Monthly Archives: December 2016

Seeing the Wonder in 2016

2016

It’s been an interesting year.

I’ve heard it said a number of times in these dog days after Christmas and before the dawn of the new year. We don’t really know what to say about this year which has induced such a maelstrom of emotions.

The war in Syria, the genocide in Aleppo, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, a seemingly unending list of well loved celebrities dying, not to mention continuing public funding cuts and a continuing mental health care crisis in the UK.

For many, and for me personally, 2016 has not been an easy year as new mental health challenges have emerged and as it ends it can be difficult to know how to respond. It’s hard to be thankful as I look back at the craters this year has left.

The words of T.S Elliott ring true in these last days of the year.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

If the language and words of this year have been confusion and mistrust; I want to open 2017 with a new voice that speaks of something more.

I want 2017 to speak words which inspire hope.

Words that learn from a year of turbulence and seek truth.

Words that see the wonder of God in the midst of mess and mire.

My prayer for this year is not one which discounts the year that has passed; it’s one that is thankful for an unchanging God in the midst of such turbulence and trusts in God through whatever comes in 2017.

Psalm 31 proclaims:

“Praise be to the Lord,
    for he showed me the wonders of his love
    when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
    “I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
    when I called to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
    The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
    but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the Lord.”

 

 

If 2016 has been a year under siege; we have seen the wonders of His love despite it all and we can trust that 2017 is already in his hands.

Because haven’t we seen the greatest wonder of God’s love through His Son arms stretched wide taking our sin to the grace and welcoming us home?

The wonder of 2016 is found in the God who is unchangeable.

As the curtains fall on 2016 and they rise on 2017, I pray with a new voice that we will remember the wonders of God’s love through all that has gone before and that trusts in the God of all wonders and love for the days to come.

 

Prince of Peace

Most of the time, Christmas can feel anything but peaceful.

Fridges packed to the rafters, gridlocked roads, houses filled with family and inflatable beds, the idea that we are celebrating the Prince of Peace can feel almost comical.

And yet the Hebrew word often translated as peace is far more than our idea of peace begin related to tranquility.

Shalom.

Shalom doesn’t represent a feet up with a glass of wine kind of peace (not that we need flee from these moments should they arise) but something far deeper. It’s about wholeness and completeness, where nothing is missing.

Calling Jesus our Prince of Peace is a reminder that we can have no shalom apart from God, He is the only one who can complete us and nothing; not presents, not a job, not family, nothing can fulfil us apart from God through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

And Jesus demonstrates the promise of shalom; it’s not that He had a trouble free, peaceful life – it’s that He himself was at peace with God and with himself. It’s the promise that Jesus Himself makes. In John 10:10 He says:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Whatever thief comes to steal our shalom; loss, mental illness or fear, Jesus came as the baby born in a Bethlehem stable so that we may have shalom in its midst.

So whatever guests Christmas brings; we at ThinkTwice wish you the shalom that comes from the Prince of Peace.

 

 

 

Everlasting Father

It’s never occurred to me until I began this series quite how strange it feels for Jesus to be referred to as Everlasting Father.

And yet here in Isaiah’s messianic prophecy, we see that he speaks of the coming Messiah as Everlasting Father.

Isaiah is talking about Jesus as the Father of the nations, the King, whose rule over earth and heaven would be without end.

And after a year of swift change in the governmental powers over our world, it’s a huge comfort that the one who will rule forever is one who has walked in the shoes of the least.

In trusting Jesus, we aren’t entrusting power to a politician or a celebrity; but to the King who will reign forever.

His royalty is demonstrated in the gifts He is given by the Magi; the NIV tells us that they offered baby Jesus their treasures – but they also offered Him gifts that marked Him as a king. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were traditional gifts to bring before a monarch, but they also marked the path that Jesus would walk in His life and death; gold for a King,  frankincense for a Priest, myrrh to prepare for his life-saving death.

