Sunday, December 23, 2012

Celebrating Christmas Meaningfully

          This is my message preached last weekend. I realised while going for an evening walk earlier that this might be helpful so here is an excerpt.

Celebrating Christmas Meaningfully

My favourite time of the year is Christmas. I love the cooler weather, log cakes and family time. Many of you love Christmas season too.
There is a risk though that in the midst of all the marketing, Christ becomes an afterthought and frequently gets left away in the manger.
In one of his Letters To An American Lady, C. S. Lewis wrote, “ My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, “Oh Lord! They bring religion into everything. Look--they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!’
That letter was written over forty years ago and since that time things have not gotten much better. For many, Christmas is another holiday. Even those of us who know the real meaning of Christmas have to fight against the tendency to get caught up in the busyness and frenzy. What do diamond earrings and flat screen TVs have anything to do with the birth of Christ?
Christmas can feel like two months of frantic running all over the place, followed by two hours of feasting and two minutes of tearing up wrapping paper. So I remember telling myself, “this Christmas will be different.” It hasn’t quite worked out. 
Thankfully last Christmas was special. Here's the background. Every year I join Dinah’s family here as they celebrate Christmas. Her family is big. Many are Christians.
Our Christmas celebration last year was memorable. It started when my wife said she was tired of celebrating Christmas with the same eating, small talk and carol singing. She asked God for an idea to do Christmas differently and tastefully, without too much of a shock factor.
She got a download to pair everyone for prayer after dinner. So prior to the party, she and our daughter wrote down each person’s names on pieces of papers. Then they began pairing a mature believer with a younger believer. My son and I gave input.  
On the eve of Christmas, we arrived with bags of gifts and food for dinner. We said grace and began eating.  After dinner, the norm was to chat informally until 11:30 pm when we would sing carols. At about 10:30 pm Dinah called everyone together. She explained the idea and people warmed up to the plan.
My daughter came up and read the pairs. People began to pair up as their names were read out. Pairs began sharing. There was spiritual conversation and then praying. There were tears. The atmosphere changed. To our surprise, the younger ones found this especially meaningful. 
The family Christmas photo last year was the most radiant photo ever. It was not people trying to smile after overeating. It was a picture of people who were touched. What a blessing!

Today let's look at how we can celebrate Christmas meaningfully. Before that let's look at two Scriptures on Christmas. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

Christmas is a momentous point in redemptive history. Christmas is God with us. Christmas is God becoming man so that he might give His life as a ransom for many. Christmas means unto us a Saviour is born!
We can redeem the season. Here are 7 ways to celebrate Christmas. Some will speak to you more than others.

1. Give God one very special gift just from you to Him

Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. David said that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing.
"… I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing…" II Sam. 24:24
Maybe your gift to God will be to forgive someone you've needed to forgive for a long time. You may discover that you've given a gift back to yourself.
Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book, Forgive and Forget, "When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself."
Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending time with God daily. Or maybe there is something God has asked you to give up. Make this your most important gift of the season. This is His birthday.

2. Set aside silent nights to read the Christmas story in Luke 1:5-56, 2:1-20

The best way to keep Christ in Christmas is to go to the source -  Scripture - and learn about Christ: his birth, life, death, and teachings. Encountering the life of Christ, especially on a daily basis, will bring Christ into your life, especially at Christmas time.
If the story is too familiar, read it in a different translation, such as the King James Version if you are used to the New International Version (NIV).
Take time to read a passage from the Bible that tells of Christ's coming, and to ask Him to draw you closer to Himself as Christmas approaches. This is your silent night (or morning).
You can keep a Christmas journal expressing your thoughts about what happens throughout the season with your family and friends. Include your reactions to the news, sermons, Christmas events, parties, and gifts, as well as your reflections about Jesus.

3. Plan a project of goodwill this Christmas

Agape is the pure love of Christ and it means to love others unconditionally. Loving others is one of the ultimate ways to keep Christ in Christmas because that is what Christmas is all about. Through the Atonement, Christ served each of us on a level we cannot fully understand, but which we can emulate by serving others.
Practically, we can drop off a new toy at the Boys Brigade Share-A-Gift (formerly Sharity gift box). We can  find someone with a genuine need, involve your family and see how you can bless someone this Christmas. For example, replace a broken down washing machine.
Invite a low-income family to your home for Christmas lunch then give their children Christmas gifts. If your budget permits, give the parents gifts as well. It’s like welcoming Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus into your home. 
Andrew and Grace home is a shelter for teen girls who are juvenile delinquents that are beyond parental control or are victims of sexual and/or physical abuse. This is their homepage 
Bring gifts to the babies and mothers there. This way you are like the Magi who offered gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. 
Mother Teresa said, "It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you…. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand."

4. Give a surprise gift of service to each member of your family

Jesus taught us to serve by washing the disciples feet. He also taught us that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" Acts 20:35  
The idea of giving an unexpected gift of service to members of your family is to demonstrate Christ-like love and service. You might consider giving a back rub to your spouse or running an errand for your brother. There was one year when I cleaned out the store room for my parents.
Make it personal and meaningful then watch the blessings multiply.

5. Set aside a time of family devotions on Christmas Eve or morning

Before any gifts are unwrapped or holiday meals consumed, say a prayer of thanks for His blessings and love. And above all else, thank Him for the gift of Christmas!
 Read a few Bible verses aloud and discuss as a family the true meaning of Christmas. Here are some themes and corresponding Scriptures. 

The Birth of Jesus - Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-14

The Visit of the Magi and Shepherds - Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 2:15-20

Immanuel - Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

The Birth of Jesus Foretold - Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 1:26-38

Dedicate the occasion to Jesus.

