everything is going to be just fine

As another year comes to a close we turn our thoughts to the rush and tumble of Christmas, and I have to confess that I do love it. Amidst the high-paced madness found in buying gifts, meeting friends and consuming food there is so much fun to be had. I mean, Christmas gives us an excuse for parties, presents and feasting, and who amongst us doesn’t enjoy such things?xmas-540x405

That said most people will find the silly-season a little overwhelming (or completely all-consuming) at some point, and if you’re anything like me you may also find yourself asking… ‘why?’

Why am I so stressed?

Why am I so busy?

Why am I so time-poor?

Why am I so debt ridden?

Why am I so preoccupied with everything other than the things that really matter?

Why am I subjecting myself to the chaos of Christmas yet again and when will this madness end?

Whilst I understand that such questions emerge as we are faced with all things Christmas, I do think we are being a little bit hard on ourselves. Make no mistake the very first Christmas was chaotic! A pregnant teenager and a shocked father-to-be homeless and on the road, it doesn’t get more messy than that! One can only imagine what they must have been experiencing. (Check out the short clip below made by my good friends at YesHeIs.com for a modern day spin on Mary & Joseph’s journey).

G O D  W I T H  U S

I’ve often pondered what Mary and Joseph must have felt as they approached that very first Christmas. Perhaps the chaos as we know it today is not that different to those who lived out the very first Christmas? And if this is the case, perhaps we have more in common with those who were expecting the birth of Jesus than we care to admit?

You see, when a child is born (expected or not) EVERYTHING changes. People pause to stare at new-life and they believe for a moment that hope is somehow real. Their hearts soften. They marvel at the beauty before them, a new-creation with the freedom to write a new story through a life unfolding. The blank page of possibility reflects from their blurry big eyes and it’s unlike anything else ever seen. This is true for newborns today, and this was especially true for the Christ child born in Bethlehem.

For many, a baby born in a manger two thousand years ago to a teenage girl and unsuspecting father is completely unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is that this child is claimed to be the Saviour of the universe – the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. Some were unsure about this at the time of Christ’s birth, and it comes as no surprise that people today would still find this difficult to believe. I mean how could a perfect God be present in such an imperfect situation?

I happen to believe that ALL of Christmas, even the manic crazy and chaotic aspect of it contains something of the subtext of Jesus’ coming into this world. I guess no matter which way you look at it Christmas can only ever be about Jesus. Preparation for His coming, His arrival, and His life-giving presence all point us to the redeeming nature of God in this world. And I believe that God can be found in this time, even in the lives of unlikely, unmarried, expectant teens.

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(c) 2014 The Babes Project, photo taken by Kipindi Photography. Used with permission.

U N L I K E L Y  H E R O E S

There are thousands of young women and men in Australia (and abroad) who enter this season as Joseph and Mary once did – experiencing all of the doubts, fears, and anxiety known at the very first Christmas. They too are about to become parents. For them it’s messy, challenging, unexpected and perhaps we owe it to them to offer an alternative perspective of their situation?

If it was good enough for the God of the universe to enter human history this way, maybe it is possible these struggling parents-to-be also bear the image of the same God in the context of their circumstances? Perhaps we would do well to point that out rather than pointing the finger and adding further condemnation to their already difficult situation?

I have witnessed first hand the work of organisations like Compassion* and The Babes Project* who continue to do exactly that. They offer practical support and care to young people facing crisis pregnancy. Their efforts extend beyond giving them stuff (although they do this too and it is extremely helpful). They offer love, acceptance, care and hope. Their resounding message is ‘you are not alone because we are with you!’

It is their presence alongside these often frightened and vulnerable people that is the reaI gift of hope.

I can only lament that these incredible people and programs did not exist when I was faced with the prospect of becoming a Dad for the first time, for if ever there was a sign of the hope of Christmas they are it!

I T ‘ S  L I F E ,  B U T  N O T  A S  W E  K N O W  I T

Pondering the first Christmas a friend of mine once mused,

“… I was struck by the outrageous way that the reputation of Christ born into a patriarchal society, was tied in with that of a young unwed woman. Why wasn’t someone chosen of more proven moral standing? Anyone wishing to deny Christ only need deny the character of a teenage girl. It’s not the most watertight basis for a claim of divinity. But isn’t this like our God that he throws his lot in with the unproven and stands in solidarity with the unlikely? And when the character of those he stands with is rubbished, his image is tarnished too.” – Laura Florisson

New life is always a gift. This is true today and we can be sure that this is true of Jesus born over two thousand years ago. A baby born is always good news and Jesus birth is the Ultimate good-news story of the day. It was (and is) God screaming to all creation ‘you are not alone – I AM with you!’

In your fears, I AM with you.

In your anxiety, I AM with you.

In your shame, I AM with you.

In your pain, I AM with you.

In your uncertainty, I AM with you.

In your brokenness, I AM with you.

In the chaos of Christmas, I AM with you.