It also tells us what kind of King Jesus is: He is not a tyrant like Herod, only interested in his own agenda and power, He is loving and cares for his people, he will provide for them and He will offer Himself again and again until He is emptied.

 

 

Mighty God

Mighty God.

When I think of something mighty, I think of a herculean figure, physically strong and powerful.

And yet in the Christmas story, Jesus is frail human baby, not a warrior.

It reminds me of what Jesus gave up to become Mary’s child.

He traded the throne of heaven for scratchy straw, the power of the cosmos, for the weakness of a child.

Christmas is the story of Jesus doing just that; not as a social experiment, but as an act of love to show us that God would go to any lengths to call us back to Him.

This Mighty God of heaven shows Mighty love for us.

It means that when we pray to Him, we aren’t addressing someone who answers wishes like a pantomime fairy godmother, we are praying to someone who can move mountains. Psalm 50 proclaims:

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
    speaks and summons the earth
    from the rising of the sun to where it sets.”

We can trust in God’s strength that spoke the earth into being because He showed us that He was willing to become weak.

I don’t just trust Jesus because He walked the darkest path.

I trust Him because I know He is greater than the darkness.

I trust Him because I hold the hope of heaven for earth.

“Taking heart and holding on
Hope is closer than we know
Heaven will not let us go
Help from heaven.”
Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

 

 

 

Wonderful Counsellor

Having a counsellor isn’t uncommon in 2016. Whether it be to manage a mental health condition, deal with loss, navigate relationships or overcome some tangled thought patterns,  the time when people assumed therapists made you lie on a sofa Freudian-style are long gone.

The word comes from the idea of being advised and yet what we see here in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah being a wonderful counsellor is far more than a dispenser of useful advice; it’s far more than the amazing skilled and trained work of today’s counsellors. It’s counsel that can be applied as readily to world leaders debating laws, to children searching for a forever family.

Because what Jesus brings however, is not just knowledge, He brings Himself. As John’s gospel reminds us

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”

The Wonderful Counsellor prophesied by Isaiah moved into a neighbourhood to go through the whole spectrum of human emotion; from the brightest joy to the most desperate hopelessness,  to bring man and God together in a way that no-one, not even the most studious of Jewish Rabbi’s – would expect.

Christmas tells us in the most powerful way, that Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor who not only offers a listening ear, but offers himself so that whatever we face; whether it be the depths of depression or the terror of a refugee fleeing from home.  Jesus is the only one who can ever say completely honestly

“I know how you feel”.

It’s the truth of this Wonderful Counsellor who was born as a refugee baby, rejected by society, abandoned by His friends and murdered.

As Timothy Keller writes:

“The incarnation means that for whatever reason God chose to let us fall . . . to suffer, to be subject to sorrows and death—he has nonetheless had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine.”

When we lose family,  friends fail us and mental health services seem unattainable, Jesus was our Wonderful Counsellor yesterday, our Wonderful Counsellor today and our Wonderful Counsellor forever, until the day when He wipes every dry every tear from our eyes.

This Wonderful Counsellor is why whatever circumstance we face; we can know that the Christmas story holds our greatest comfort.

 

Coping with Christmas Cheer

Christmas, a time of unadulterated joy and happiness. No tears allowed, faces must display smiles at all times and sadness must be hidden. Sometimes, it can seem like these are the unwritten Christmas rules.

I have no desire to be a scrooge here, I happily indulge in Christmas coffee, a mulled wine candle and fairy lights as soon as the 1st December rolls around! The thing is, I see something profoundly melancholy about Christmas. There is great joy at the birth of a King, but there is also great fear in the Christmas story which I think we ignore all too readily and that I think can speak particularly to those with mental health problems.

The Christmas story isn’t one that tells us life is going to be happy and fluffy because Jesus came, it’s one that tells us that on the darkest of nights, God shows up in the most unexpected ways, using the most unexpected people to enact his rescue plan for a world gone awry.

