POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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Down slippery steps and up hilly climbs,
On dark wet streets at Christmas time.
Walk the people of Noddfa – young and old,
Carrying a message of the greatest story ever told.

A message of Mercy,
A message of Grace,
A message of light to those in a dark place.

Of a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son,
To die in our place so that justice could be done.
And in His resurrection He gives us the power to change,
To live with greater purpose and meaning away from a life of heartache and pain.

Each Christmas card has been posted, sown with tears,
Yet they have often been received by mocking voices and jeers.

But if you believe our message is false and we are here simply by chance,
Why do you exchange gifts at Christmas and sing carols and dance?
Why do you hang decorations and put up a tree?
For none of this behaviour happens naturally.
If there is no God and we are just sentient apes,
Why bother hanging stockings up on your fireplace?
The Christmas lights and tinsel are all well and good,
But without remembering the birth of Jesus,
My friends, Christmas is misunderstood.

For it is only in Christ you can know true joy,
Not in the short-term pleasures of unwrapping that new toy.
For it is only in Christ you can know God’s Fatherly protection,
And receive the gift of eternal life in His Son’s perfection.

Yes Father Christmas is fun, a myth and a game,
But the story of Jesus is true and not quite the same.
Whilst Santa Claus is checking his list and checking it twice,
Jesus gifts you Grace – regardless of whether you have been naughty or nice.

You see the secret to a happy Christmas, one filled with good cheer,
Is to have Jesus at its very centre, we pray that you do not let him disappear.

So when our Christmas card is posted through your door,
I pray you do not use it to line your rabbit hutch floor.
Neither tear it or fold it or chuck it straight in the bin,
Rather take a moment and read the message within.
A personal invite for you to come,
to Noddfa church and celebrate with us the birth of God the Son.

We’ve posted 2,000 of these Christmas cards across our valley with love.
2,000 Christmas cards containing a message of peace from God above.

We’ve posted in the cold and the rain and the dark,
so you can have an invite to Carols Under the Arch.

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

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Christmas, Golden Rats and Tumours.

I was asked by the local primary school to come in the week before Christmas to give an assembly. 

This year I called upon some (incredibly excited) young volunteers to come up to the front and help me build and decorate a Christmas tree.

Each child told me what their favourite part of the Christmas tree was; some said the tinsel, others the lights, some said the ball balls, most said the star at the top.

I then explained to the children what my favourite part of the Christmas tree was.

It is often seen as the most boring part of all. It is often overlooked and hidden away, it is ugly and unglamorous. Yet without it, the entire tree, with all of its glitter and gold falls down. 

My favourite part of the tree is its base.

I then removed the base of the Christmas tree and to the shock of the assembled classes, it fell (timber), crashing to the floor and was left in a messy pile.

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The point I was making became very clear to the children. Without the foundational message of Christmas, the love of God made profoundly tangible in the incarnation of Christ, all the glitz and glamour that the festivities have now become will fall. 

Without the Gospel message all the tinsel and bright lights become a meaningless mess of materialism. Without the Gospel message Christmas is an all-consuming catastrophe.

Seeing the felled tree in all of its tragic sadness was the perfect symbol of Christmas without Christ and it made me think of the fallen statue of Dagon in 1 Samuel 4-7.

Dagon, was the god of the Philistines and father of Baal and is believed to have been the god of grain, other historians argue fish, either way Dagon was a god of worldly provision, a god that represents the same consumerism and materialism that ‘Christmas’ has now become in the west.

Like the Christmas tree at the school assembly, Dagon once stood tall on a pedestal in the Philistine home of Ashdod. Like the Christmas tree in our assembly, Dagon was a symbol of plenty and prosperity, with gifts laid at its feet. 

But one morning, the Philistines found Dagon face down on the floor, broken and in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

So what happened?

Well, in 1 Samuel 4 we read of a great war between Israel and the Philistines.

Israel had been badly beaten, so they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle. 

The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred gold covered chest with two cherubim on its lid and resided in the Holy of Holies. It was very precious, no human being could touch it and live.

The chest contained the ten commandments, Aarons rod and a golden jar of Manna and it represented God’s presence on earth.

The Israelites brought their sacred Ark to the battle field, it was their ace card. God’s presence on earth. How could they possibly be beaten with the Ark of the Covenant fighting alongside them? 

Even the Philistines believed they were done for, they showed fear at the presence of the living God on the front line (1 Samuel 4:7).

