For a long time I've had a dismissive attitude towards Christmas. I looked at Santa Claus and Rudolf with one eyebrow raised, and dismissed trees and presents as pleasant traditions of another culture--probably a result of the diverse opinions of Christmas that many people I knew had. Some said it had pagan origins and wasn't really a Christian festival at all. Some said that being a Christian meant you accepted the celebration of Christmas with all its trimmings. Some said that it wasn't accurate, Jesus wasn't born on 25th December and so if you wanted to celebrate Christmas you should do it somewhere in the middle of the year (or so I think I remember.) Some said that Christmas was all very well but it had evolved into a primarily cultural festival rather than merely religious, and so for Asian/Chinese Christians it was different. We don't even have snow here, for goodness' sake; Santa would get heatstroke.
I still don't feel any obligation to go and buy a Christmas tree (fun as that would be) just because I'm a Christian; but this year, I've changed my opinion of Christmas considerably.
All right, Christmas isn't Jesus' real birthday, had pagan origins, isn't my culture, has morphed into hyped-up consumerism.
Even with all that in consideration, grasp the fact that--
the world is celebrating the birth of your Favourite Person.
The world, which has rejected, despised, and not believed in Him, is actually celebrating--regardless of how--that Jesus Christ, a.k.a the love of your life, ie. the wow-factor of your existence, came to this world.
What more me?
I don't think we have to all celebrate Christmas in specific or similar ways. But as Christians, regardless of our background, we should value Christ. And Christmas should at the very least be an occasion for us to meditate on the Gift that we were given; to realize anew how precious it is.
Because we so easily forget. Because we so easily take it for granted, become complacent. Because we can never value it enough.
Christmas: celebrating the best and most undeserved Gift of all.
Not the presents under the tree or in the stocking; or Santa, that benevolent philanthropist.
I found this in my spiritual journal--it wasn't written during Christmas, but it pretty much reflects what I hope Christmas would mean to me--this year, every year, always.
To turn my thoughts to Christ.
To grow my love for Him.
To humble me with joy and thankfulness for what I have received.
Where have You been all my life? To think I knew about You, but didn't know You--worse still didn't love You--is an awful thought.
For all my life I have not appreciated Your sacrifice for me enough, probably never will. But now, slowly, I am realizing just how much You mean to me. Now, slowly, I am loving You. Now, slowly, You are real to me, from vague Bible character to a real presence like a human friend's, to more than a mere human friend could ever be.
Now, slowly, I am realizing that You are beautiful, that You are the penultimate expression, the essence, the best of God's love for us.
I hope to know You better, to love You more, to feel the reality of Your death for me and Your love for me as poignantly as I should. To be transformed by it--heart, soul, and life.
I am not worth dying for, but You are.
A new year is a great opportunity to reflect on how you've spent your past year.
What things you want to carry on to 2014, and what things you hope to leave behind.
I personally love New Year resolutions because of the hope and sense of redemption they carry--fine, you know you've failed in this, are weak in that, but hey, you get a chance to change that, and you feel hopeful that you can! A little reflection of sanctification; the joy of being enabled to change. :)
Talking about sanctification.
My new year resolutions usually fall into three categories: aspirations--
-- I want to fulfill dreams or 'do cool stuff'--
...master a magic trick, try pottery, be able to sing a Jay Chou song (my Chinese isn't even at that level yet, unfortunately)...
-- I want to develop better habits, a better lifestyle--
...join the 5 AM Club, call my grandparents regularly...
--and the spiritual:
I want to be a better reflection of Christ.
I gave my 2014 New Year 'spiritual life resolutions' some thought. This chapter of life, God so led me to conclude I needed to be more gracious. That was my first New Year Resolution. (there's a second too; but I'm saving that for now;)
Words are something we tend to overlook or discount, especially besides 'more serious' sins like selfishness, pride, sexual sin, covetousness, hatred, and the like.
"If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless." (James 1:26)
It's one thing to have a heart full of love for others, as Christ did (something most of us acknowledge we need, and must work on cultivating.) It's another thing for your words to reflect that as well. Of course, the heart is what really matters and all that; but the point was, upon reflection I could see there were many times when my words were unloving--even if my heart wasn't.
When I get impatient. When I'm tired or frustrated. When I'm annoyed or angry, of course. (especially when that stinging smart-mouth retort is just burning the tip of your tongue...)
When I'm trying to get things done and I feel that other people are slowing me down or getting in the way (as a go-getter, this is a big issue for me; my mom has reminded me of this many times. I have to struggle not to lapse into being--or coming across as--brusque, curt, or dismissive.)
And even when I'm joking.
Simply put, I couldn't picture Christ saying what I said. That disturbed me (as I'm sure it should.)
