18 Dec 2014

Christmas through eyes - like yours and mine

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Christmas’?

Even as a pastor I find a little effort is required to focus on the Christ of Christmas as images of silly reindeer, a fat man in a red suit shouting ho-ho, jingles, bright lights and presents crowd into my view.

You too?

How did we get to see everything the same way? Big media. The loud, powerful, bright images and scintillating words have trained us over the years with the repetitive snapshots of buy-spend-eat Christmas.

But, the first Christmas, was a very different story.

It happened in a small sleepy suburb that was stirring only because some political order was given that made everyone pack a mule and muck some miles. Beyond this sudden influx of original inhabitants that needed to return to comply with a census, everything and everyone was going about business as usual; which wasn’t exactly a roaring city-scene.

I think if we step back from all that the media is yelling at us; if we stayed home just one night and refuse to turn to any form of media; maybe, just maybe, we can come closer to what Christmas is truly like. 

Maybe we can come closer and identify with some of these who were present when it all happened:

“and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were terrified….Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God..” ~ Luke 2v8,9,13

I am guessing you never had an angel suddenly appear as you are marking those exam papers or reading your emails. I haven’t. But if I did, I would feel terrified as these shepherds did.

But what do we have on our greeting cards? Some meek, fairly frozen guys in robes, usually one cuddling a lil lamb. Pretty. Hallmark. Yes, it’s become hallmark; but it’s wrong. Those shepherds were anything but calm and relaxed!

First one angel, and then a whole lot of them – the whole night sky ablazed as heaven invaded earth-o-sphere and the usual blackness of the night sky is shining with light hitherto unseen. We don’t know how long this heavenly presentation lasted... but when it ended; the shepherds did what they felt compelled to: figure out a way to settle the sheep and go check out the news.

To a group of powerless, sheep-smelling men God chose to reveal the greatest event in humankind. (if our news networks got it today; what would become of it?). Simple shepherds who would be at a loss to find words to describe whatever they experienced except in the simplest of terms were privileged to receive the news. These shepherds, all shaken and awakened from their soporific states “spread the word …and all who heard it were amazed.”

Why cannot you and I share this such that those who hear it are amazed?

It’s become too familiar and not frightful enough. God came! We ought to get off our derriere to check it out and try to put it all in words!

For some of us, our spiritual awakening was indeed like the shepherds: we were going about our business and it got interrupted so big time we had to make a break with whatever we were doing in order to break the news.

But we find God-interruptions quite inconvenient. We wish they cease so we can return to ‘normal’; not realizing what we have isn’t normal by design at all. God breaks in to break us out of moulds that would stifle and eventually kill us. Like the shepherds, we need to find a way to check out the interruptions and find words to express what it all means.

Those shepherds probably remained shepherds. But the quiet as the sun sets, the grass, the night sky, even the sheep – have forever been touched by heaven. God can break in and what seems so mundane, ordinary and even, hopeless has forever been touched by glory. And their lowly jobs with those dumb, stubborn creatures? Well, you never know, angels show up.

And this openness to heaven, to God interrupting, to surprises, to angelic visitations lingered on in the church :

“do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.” ~ Hebrews 13v2

Has 2014 sprung some surprises for you?
Did any of it feel just like heaven invading your earth-space? Is God wanting to share some news with you?
How can you live more ready for God-interruptions?
How can you be more careful about what feels 'normal' to you so you won't end up God?

 Next up: the Innkeeper and his family

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16 Dec 2014

a thousand lights that won't lead us home.. but one that will : Christmas peace friends!

Every year, the main shopping belt in Singapore gets lit-to-the-max. Yes, it is Christmas, the season for shops and retailers to cast a wide net and gather a huge catch. Lights help here: those glorious baubles, stars, 3D castles, machine-generated snow... the gold, blue, red, diamante colours.

It is a beautiful and enchanting sight that lifts the soul, if for a few moments, to some higher plane of wonder, delight, and relish.

Yes, we even call in those arctic creatures, the reindeer to help rein in the crowds and gamely remind them of the ho-ho of it all - the goodness of giving and receiving.

Perhaps these lights draw us in and lift us because we are afraid of the dark and darkness. Which one of us has not had a frightful experience with that? The child begs for the light to stay on for monsters lurk in the dark. When we cannot see, our minds run a lil' wild.

But there are lights, and there are lights.

Leaving a lil night light is helpful enough, but there are lights we torch that can hurt us ~

...all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand: you will lie down in torment.
~ Isaiah 50v11

Major ouch.

A lack of peace,
a turning and a tossing,
a fearful anticipation.

fretting over gifts (we hope to have and wish to give)
worrying we may forget someone 'important'
feeling still angry, even hating
knowing deep within we are unforgiven and unforgiving
afraid as the days are turning into a new year and your plans are drafts

For everyone single one of these we may well have some plan, answer or defense made ready.
But our little torches of how to answer and 'don't dwell on it' won't suffice to get us to experience the angelic announcement over this season: peace on earth and goodwill to man.

You have no idea how much light you need if you won't consider how dark it can get.

No one brings a toy torch light or a half-filled gas lamp for a camping trip in the wilderness.The dark will soon overtake and it will be futile. We are camping for a while in a wide wilderness, en route home. Yes, we can build a campfire in this case. But sometimes. the journey takes us to deserts and strong winds and all we have is sun, moon and stars. The Bedouins learn to rest when it's too hot to travel and navigate by moonlight and stars.