Mary was a pregnant teenager, brave in her willingness to follow God’s plan, but the text tells us her first reaction was “troubled”. There is something in the story of Mary, mother of Jesus which speaks most profoundly of Jesus, King of Heaven and Earth, as a helpless baby. In a song from Graham Kendrick’s “Thorns in the Straw”, he puts it beautifully.

“And as she watched him through the years

Her joy was mingled with her tears

And she’d feel it all again

The glory and the shame

And when the miracles began

She’d wonder, who is this man?

And where will this all end?”

When I read this story of a young woman used in an incredible way by God to carry out His rescue plan, I cannot help but think of those for whom Christmas can seem to make the darkness around deeper.

And when everyone around you is full of happiness and joy, it can be even more difficult to grapple with your own feelings of sadness or emptiness. Whilst it can be tempting to stuff down the sadness with mulled wine and minced pies, we’ve put together a few tips to help get you through the season of goodwill.

  1. Make sure you get regular fresh air.
  2. Try and eat little and often (with the exception of Christmas Dinner!) to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent that crash.
  3. Give yourself a break – if being with family members is tough, make sure you have times away with friends or some down time by yourself.
  4. Sleep! Staying up until 3am watching Christmas films might feel like a good idea but ensuring that you get good and regular sleep can help to keep your mood more stable.
  5. Keep talking, it can be tempting to keep your feelings to yourself to avoid being a burden, but life doesn’t stop because its’ Christmas! Take advantage of Christmas coffees to meet up with your friends or mentor.
  6. Manage your merriment, alcohol is a depressant and won’t make you feel better in the long run. Just stick to a glass or two!
  7. Plan ahead and work out which parts of the season you might struggle with and try to put in nice things around the difficult parts.

We hope you have a peaceful Christmas, and if you’re struggling, remember that the King endured Christmas in a stable to be amongst us and Emanuel – God With Us.

This post first appeared over at https://www.threadsuk.com/coping-with-christmas

Where Do Christmas Songs Begin?

Have you ever wondered why some of our best known and best loved Christmas songs are a little, well, melancholy?

Surely during the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” the songs should be jolly and jingly?!

Instead, we have the dulcet tones of George Michael singing about his lost love in “Last Christmas” and crooners across the decades have belted that they will only be home for Christmas in their dreams…

It seems to me that there is something about the brightness of the season that draws attention to some of the darkness around us and within us.

There is something about the fear of Mary and Joseph as they are charged with the task of raising their Saviour, that prickles at our own insecurities and needles away at our biggest questions of significance and worth.

There is something about the news, of Word becoming Flesh and God becoming Man to face a life of poverty and pain, that reminds us of our own pain.

There is something about the jingles and the celebration and the hope; that sometimes stands in such stark contrast with what our lives look like.

Lives which do surely contain many moments of joy and jubilation, but lives which also contain anxious nights and tearful mornings.

For the one in four people who struggle with mental illnesses, the pressure of joy can make things harder. The exaltation to be merry somehow forgets the fear and confusion of Mary and Joseph, it forgets the reason that God came down in human form to be Immanuel.

God with us.

We have reason to rejoice, to celebrate and we should celebrate the glorious story of God coming in person to carry out his rescue plan for the world!

In our rejoicing, however, we also need to reach out to those who are far from joy.

When I was younger, I always used to sing the solo at church during the second week of advent which focusses on Mary’s encounter with an angel which changed her life. It is known often as the “sad Sunday” of Advent and apparently I have voice that suits sad songs. (I’ve never been sure whether that was a compliment or not, but I digress.)

Over the course of about five years I sang a number of songs from Graham Kendrick’s “Rumours of Angels” and as I have battled with my own health and the tried to find God in the dark, I’ve returned to the words of this song time and again.

“And did she see there

In the straw by his head a thorn?


And did she smell myrrh

In the air on that starry night

And did she hear angels sing


Not so far away

Till at last the sun rose blood-red

In the morning sky”

The words of that chorus remind me that Jesus did not only come to be born as a human, he also came to die as a human and in that the story of Him echoes words through the centuries to the hopeful and to the hurting.

You are not alone. God with Us.