If I'm sure Christ wouldn't be sarcastic (I certainly hope and believe He wouldn't!), why should I be, since I profess to want to be like Him?
I've come to realize that seemingly harmless things like sarcasm and 'mean humor' (so popular now) aren't really all that harmless after all. Either they hurt others or they hurt you.
It isn't helpful for others, and it doesn't help me love them better.
Even if only in jest, it's an 'appearance of evil'--paraphrase: 'appearance of unlovingness/unkindness'. And we are to avoid all appearances of evil.
Oh, it's hard to give up; mainly because it seems such a small, silly thing that's good for generating some fun and laughter. Especially if you're good at coming up with clever comebacks.
And James 1:26 packs us a good wallop, a sharp reminder not to be foolish!
"If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless."
Wow. That's strong.
A religion that doesn't change you--doesn't make any difference in how you live your life, how you treat others, how you speak even--is useless.
Christ calls us to be His, in entirety.
Not just our hands and feet as we tend to simplify it--getting carried away by the more obvious external actions of serving/obeying God.
Our head, and heart as well--and tongue.
Keeping the Sabbath is such a sensitive, and often confused, issue today.
What should we do and what should we not do?
Is it okay to do homework on Sunday? Can we buy out or must we always cook?
When He first introduced the concept of keeping one day out of seven a special rest day, God gave His people a detailed list of how they were to keep the Sabbath, to help them.
Before long, as well as becoming familiar with the concept of keeping the Sabbath, they also (inevitably) abused and misunderstood/misinterpreted it; making the Sabbath one of the main outcries of the OT prophets in the pre-Messianic books of the Bible. Nehemiah. Jeremiah. Amos. Ezekiel. And Isaiah.
As New Testament Christians, Jesus did not give us a list of specific do's and don'ts as the Old Testament Israelites were given. Instead, He came with a radical new take on keeping the Sabbath--seeing it as a joyful privilege we do for the benefit it gives us, rather than yet another task that our goodness depends on.
Christ taught us to see the Sabbath as a day on which to do good to our souls and the souls of others.
On every other day, we tend (naturally) to focus on doing what is good for our bodies; working, eating, exercising, relaxing, surviving. We tend to neglect our souls' needs, as result; whether neglecting our devotions, cutting short our prayer time, not having the time to help and care for others or have fellowship with them, or simply to enjoy and reflect on the goodness of God, and our own relationship with Him.
Isaiah 58:13-14 speaks very plainly on what God desires from us on the Sabbath, and why:
"If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
nor finding your own pleasure,
nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord..."
I think that's pretty clear for us.
The Sabbath is not the same as a holiday. We are not to see it and use it as we would an ordinary holiday--just another off day to do what we want, to have fun and relax however we wish, to do our pleasure--because that would be misusing/abusing and misinterpreting it, treating it exactly as a normal off day except that we sacrifice a few hours to go to church first. Holidays are a separate blessing from God, another blessing for our body and physical needs.
The Sabbath is set apart as the 'holy day of the Lord'. For honor.
Not for our personal partying or chillin'.
On the other hand, God also warns us to avoid the other extreme (we humans are so prone to falling to extremes); seeing the Sabbath as a rigid, joyless, obligation, a day of self-denial.
Call the Sabbath a delight. God means it to be a day of refreshment and delight for us. Perhaps a different sort of delight than what we commonly seek after and think of, but delight all the same. A delight that will empower us for the week ahead, that will cause us to delight in the Lord more, and deeper, even in the midst of our 'other' delights...
Perhaps we need to apply this by looking at our motives for doing what we do.
I was deliberating whether or not to do something until I realized, by taking a closer look, that my motives weren't exactly for the good of my soul, but rather for my own pleasure. (We are such earthy creatures; our bodily needs and wants and delights make our soul's seem almost non-existent in comparison!) Sure, I had sanitized it by thinking it was also a chance to spend time with my grandma in her room, talk to her; but really it was just to gratify myself--I knew I wasn't going to be doing much meaningful talking or interacting; the main reason why I wanted to was so I could lump comfortably on the sofa and passively watch a TV program! There you go. Nothing soulful here, all earthy flesh and pleasure. Of course this doesn't mean I judge everyone who watches TV on a Sunday; I just know it's better for me, at least, not to. Definitely an activity I would keep for the rest of the week, for 'body-time' rather than Sunday's soul-time.
After all, we have but one soul-day in the week, and six body-days (including holidays and the like.) Let us use our one soul-day well.
"Hey! That's me! That's me when I was just a babe!"
It's always fun looking through old photos, finding the people you know; but the most fun, of course, is finding yourself--that funny little babe with the round eyes that doesn't really look like you but was still, is still you.
