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January 2017

Are You Ready for the New Year?

NY

Well, Christmas 2016 is done and dusted. Now it’s time to prepare to enter a new year. During transitional seasons such as this, it’s always good to stop and do three things: Reflect, Review and Re-calibrate. 

Firstly, reflect on the year that is about to finish. What happened? What went as expected? What surprises came your way? What are you thankful for? What pain did you experience? What will you be glad to put behind you?

Secondly, review. What did you learn? We sometimes believe that we learn from experience but this is not necessarily true. It is easy to repeat the same patterns year after year. It is only when we reflect on and review our experiences that we have the potential to turn them into insight and hopefully into lasting life change.

Finally, recalibrate. What lessons from this year will you take into next year? What will you do differently next year? What will you stop doing? What will you start doing? What adjustments do you need to make? What is ‘true north’ for you? Success is not always about going faster but rather about making sure we are heading in the right direction with our lives.

I encourage you to set aside some time to do these three vital tasks. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s to a terrific new year, moving into all the good things God has in store for you!

P.S. To help you in this process, be sure to check out some of my earlier New Year's BLOG posts:


Merry Christmas (2016)

Dog

Merry Christmas!

Last weekend, I participated in my final Christmas Carols production at the church where I have served for over 30 years. It was a fun time together - singing carols, listening to our amazing singers, musicians and creative teams inspire us, watching the bright-eyed children, and sharing about Jesus as THE gift we all need at Christmas. 

I do pray that you have an enjoyable Christmas and holiday season. It's been a joy to share with you via this BLOG through the year and I look forward to what is yet to come as we continue on this journey called life. 

P.S. Over the years,  I've written a variety of posts about Christmas. Here are a few for your enjoyment:


The Finish Line

Finishline

Today was my last official day of work for 2016. I spoke at all 5 of our church's Christmas carols presentations this weekend. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see so many people there, especially so many visitors.

It's now 2 months and 8 days till I finish up in my role as Senior Minister of our church. That's 70 days all up but once you take out holidays and some days off, I only have 31 days of actual work left. That's hard to believe! Especially after being employed for 32 years at the same place. 

Early this morning, I was thinking about and reflecting on the idea of a 'finish line' and wrote this poem. Wherever you are in your race, may you be encouraged today.

Ah, I can actually see it now
The finish line
An end to this race
It's not far away

Hard to explain the feeling
To lay down a burden
To let it all go
To actually be done

Surreal but exhilarating
Grief for sure
But more so relief
A fitting conclusion

It's been a long race
Many twists and turns
Hills and valleys
Seemingly unending stretches

Sunshine and rain
Joy and pain
Good friendships
Yet times of feeling alone

Bursts of great speed
Times of catching my breath
Seasons of clarity
Other times only a mist

At times it felt like forever
A race with no end
Caught in a calling
Be faithful to the end

Drinks break ahead
Refresh and refuel
Celebrate the day
Hear the 'well done'

Then what?
Who knows
Another race?
Time will tell

Enjoy the finish line ...


What Would Jesus Say to Santa Claus?

It's hard to believe we are just 10 sleeps away from Christmas! 

I really enjoy the Christmas season. It's a time to enjoy family and friends, way too much delicious food, some time off and a reminder of God's greatest gift to our world - Jesus Christ. Of course, most followers of Jesus know that Jesus probably wasn't born on 25th December. No shepherd worth their salt would have their sheep out in the fields in the northern hemisphere at that time of year! And we know that Christmas has a lot of trappings that had nothing to do with Jesus' arrival over 2,000 years ago.

In reality, the early Christians borrowed a pagan festival from the Roman Empire and added new meaning to it. I guess in some ways we could say that today the pagans are returning the favour, as much of the Western World seems intent on removing anything 'Christian' from Christmas, with nativity scenes and some Christmas carols being banned. 

 Over the years, I've written many posts about Christmas. One of the most popular was from a message I gave back in 2008 entitled "What would Jesus say to Santa Claus?" I thought I'd re-post it this year for your enjoyment.

Merry Christmas!

Santa

What Would Jesus Say to Santa Claus?

Have you noticed that Santa Claus has gradually been taking centre stage at Christmas of late and that Jesus has been forced to take more of a back seat? Who is this Santa guy and where did he come from?

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in Western world. It was Pope Gregory that established 25th December as the supposed birth of Christ. "Christmas" literally means "mass of Christ". Christians after the time of Constantine converted a number of pagan festivals, adding Christian elements to them. To the December winter solace and various harvest festivities, they added a nativity crib and the singing of Christmas carols. Eventually, the Santa Claus image emerged - with sled, reindeer, and a sack of toys. It was an American invention that first appeared in a 1868 drawing. However, the Father Christmas legend was based somewhat on a fourth century bishop by the name of Saint Nicholas.