The great I AM comes in the form of new-life and new-life is to be found everywhere. Can you see it, even amidst the chaos? Because paradoxically the joy and peace of Christmas can also be found there. So pause. Remember Him. Examine His life. His words. His actions. Look for the many signs of new life all around you. Oh… and of His birth? Consider what it is His birth represents.

“All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

For when it’s all said and done everything is going to be just fine. A baby has been born.

Merry Christmas.

BK

*Not sponsored. I simply admire their work

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Roses, Roller-coasters and Unfailing Love

In 2012 the most frequent question asked of Google was ‘what is love?’ Seriously!? Of all the thoughts and ideas and facts to be devoured in our information saturated world the most desired enquired and sought after topic was,

The mind-altering-behavior-bending-soul-breaking-loneliness-elixir, THE BIG L, that’s right I’m talking about ‘that word, say it clear now, L.O.V.E. love.’ (whatever happened to the Rockmelons anyway? Hehe.)

It’s either really important to lots of people, or, we’re all sitting at home on the weekend lonely as all get-up seeking comfort from a search engine – totally legit reason I guess. Oh… and for the record in 2013 we asked Google ‘what is twerking’ more than any other question. Wow. No. Comment. Necessary.

So at the risk of alienating half of my reader-list I want to talk about LOVE. The nasty the wonderful and everything in-between. I figure that if we’re interested enough to seek wisdom from an inanimate object then I’m probably justified and qualified to comment.

L O V E  I S  C O N F U S I N G

Now… before you roll your eyes at yet another love-blog-post I challenge you to take a moment and consider what it is you actually understand about love. For those of us in an English speaking culture we’re a little disadvantaged when it comes to talking about love. Many cultures use multiple words to describe the different types of love that can be expressed and experienced. But aside from adding the occasional adjective to help clarify our use of the word, there is only one word to describe this life altering state of being. It’s any wonder we attribute and equate love with all sorts of different things.

I think it is fair to say most people think a lot about the subject of love, and you can be sure there are as many different definitions of love as there are people who consider it. Why does this matter? Because what one understands about love informs how one experiences love, which will inevitably affect how one holds the love of another. And EVERYONE has an opinion and an experience of love. It’s fair to say that the confusion about love is often because people are speaking a different language even though they are using the same word!

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You see the way I love my brother is different to the way I love my children, but to both my brother and my children I say ‘I love you’. The way I love my parents is different to the way I love my wife. But to both my parents and my wife I say ‘I love you’. And whilst it is true that I love my brother, children, parents and wife, ‘I love you’ means something very different to each of them as they receive those words from me. It’s any wonder we get confused and desperate to understand love.

So on our quest to better understand and describe love we turn to metaphors of contrast. People refer to things like the ‘white knuckle relationship roller coaster’. You know that feeling? The terrifying and exhilarating experience as we travel at breakneck speed clinging on for dear life through the love induced relational highs and lows? Or perhaps you identify with the more romantic amongst us who like to think of love as a rose. A symbol of searing beauty with velvet red petals inviting us closer with its alluring sweet scent. We reach out to take hold of this prized beauty only to discover that is has the power and potential to cut deep with its viscous thorns (thank you Bette Midler… if you’re under the age of thirty you can Google that too). It seems there is no end to imagery and art dedicated to describe the paradox that is love.

P L E A S U R E  &  P A I N

Love is enchanting. Love can cost. Love fills us with passion for another. Love can make us furious with anger. Love is beautiful and to love is also to risk pain, rejection and hurt. Love discovered is wonderful, and love lost is excruciating. It really is bizarre, and it leaves me wondering how one emotion can cause people to behave in such diverse and opposite ways?

Heaven knows that I have made a mess of love often enough, but…

“I have come to accept that much of how I experience life is directly related to how I hold love and what I expect of it.”

So I ask you again, what do you understand love to be? How do you hold it? And what do you expect of it? Because sometimes it sure feels like love can fail us.

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A loving husband fails a hurting wife with a careless word.

A parent’s love fails an abused child and their world is no longer safe.

A son’s love fails a lonely and aging parent when they don’t call.

A loving woman fails her self by giving into the expectations for love from others.

A man fails his closest friends when he is found out to be living a double life.

And we begin to think that love has failed us.

L O V E  I S  A L W A Y S  G O O D

But is it possible for love to fail? I’m not so sure. Love is in essence always good, but it’s important to remember that love is always outworked and controlled by people – fallible, broken, and imperfect people. Whilst it is true that people may fail in their endeavor to love-well, I would argue that Unfailing Love still remains.

When life, relationships and experiences feel like shifting sand beneath our feet it is important to remember that Love has not shifted with it. Love can be known, held well and experienced fully. It is found in the One who is described as ‘pure love’. Whilst there are not words adequate to completely and comprehensively describe this love heres a few words that work for me:

Unfailing Love is…

Strong – Humble – Sacrificial – Intimate – Hospitable – Generous – Committed – Gracious…

There’s more to be said but that’s not a bad start.