The battle raged on with the Ark leading the charge, but alas, it made no difference. The Philistines beat the Israelites again and captured their precious artefact. 

They took the Ark home and placed it before Dagon (their god of worldly provision). 

The next day we find Dagon where we began this story, flat on his face, in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

Before the Ark of the Lord, Dagon (and all that he represents) could not stand on its own, it had to be propped up by mere human hands (1 Samuel 5:3).

Dagon fell like our Christmas tree in the assembly and the Philistines began to suffer for their mistake, they faced plagues of rats followed by tumours. All was taken from them because they valued worldly grain over the bread of Heaven. 

Through their suffering they could see their mistake. But rather than give up their materialism, they made preparations to send the Ark away, back to where it came from. 

Ironically they used their wealth to build gold rats and tumours to give to God as a guilt offering in an attempt to pay Him off and lift the curse. (Imagine receiving a Gold tumour for Christmas – not nice).

The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart and attached two calves who had never been yoked, to it (1 Samuel 6:7). 

The calves knew no trails to follow and would naturally seek their mothers breast back home. But governed by the Sovereign Lord, they were directed back to Israel. 

In this act God proved once again that He is Sovereign Lord of all and worthy of primary position in our lives.

Like the Christmas tree in our school assembly, Dagon had fallen and with it all the wealth and prosperity he symbolised and the God of the Bible proved Himself as sovereign Lord of All.

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So what can we learn from this?

Well God’s people (the Israelites) were guilty of using the Ark of the Covenant in much the same way as the Philistines used their idol Dagon. They wanted God to work for them. They thought if we bring the Ark to battle, God will have to step up and win the day for us.

As Christians we often do the same at Christmas, the festive season has become our ace card. We all know that for one month a year, society welcomes our message and we make every effort to capitalise on it. 

We hold carol services, Christmas parties, nativities, dinners and pray that the Lord will bless the outreach because of our efforts. And just like the Philistines who feared the Ark when it was on the front line, during the festive season, the world buys into it to! Many people will be captivated by our message and will claim to fear the Lord. But when they take the Ark home it will sit at the feet of Dagon before being sent on its way again.

Church, we must not make the same mistake as the Israelites did with the Ark and approach Christmas as an ace card.

Yes we must fight the good fight of faith and hold the events and capitalise on the season, but we must do this remembering that God is Sovereign and His supremacy over this world is independent of us and our festive gimmicks to get bums on seats. 

The real message of Christmas, the real base that keeps the tree standing, is not simply that God came to earth in flesh as the historic person Jesus of Nazareth to redeem us (as mind blowing as this is). The real message of Christmas is that God is sovereign in all things and we should be utterly amazed and grateful that in His absolute power and supremacy over this world, He had the Grace and love and the desire to come and save us, independent of our efforts.

So this Christmas, I pray that in God’s strength we can keep our eyes focussed on Him in the battle for souls and not put our hope in the excitement of the festivities and the opportunities they bring.

God is Sovereign and He will win the day on His terms, not ours. Pray that it is His will to do so this Christmas.

 

 

Christmas Outreach

Cards

This week we are distributing 1000 Christmas cards around our community, introducing our neighbours to the church and inviting them to our various Christmas services.

This is a huge investment of both time and resource for our little church and we are praying that the Lord will bless the outreach during the festivities. As we prepare to hit the streets Psalm 126 (see below) spoke directly to me.

Psalm 126 was sung by the post exilic Jews as they ascended back home up to Jerusalem from their captor Babylon. 

As Christians we are much like these weary travelers, currently in exile, captive in an alien land. As we journey home (to Heaven) we thank God for all He has done in our lives and how our Salvation is secured in the death and resurrection of His Son, King Jesus!

Despite our many, many failures, we can come to Zion with “mouths filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” because there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).

God’s Grace surpasses anything that I have done or could do wrong. On the Cross Christ paid the debt for my sin in full! Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is not our deeds that have saved us; it is faith in God’s own work in His Son Jesus Christ! This is why we Christians can sing with the Psalmist “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

In verse four the Psalm turns us away from rejoicing in our own salvation to prayer.

The Psalmist asks the Lord to “restore our fortunes, like streams in the Negev”. The Psalmist is saying let the streams that were dry fill back up with water. It is a request to God to restore the fortunes of His church, to fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit, to wash us clean and let the Gospel flow out to the lost in our community.