So anyway ... what would Jesus say to Santa Claus? Here's what I think he might say ...

1. "Thanks for encouraging the spirit of giving." Yes, I think Jesus would have something positive to say to Santa Claus. We live in a world of increasing selfishness. Christmas is a time when we think more about others, which is a good thing. The world becomes a better place when we adopt more of a giving attitude in life, as well as one of gratitude, affirmation, and encouragement.

2. "True fulfilment is not found in things." Santa’s focus at this time of year is based on a belief that more things will make people happier. But people need more than mere things. Things may be nice but ultimately they never fully satisfy. What we really need is the love, peace, and joy that only God can provide through a relationship with him and with other people. Let's "love people and use things" - not the other way around.

3. "Good works aren't enough." Santa's philosophy in life is one of being rewarded for what you do - for being nice rather than naughty. The truth is that none of us are ever good enough. All our efforts fall short. That's why Jesus came - to live and then to die for our short-comings ... and then to offer us eternal life ... as a free git, not as a reward for our good deeds. Christmas is not about what we have done but about what God has done for us ... in Christ.

4. "You're not the reason for the season." Christmas is about Christ. Jesus came to earth as the Saviour of world. He is the eternal Son of God who arrived on earth 2,000 years ago. Santa Claus is a recent addition, an add on. This celebration isn’t about him. Jesus Christ is the most influential person in history. We mark time by his very arrival. Jesus is the "hinge of history". Let's keep the "Christ" in Christmas. Remember, HE is the real reason for season!

5. [Spoiler ALERT!] "You're not real, but I am." Santa Claus is a figment of people’s imagination, a mythical hero. Sorry kids, but Santa isn’t real (parents, ease it to them slowly!). He's merely a character - like Mickey Mouse or Buzz Light Year. Jesus is real. You can’t see him but he is alive. He is not a myth or a legend or an imaginary person. He is not only real, but he’ll be back. However, his second coming won't be like his first coming. He will come in power and glory and every eye will see him.

Can you see that the Gospel of Jesus is quite different than gospel of Santa Claus? Where is the focus of our faith today? In Santa Claus or Jesus Christ? Jesus is knocking at door of each person's heart. Do we have room for Jesus? I believe that he is the true and living God, the Prince of Peace, the Saviour of the world, offering us forgiveness and real life. Let's turn to him and place our faith in him today. Let's follow him and live for him.

Christians: don't picket Santa Claus! Don't become an old scrooge or a humbug Christian. Just because Santa is an anagram for Satan doesn't mean that he is the devil incarnate! Jesus Christ is the true meaning of Christmas. Let's bring him back to centre stage!

P.S. For background on the concept of "What Would Jesus Say ..." see this previous post.


The Great Unknown

Sometimes in life we experience 'more of the same' as we deal with the familiarity of routine. At other times, there is the adventure of new things and of entering uncharted waters. That's my life right now.

I am in the process of transitioning out of a staff role at CityLife Church where I have served in various roles for almost 32 years, and for 22 years as the Senior Minister. I'll take 6 months off when I finish at the end of February 2017 then see what new opportunities may present themselves. 

I am also living between our new home in the Sunshine Coast and my continuing ministry work in Melbourne. Talk about liminal spaces. It's a bit like walking back and forth through the wardrobe door into Narnia. "Yes, I remember you!" Exciting but scary. 

During times like this, I find my times of prayer, solitude and reflection even more valuable. My journal is my listening book, enabling me to share my heart and see what God might say to me. I also dabble in a little amateur poetry.

Here is something I wrote a few weeks back that will give you a window into my soul right now. Maybe some of you can identity with it, especially if you are in a season of change right now. It's called "The Great Unknown".

Unknown

About to jump ...
Into the great unknown
No guarantees
No promises

A blank page
A new start
Time to reboot
Owner's reset

Start again
Completely new
Identity search
Who am I?

Lay it all down ...
Achievements and trophies
Titles and positions
Applause and fame

Into the unknown
Stripped bare
Naked yet free
Having nothing yet everything I need

Into the cocoon
Dark and cold
Unsure and unclear
Ready to die

Yet there will be a light
At the crack of dawn
Resurrection
New life

Caterpillar to butterfly
Metamorphosis
Deep change
Transformation

Time to really live
Spirit breath
Life source
Soul force

Across the threshold
What will I see?
Leave the past behind
Time to be me

Discover, discern
Destiny, design
Holy whispers
Divine fingerprints

Into the great unknown ...

[Photo by Thomas Frost Jensen taken in Trolltunga, Norway]

[Read more of Mark's poetry]