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I don’t know about you, but I could do with a love like that. I know that I can’t always be that for another, nor should I come to expect that others can always be that for me, but I sure will try. And I’d like to think that others will also try to extend this sort of love in return. Inevitably we’ll fail to do this well but it’s then that I choose to remember the One who has and does extend love in this way.

The song at the beginning of this post is wonderful, I really do like it* (kudos to Jess, Dan and the Insideout team for writing and recording such fantastic music). It reminds me of some of the most beautiful words ever written on the subject of love. That in spite of the fallible nature of human affection there is such a love that demands my attention and embrace, that there IS such a thing as Unfailing Love.

May this inform how we hold, understand, and offer love.

BK

*Not sponsored

St. Valentine was probably a virgin

Valentine’s day is upon us, and I for one am looking forward to it! Like many, I always enjoy the chance to celebrate love shared with my wife. But Valentine’s Day seems to give us permission to celebrate this in a way that other days do not. I have to ask why? What is it about Feb 14 that it demands attention of lovers the world over? Why does this day hold such special significance? And what exactly are we celebrating anyway?

It is significant for me NOT because I spoil my wife with the obligatory roses and Lindt dark chocolate. Nor do we see it as a reason to find an overpriced hotel room and make love late into the night – as if we need an excuse for that anyway (pretty sure many of you are wishing I had not said that… over share?). It is significant because I see it as an opportunity to remember the KIND of love that makes our relationship. Let me explain.

A lot of the hoohaa surrounding valentines day is based on the hope of individuals who desire to be swept off their feet and showered with gifts. This supposed act of romance and love is basically an expression of worship at the altar of ME. That is –

“I, the demigod deserving of ALL attention and affection, will be celebrated, honoured and ravished beyond reason, because I simply DESERVE this sort of treatment. I need not do anything to earn it, I simply have a right to be treated this way, because I AM the most important person in the world.”

This is a reflection of some of the most common motivations observed in our culture – the individuals desire to be known, revered and adored… basically, to be treated like a god. In old-school terms we call it idolatry.

Furthermore, the measure of success relating to such attention is viewed through the lens of sexual power. On Valentines Day many a person will seek out a Valentine’s date with a view to being ravished at the altar of desire. Whilst many don’t think twice about such an encounter, for some it is the ultimate sign of a successful Valentine’s Day. For some, they even feel loved for a moment (or two… if they’re lucky). Who can blame them? Such an encounter only resembles the attitude and inference of the numerous trashy rom-coms beamed into our homes 24/7. And what of it you say? Well, when a quickie and a one night stand is portrayed as either comical or the pinnacle of personal ecstasy, humans are devalued and love is cheapened. It’s a bit like bingeing on a bag of Snakes Alive but convincing yourself you’re dining on fine Belgian truffles.

This is far from the original significance associated with Valentine’s Day. February 14 has an origin and a history, and like most things its truth and significance are found there. The legend of St. Valentine extends far beyond the often ascribed commercial value of roses, chocolates and meaningless sex. It is a powerful reminder of the essential nature of love and what love really looks like.

St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught aiding and marrying young Christian couples who were under persecution by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. It is said that Claudius took a liking to this prisoner, and understandably so. After all, Valentinus was attributed with healing a prison guard’s blind daughter. However Valentinus made one fatal mistake. He tried to convert the Emperor and as a consequence on February 14, 269 CE he was sentenced to death, beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him he was then beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Valentinus was later made the patron Saint of love, young people and happy marriages.

St. Valentine is mostly remembered for his willingness to help those who were being persecuted – the outcast, marginalised and disadvantaged. He was known for his commitment to serve those with need. He was known for his willingness to live for the sake of others, even at the cost of his own life. Indeed his desire to see young love set free in marriage when the present authorities would not recognise their union was in itself an act of love. It could be said that his willingness to share his faith in God with the Emperor, who ultimately ordered his death, was motivated by love. And indeed his willingness to do these things, knowing it could well cost him his life, demonstrates love in the highest order. It seems that personal gain, adoration and pleasure were not at all part of the equation for St. Valentine.

The life and love expressed by St. Valentine was nothing like an episode of Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Two and a Half Men or Two Broke Girls. The life of St. Valentine displays something far more meaningful.

A love that seeks to serve the other, not the self.

An active love, demonstrated by personal cost.

A love that fights for human rights and personal freedom.

A love that celebrates the sanctity of marriage and elevates the beauty of that.

Perhaps Jesus said it best –

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (TNIV)

So… long after the chocolates are eaten, the roses are dead and the physical pleasure is gone, what kind of love will you celebrate on Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine stood for the kind of love that deserves our full attention. It was tough, gritty, sacrificial and real. He offered the greatest possible human expression of love – his life. That’s the kind of love that will sustain a relationship for the long haul. It’s the kind of love that anyone can outwork regardless of their relationship status. And that is the kind of love that I choose to celebrate on Valentine’s Day.

Over to you… How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? What action demonstrates this kind of love to someone special in your life? How can you express these attributes of love in the everyday?

BK