(At least, for me; it's the only time in my life I could unabashedly claim to be cute, so of course I enjoy it.)
One thing I realized from looking through all those blurry photos was just how dependent and frail Baby Me was. It was a humbling reminder--no matter how independent, capable, savvy, well-groomed or educated I might think I was now, I had once been a chubby dumpling who only knew how to sleep and eat, who needed someone to feed me and bathe me and change my diapers and rock me to sleep and teach me to walk and cuddle me. It was a humbling reminder of how much my parents had been to me, as well as done for me.
And that's how it started me thinking about how my relationship with my parents has changed, evolved from then to now.
I find my generation seems to have a big problem with respecting our parents. Maybe we're just plain rude. Maybe we give them only as much--usually, less--respect as we give our peers. Maybe we ignore what they say or complain loudly about them to our friends or on Facebook. Maybe we make fun of them in front of other people, poke fun at their embarrassing moments or habits. Maybe we despise them for their faults and weaknesses, or the small 'unglam' things they do--"my dad wears socks pulled up his calves, even when he wears shorts!"
Oh, yes, we love them; and usually, if we profess to be Christians, we know we ought to respect them and obey them too. I'm not even going to quote Ephesians 6:1 because if you're like me, you're expecting it already; it's become sort of soldered to the phrase "Respect your parents".
But the truth is we don't respect them. We love them, in some way--I hope so--but there's a reason why the Ten Commandments use the word honour rather than just love. (Exodus 20:12) One can love without necessarily respecting, just as one can respect without necessarily loving. I know many people who certainly love their parents, but who don't always give them the respect they should. I'm one of them myself.
Because as we grow older, we naturally become more observant and more critical (and we start to care very much about image.) Things about our parents, which either never bothered us or never even noticed when we were kids, suddenly become glaringly obvious in our eyes; and glaringly important. Gradually we realize that they make mistakes, that they lose their tempers, that they do things they shouldn't, that they're human beings with flaws just like ourselves and everyone else in the world. Almost every child can find a 'calf-sock' issue of sorts about their parents. Gosh, I hate the way Mom starts stammering when she's excited...and I wish Dad wouldn't try to connect with my friends by cracking jokes he thinks are 'relevant to young people'...or wear such awful clothes...or insist on eating that disgusting combination...or nag so much...or have bad breath...or...or...
And the list goes on. We all have our own lists of disillusionment.
And it becomes so easy to start losing our respect for them. Maybe we even start despising them for their 'uncoolness', their forgetfulness or other faults which annoy us. Things they try to tell us automatically get filtered out of the priority inbox in our brain, based on the sender; if a friend or peer was to say the same thing we would probably sit up and listen.
But the Bible does not say "Respect your parents when they're cool and wise. If not cool or wise, you are licensed to skip this commandment and treat them as you think they deserve."
Parents are different. God gave them to us, whether we like it or not, for a reason. They were the ones who gave life to us; often the ones who gave us a home and brought us up, who cared for us and worried for us, who made sacrifices to change our diapers, who loved us as other people haven't and wouldn't. Their claim on us, as their children, is different from anyone else's.
Therefore, whether we feel they're smarter and better than us--or not--we should respect them.
What's more: on retrospect we're really not in any position to be deciding what and who is 'cool' and 'smart'. Seriously, if anything our parents' ideas on that topic should be the accepted standards, if only because of the fact that they've been around just how many decades longer than us. It's really a form of pride--a besetting sin that haunts all of us throughout our lives in different shapes.
Looking at those old photos, I suddenly saw how absurd it was that a chubby baby in a dirty diaper tells her dad, "Hey Dad, you should seriously stop wearing those ridiculous socks. They are like, so uncool?"
Honestly, what happened to us? If you knew the baby whose mouth you were wiping right now was ever going to say that to you one day--and roll her eyes in disgust--well, I think I would be only heart-broken. Not to mention angry.
Respecting our parents doesn't mean we live in denial of their mistakes, or are compelled to agree with everything they do. But besides loving them, we need to respect them; in fact, the older we (both) get, the more we should grow in loving and respecting them, because we should be gradually realizing more and more just how much they did for us, and how right they were.
(As a wise quote put it: "Listen to your elders not because they're always right, but because they've had more experience of being wrong.")
For your hard thing today: take a look at your relationship with your parents. How have you been disrespecting them? Your tone of voice? The way you respond to them, or listen to them? The way you talk about them to others, or take them for granted, or think about them? Watch out for the times you feel anything like contempt, disgust, impatience, or superiority towards your parents and you'll have a pretty good indicator.
This is one hard thing that you can start immediately, right now, the moment you reach the end of this sentence.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are