The Christmas Letter I’d like to write

nativitystorythe_photos_1“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

At this time of year many people write and share a recount of the year that has been. They assemble great photos to illustrate their ventures, and list the things they and their family have achieved at work, at school, at home, at church, the house renovations and holidays.

While it is great to reflect on and share all these blessings, in thankfulness to the God who grants them, I can’t help thinking the ‘rosy Christmas letter’ can be somewhat discouraging to others, to people who consider their own personal achievements as nothing but disappointing by comparison. Perhaps their circumstances and God’s plans have taken them down a more difficult and lonely path. (And if I am being honest, such loneliness occurs even in the midst of a busy household at times.)

So, if I were to write an honest Christmas letter about the struggles of the year, here are some of the things I would like to share – to help others know they are not alone. Life is hard and being a Christian doesn’t magically end the difficulties, but God is good and there is joy to be found in Christ amidst the difficulties.

In 2016:
* I have faced ongoing challenges as a parent, spouse, home owner and friend. I have fought to love my children and husband, to serve selflessly.
* I have faced various mysterious and apparently unrelated health issues, which have shown only slight signs of improvement. These challenges will continue in the New Year.
* I have fought the discouragement of watching others pursue fulfilment apart from Christ, and disappointment with myself for not knowing how/being willing to challenge others for such attitudes.
* I have fought to acknowledge the reality of God and his grace in my own thinking about the circumstances of day to day living.
* I have fought disappointment with myself when I see pride or envy, or any of the things Christ died for, rising up in me again.
* I have worked hard as a teacher, with many many unseen extra hours of toil. While this brings some moments of great joy, largely it is draining and I see little gain for all my efforts.
* I have sometimes been cold to others and showed little genuine concern for them.

* I have become more aware of my own sin and selfishness.
* I feel like I have aged more and had worse quality sleep this year than any to date. The ‘days of trouble’ that the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of have certainly arrived (or at least made an appearance).
* I have been hooked on checking my phone notifications and other comforts that I selfishly enjoy.
* I have battled against staying up later than I should, mindless television and being more excited about things that have no eternal value than I should be!

But all these things do NOT bring me to a point of despair! (Sorry if it sounds that way.) These struggles prove that Christ is at work in me and this is the main reason I can be joyful this Christmas!

As James says (1:2-4): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The ‘World’ just doesn’t get this. They think we have bought into a big fat lie which only brings us guilt and hard work.
But we have met the risen Saviour, we have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, God with us, Immanuel!
What else can we do but follow him?

Blessings to you this Christmas,
from Ros

All together – yet not connected?

alone together.pngA while ago I posted this on Face Book (with some degree of frustration). It was met with widespread affirmation!
“Wish this was in the Bible: Dear children, you will gain much freedom and respect by showing self-control in your use of digital technology, which feeds egos and selfishness (there is a reason for the label ‘i’ on many of these devices) and largely discourages you from living out your faith by acts of kindness and service. What really matters is faith expressed in loving action. Don’t be slaves to the inertia of the digital interface…but slaves of Christ, free children of God. You are my hands and feet, not just my fingers.”

It seems that many Christian parents are also struggling with the digital revolution and the changes it has made for how our teens are relating to us and each other.

Earlier this year our Sunday paper included a news article about “iPlods“- a rather sad nickname for the primary school children involved in their research. These children were so unfit and lacking in basic core strength, they didn’t have control over their core muscles. They exhibited “an inability to control what their spines were doing. . . The vast majority did not have the core strength, flexibility or co-ordination to achieve exercises considered “basic foundations” of movement.” (Schools put iPlods through their paces, June 30, Sunday Mail)

But the problem is not just potential long term physical damage, or missing out on the simple joys of childhood. The problem is for adults, teens and children alike. The problem is with the tendencies of our selfish hearts, expressed here in Philippians 2:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

How precisely does this nail what is wrong with this “i”-everything era? Paul could have penned this as a direct instruction to us in 2016! Despite its many useful applications, modern technology both feeds and makes socially acceptable (and desirable?) our desire to be selfish. We can now sit and play endlessly throughout the day and night, amusing ourselves and ignoring others. We (think we) look very sophisticated, very advanced. Yet this perception makes it just that much harder to disconnect from our self-interest and tune in to the needs and interests of those around us.

Casting Crowns, in the song ‘House of Their Dreams’ (Album:”Thrive” 2014), described this modern plight, or perhaps blight!
“Now they’re trapped in their own worlds, in their own wars
With their cell phones and the closed doors
It’s funny how quiet and peaceful that it seems
But they’re all alone together
In the house of their dreams.”
This chorus holds up to us a shocking mirror-image of the reality so many of us have fallen into – sitting in separate rooms, plugged into our own distractions and missing out on the relationships we have been planted in the midst of. Perhaps it is time to dig ourselves out of this sad situation?

It can start with simply putting the phone down – or unplugging the Wifi!