6. Join a Christmas worship service together with your family

If you are alone this Christmas or don't have family living near you, invite a friend or a neighbour to join you.
We have two very powerful tools in our hands - the Bible and the mobile phone. One is the way God speaks to us. The other is how we speak with our friends and family.
Text a friend: “Christmas is coming and I thought of you. I was wondering if you would like to join me to a Christmas-Eve service at church.”

7. Write a Christmas letter to a missionary

For a church planter, receiving a letter feels like opening a priceless gift on Christmas morning, no matter what day it is. Many missionaries are unable to travel home for the Christmas holidays, so it can be a very lonely time. Write a special Christmas letter to a missionary of your choice, thanking them for giving their life in service to the Lord. It will mean more than you can imagine!

        In summary, a great way to ensure Christ is the centre of Christmas is to put Him first. Today we have looked at 7 ways to celebrate Christmas meaningfully. Some of the ideas need more lead time than others. We can put some into practice tomorrow. I do hope that Christmas will be meaningful for you.
Christmas celebrates the good news that God demonstrated His love for humankind by giving us his only Son, Jesus at the very first Christmas.  Although Jesus never did anything wrong, He willingly paid the penalty for our sins when He was crucified and buried.  Then, Jesus confirmed that He was God by conquering death as He resurrected from the grave.  Now, He is our advocate in Heaven at the right-hand side of God preparing for His future return. 
Because of these actions, we can receive forgiveness from our sins, restore an intimacy with our Creator, discover our life purpose on earth, and reserve an eternal home in Heaven. This is why we celebrate CHRISTmas!
The number one way to keep Christ in your Christmas celebrations is to have him present in your daily life. If you're not sure what it means to become a follower of Christ, we'd love to speak with you. We'll be here at the front after the closing prayer later. 
If you’ve made Christ the centre of your life, keeping Christ in Christmas is more about the way you live your life. Keeping Christ in Christmas means daily revealing the character, love and spirit of Christ that dwells in you, by allowing these traits to shine through your actions. Christ came to give Himself to others. Choose to build and nourish those you love in new ways.
So have a worshipful Christmas this year. Celebrate Jesus. Then go shopping.
As for me, I’m going to try and live simpler.  I’m going to prepare my heart to seek the true gift of Christmas – the peace of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eventful but in a scorching way

    October was very eventful. We celebrated birthdays for Dinah, the twins and Lawrence over 3 days. It was a joy catching up with Lawrence, Pat and Jono from Perth. My brother Stan and family were also here. Its always good to have family around. Then Nic was also in town. Oh yes, the O-level exams started before the twins' birthday.

 There were special times of ministry too. My son and I volunteered for Focus on the Family. Dinah and I served in marriage mentoring. We also volunteered at the night study programme at the school. Then it was special to minister at VFC Sembawang. And the atmosphere was just amazing at at the Hymn and Praise service at TSS.  
    We had good times with Paul and Cherline, Yeen Fun, Danny and Hazel, and Matthew Ling. And Wee Leng and Wan Phing had us over for a home-cooked dinner. Baby Celeste is so charming,
   Oct was eventful but in a scorching way. Had a sore throat incident in a hot, humid and glaring month. Only 4 rainy days the whole month. How I long for the cooler days in Nov.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Conducting Training

    September had a few scorchers of a day. Thankfully there was some rain too, unfortunately not on those scorcher days.
    The highlight was conducting Marriage Mentoring Training for Focus on the Family SG. This was my first time ministering with Dinah to married couples (see pic). 46 persons signed up for this first-ever training, conducted over 2 days.
   Next I was off to Malacca. Conducting character-based training in a corporate setting was a first for me. Hanging out with colleagues was fun. It was also nice getting to know colleagues from the China office.
    Through September, this office laptop gave some problems. So after Malacca, this laptop spent 3 days in the service centre. Upon collection, the video-cam and motherboard became brand new after being replaced.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Space is getting low

   The first 3 days of the month was intense. I flew to Malaysia to conduct this first-ever training for new first-line managers. Course participants came from Malaysia and Vietnam. After training, we hung out and enjoyed PJ street food. Here's a pic. Then I flew home and felt a massive hangover for 3 days. It was no easy feat to design, develop and deliver a course virtually singlehandedly. And this course had 12 lessons.
   Another highlight was meeting with Pastor Ong Chooi Seng from the Church of the Ascension. Our appointment had already been postponed once. We finally met and after lunch, he was so kind to take me on a guided tour of the St Andrews Village. Memories of school days came flooding back at every turn. The last time I visited here was probably over 12 years ago.
   The final memory of August was the dreaded message "Phone storage space is getting low". This was constant, like every two hours daily. Only in September, did I realise I could move some applications to the SD card. There is a lesson somewhere here about reading PDF instruction manuals.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July this year

July was full. Need I mention that it was hot and humid? And there was much travelling too.
Dinah and I ministered in Seattle. The NA Annual Conference in Seattle featured many firsts. Most of all, it surpassed our expectations :) Our folks tell us that this the best one so far.
We were glad to spend some quality time with our NA leaders before conference and with our Seattle leaders after conference.
Here are 2 Seattle pics. The first is with Eric from Montreal, and SL and Sharon from Calgary. The second is with John and Monette from Altanta.
Shortly after returning, Marcus came to to Singapore. Those days were well spent with our German friend. Marcus, Dinah and I would catchup late into the night.
Much of July was spent developing a new training course. This 3-day course for new first-line managers in Malaysia and Vietnam, was to start on Aug 1. Tough to develop from scratch but I've learnt a lot. I flew out on the last day of July to go conduct this course.