Is this not what every Christian in Wales is praying for this Christmas?

These exiled Jews were singing praises to God as they walked home to Jerusalem, they were “filled with joy”, but God gave them a burden to look back and think of the lost, their families and friends whom decided not to follow them to Zion. Those who “the Lord has done great things for” look back and cry out for those who are far from Him.

The final two verses follow on from this picture.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

The Psalmist gives us an illustration of a farmer sowing seeds. To understand this illustration fully, we must remember the context it was written in.

Remember the timing of this Psalm, the exiles were not journeying to Solomon’s wealthy Jerusalem lined with gold. They were returning home post exile. Jerusalem had fallen; burned down by the Babylonians, it was in a mess, broken, dilapidated and derelict. It had been left to crumble and had little arable land, so food was very scarce.

These Exiles who walked to Jerusalem rejoicing were also poor and desolate. All they had was but a few seeds in hand to start a new life. So when they planted them it was with tears!

Why?

Because everything (and I mean everything), relied on their next yield! If the crop failed they would have nothing to eat, they would die and so would any hope for Jerusalem.

Is this not a picture of the church in the Welsh Valleys today?

As we walk up to our old churches as these exiles were ascending to Jerusalem. We see huge buildings that once thrived with life, but are now empty and aging and incurring greater costs to maintain.

Yet, like these exiles we still gather in a small but faithful group, an aging group with limited resources.

With just a handful of seeds between us we pray no differently to those who originally sang this Psalm.

Yes, God has blessed us, as he did these people who with joy walked to Jerusalem. But once they got there they were still in a serious situation!

As a small Valley church we thank God that the lights are still on, but where is the Christian witness in the Welsh Valley towns going to be in a decade, when the core members are with the Lord and there is nothing left to keep the doors open? Humanly speaking, the Christian witness in the Welsh Valleys will be extinguished!

We are at a point in our church history where everything (and I mean everything) is totally reliant on the next yield! Society is not pushing people in for us anymore and we can’t rely on the children of the faithful, for they have all grown up and moved away.

We are not living in Solomon’s Jerusalem, rich with harvest! The land that was once rich to farm has fallen, it has now grown over, filled with thorns and stones.

But all is not lost!

In Psalm 126 the returning exiles were not starting from nothing, they had legacy and belief, they had the rubble that once was Jerusalem and faith that it could return to former glory.

Many of the churches in the Welsh Valley’s gather in single digits, but we can rejoice that we still have some input in today’s society. We are still called upon to hatch, match and dispatch those in the community and at Christmas people do still come in! Praise God!

We might be farming in the rubble, but at least we are not left with nothing!

So, what are we going to do about it?

For the church to rebuild again it needs some exile attitude! Faith in God and some serious elbow grease to cultivate the land again!

We are in the rubble of a post-Christian society, and we are totally reliant on the next yield for survival!

We must work the land! We must sow the seed! (In our case 1000  Christmas cards!)

Yes! It is going to be a hard graft, especially with all the hills, steep roads and bad weather. Yes! We are going to face opposition and dogs attacking our fingers through letter boxes!

We are going out to sow in barren land, filled with rubble and thorns. But the Lord is good! He tells us that “Those who go out weeping,  carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”

What a promise! It should drive us to service!

This Christmas

I urge you to pray for all the small Valley Churches as we seek to use the festivities to evangelise to the lost! Pray for every card, poster, flier and leaflet, and pray that they will be read and retained.

We must not sow seeds as if it was a marketing exercise, it is not a mere numbers game! We must “sow them with tears” because of a God given burden for the lost. We must “sow them with tears” understanding that the church in the Welsh Valleys is in such a desperate state, we must “sow them with tears” knowing that we are but one generation from extinction, we must “sow them with tears” leaning and trusting totally on God, the Lord of the Harvest.

Those that can’t climb the hills and sow the seed in great numbers, remember it is better to cultivate one seed that brings forth fruit than sow hundreds that do not. You maybe old and infirm, but you still have a duty to pray for the work and use the relationships you do have in the community to personally invite those the Lord has burdened you with into His church.

We are God’s means and we must do the possible why we still can so that He can do the impossible and revive His Church!

For those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy,  carrying sheaves with them.

 

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

    we were like those who dreamed,

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,

    our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us,

    and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,

    like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow with tears

    will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping,

    carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy,

    carrying sheaves with them.