But we? We just push on. City folk with our days made long by artificial light, our sense of prowess and control reiterated to us with every successful sale, every goal attained, every relationship milked. We push on. When we are not sure, we look inside our bag for another torch to light the way.

All this while, the darkness can be encroaching upon us. We wake up and we are shocked at the world news. What has our world come to?!

Christmas is God entering this world engulfed in darkness and piercing the dark to let in the Light.

The storytellers are right: it is an epic battle of dark and light.

A battle out there,yes, but really, it begins inside us. Each of us.

How about this Christmas we let the smaller lights remind us of the Great Light.

Jesus said,
I am the Light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. ~ John 8v12

In the wild as in the desert, no one travels alone. You file up and you want to make sure you follow a trustworthy guide. Jesus offers to lead us, to light the way. He invites us to fall in step.

Stop dashing around. Stop ignoring your heart's cries, aches and longings. The caverns of our soul is a huge space for Light to enter and shine around - as the darkness flees.

This Christmas, amid all the lights and sights, how about slowing down and sitting with Jesus, rest from the heat of the day and talk about your heart; and invite the Light in.

Peace on earth, goodwill to man - - because peace in us, goodwill to you!

14 Dec 2014

Traveler's Views and Notes

~ an expensive trip for a frugal soul
the last two years we made long, costly trips. in 2012 i felt we needed to visit my brother in the USA. thankfully we did and enjoyed precious memories together: trying to ski, sitting by the fireplace, talking about the American elections, and most of all, the late night talks between us, about God. I still remember praying for snow for my son who has never seen that most magical sight: a snowfall. and just an hour before we needed to ride to the airport; there they came, floating down, gently at first! we grabbed our coats and dashed out the house to dance about in the falling of water in most beautiful forms! Hope seemed to bounce about us.

last june, i made a similar trip - but to bid him adieu from this side of heaven. a very different trip - back to the same lovely house of his on his sprawling yard; but this time it was sorting things out, crying, some laughing and as the family members poured in, food and more food; and more tears even as Grace wrapped around us and wove some fresh bonds.

earlier this year, the hubs and i while talking realised we never ever did have what is called a 'sabbatical'. still, we were grateful for the many pit-stops over the years to refuel and stay sane. then we thought, why not go to the one place we both love alot; and now that the kids are older, they will appreciate it more. New Zealand. Land of seas, sounds and sheep! 

but as i began to plan, i struggled. drawing out money to pay for trip to be with people we love makes sense to me. going on a trip just to enjoy ourselves felt so indulgent; especially when i am still learning Jesus' heart for the poor. i felt this strange conflict brewing in me. i wasn't sure where to place the line. my children have asked me before, "are we rich?". at first, my answer was "no". we were not rich by Singapore standards, when compared with many of our peers. But then, more recently, i have told them we are; because more than 80% of the world live with less than $10 a day.

so i kept checking back with the hubs our budget. can we really do this? 

we did it. we paid a tidy sum to-just-rest. it seems rather silly; but this is the state of our world. it tires
 us out so much. 

we skipped around animal poo on farms and talked with llamas, deer, sheep, chickens, ducks, seals, dogs, cats.. we drove or sat in an 11-hour train journey and went ooo and aah over the endless stretches of sea, rolling tussocks, sheep and cattle. we cooked and ate when we were hungry and basked in the long summer hours, exploring lakesides and glaciers. it was a lot of fun! we felt so enlivened to be so immersed in the beauty and power of creation. 

i had told the children why we are taking the trip: that we have both love the vast land; that there will be plenty for them to experience, that we will build great memories. i had reminded them of the expense and our values of not wasting and although i had thought to give some a little pocket change to spend; in the end, they both held back and didn't spend a cent on purchases! we came back just with ourselves, fattened by our wonderful experiences.

despite my inner struggle with the cost, amid the fears of spending alot and not getting a good return, the real and present danger of having to manage little tiffs and skirmishes of the heart..this was a trip held by Peace.

it was not so much about going away to get; but a making time and space to go deeper into something God had been seeking to deposit in our lives. Some times, we have to break our rhythms and even escape the scene to see and feel God's gifts deep enough they enter our beings.

At one point, i felt as if God himself stood between me and all my questions and anxieties and shielded me from the raucous soul-noises and just let me en-joy. a true vacation is one where you vacate the scene and just be.

and like the waters that are still reflect all the grandeur and beauty here, a quieted soul can take in the light and shape of all that is around and let them express without distorting them as rushing waters would.

~ wow, we did that?
i have a fear of heights while the hubs gets sick from motion. but i mounted a horse that must have been twelve hands tall and we took a small ski plane up to walk on snow upon ice! a lot of the time we felt too cold than we were used to; but mostly the weather permitted us to drive safely and enjoy the activities we did.

at mount cook, we were told the winds could get so strong that once the hotel windows all blew in and crashed. the hotel is solid reinforced steel and quite metallic and ugly-looking in order to survive the wild winds that come with such virgin territory. for the four little Singaporeans dizzy with delight? we had that "one fine, fantastic day" to fly out into the mountains the guide told us. 

young explorers at mount cook

without very precise planning {as i am not capable of it}  - we had moved in car, train, ship, horseback and on foot. we had lived in the city, in a monastery cradled in a valley, next to the sea, in the mountains and in a forest with deers around us!

Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination ~ Drake.

Travel well friends!