Redman and when I say with others I mean about 2000 others...it was immense.

I think in those types of contexts its really easy to just be singing along because you know the words to the songs and because it's what everyone surrounding you is doing. 

But this evening it was different. One of the members of Rend Collective used a phrase that made me stop and assess what I was doing. He said "I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which cost me nothing"; he was saying it in the context of as we stood there worshipping it shouldn't just be an "us singing to God" time, it should be an "us bringing ourselves before God" time. Desiring to be changed.

That phrase that he used is from a story in the Bible of when David had made a bad choice and how God had sent a plague as punishment - he told David to build an altar on another man's land to stop the plague. So David went to the owners and asked to buy the land. However, the owner, knowing David was the King just offered it to him for free and offered oxen to be burnt on it too. But David knew it was important to follow God's instructions completely because the fault was his. and so he said - “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” You can read the full story here 

How does that fit with my experience today? Well thankfully because of Jesus' death on the cross, God no longer requires an actual sacrifice on an altar...Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. But when I come and sing to him (or sacrifice worship) so often I am just singing out of habit rather than desiring to enter in to intimacy with the holy God. I don't acknowledge to him the areas where I need him to change me. I bring a sacrifice that ultimately is free to me - I go away not having paid anything. 

Worship so often is just understood as singing songs at Church - "the worship time" or "worship group", rather than being a way of life. I want my entire life to be worship to God. My thoughts, my deeds, my words...I want God to take all of it as worship. But it's very easy to just mosey along and not make decisions to sacrificially bless people, or speak about Jesus. These are things that cost. 

I don't want to get all legalistic about this but it's just something that struck me this evening. I want to be someone who is willing to sacrifice to God, including the cost. I don't want to come out of Church tomorrow and be like "that was a nice service" I want to meet with God and let him change me! Ultimately that means I need to be more open and honest with him; it also means it might hurt as he deals with things in my life and makes me more like him. 

Sacrifice/worship costs something. But just as David experienced God's grace and mercy, I know I will too. I serve and praise the same God who delights in the worship of his people. I want my worship to be acceptable to him.