 

Is your Smart phone making you dumb?

driving texting dangerousSmart phone technology has brought many radical social changes in the last decade or so. People are doing things (without a second thought) that were once considered really stupid or anti-social. Who would have thought we humans would try operating a motor vehicle while staring at a three-inch screen? Or walking on a train platform doing the same? Imagine sitting with a group of friends and gazing intently at the palm your hand, offering them no conversation or eye contact! Perhaps you have already observed some of these odd and addictive tendencies in the people around you – and most frighteningly, in yourself!

A columnist in our local paper just confessed to being a phonoholic. “My phone has become the 207th bone in my body. I think I would feel barely upright without it. . . Such a feeling has been named nomophonophobia – the fear of being without your mobile phone.” (J. Fynes-Clinton, Sept 26, 2013)

Smartphones don’t discriminate in taking prisoners! It is not only those selfie-taking tween addicts who are at risk of losing all their ‘smarts’ to their smart phone. In fact, our “selfie-obsessed” Prime Minister posted his latest shaving cut via Instagram just weeks before the election (he lost). So, before we all lose our common sense to our smart phones, let’s ‘hang up’ on excessive smart phone use. Here are 10 things you should know about your awesome smart phone (before you find yourself cast in the sequel of Dumb and Dumber To):

1. Smart phones don’t make you smarter and won’t make you happy.
Yep, they sure are sleek, complex and nifty little gadgets that do cool things. They can connect you to a web of ‘friends’, music, video, games and the latest social news – but they may detract from your wisdom, intelligence and satisfaction level. You can become so reliant on mobile google that you give up thinking or remembering anything! Smart phones may make you look cool, acceptable and impress your friends, but there are more important things in life, which can bring greater and lasting joy.

2. People are better than Smart phones.galaxy-s4-life-companion
Have we forgotten this?  People are unique and complex individuals. They have more potential to surprise, entertain and inspire you than anything you’ll flick by on the small screen. Living, three-dimensional, high resolution people make far better company. No matter what Samsung may tell you, your smart phone is not a ‘life companion’. People are way smarter and worth investing in. Try paying close attention to their faces, eyes and body language – and see what happens. Don’t become so dependent on that small screen that you lose touch with real people and relationships.

3. They make you forget basic good manners and conversation skills.
Smart phones make us think it is acceptable to silently stare at a little screen in the presence of another human being, especially when everyone else is doing it! (Actually, everyone else has to do it so they don’t feel ignored!) We even think it’s fine to do so when someone is actually speaking to us. Hello!?

4. They tempt you to build your self-esteem on how many people like your social media updates.
How easy to become addicted to that sort of affirmation when it is at your fingertips? Do you really need to know that people like your latest meal or cup of coffee? Smart phones encourage us to binge on social media. Turning off those distracting phone notifications may allow you to engage fully with people in the moment.

attention-while-walking5. You look pretty silly when your phone is constantly in hand.
And you’ll looking sillier if you injure yourself while walking and typing. In New Jersey, police began (May 2012) issuing $85 citations for careless walking, and the Utah Transit Authority made distracted walking around trains punishable by a $50 fine. Signage is also being used widely to reduce pedestrian accidents caused by texting. Try putting the thing in your bag or pocket, or in another room. And by the way, smart phones and toilets don’t mix well for many reasons!


6. They tempt us to be a stupid driver who texts or updates Facebook while driving.
How easy would it be to stop the car to attend to that important text message? Facebook also can wait! If you must recharge your phone in the front of the car, shut it in the glove box or put it out of reach so you won’t be easily tempted. (Besides that, it is pretty stupid not to avoid a fine for being on your phone while driving, if you can.)

7. Smart phone technology addiction can actually rewire your brain, to be less smart!
In “The Brain that Changes Itself” (2008) author Norman Doidge says that our dependence on this technology can rewire our brains to the extent that it becomes difficult to concentrate on a complex conversation or listen to a lecture. “Electronic media are so effective at altering the nervous system because that both work in similar ways. . . Both involve the instantaneous transmission of electronic signals to make linkages. Because our nervous system is plastic*, it can take advantage of this compatibility and merge with the electronic media, making a single, larger system. . . Now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull, and his nerves outside his skin” (p.311). At the very least, excessive smart phone use discourages us from tackling problems, conversations, a novel or the philosophical writings of great thinkers. Why? Because these things do not involve the instantaneous gratification of electronic media.
(‘Plastic’ means it can change and adapt.)

8. Your eyes can suffer.
Those muscles for distance vision will become weak if you are staring at a small screen constantly, keeping your eyes operating at the same focal length all the time. Researchers have actually recorded an increase in myopia (short-sightedness). Read more here.

9. Sleep can become elusive.electronic-light-sleep
The glow of the smart phone screen prevents our bodies releasing seratonin, which helps us fall and stay asleep. Your brain needs sleep to be smart – so again the smart phone doesn’t make you smart. No smart phones in your bed/bedroom may be a smart policy in your home (and mine). Read more here

10. Excessive self-absorption will not make the world a better place.
The idea of showing a random act of kindness or service to someone else can become so far-removed from our thought patterns if we are no longer observing the people around us. Blinkers are for horses, not for people – people who have the power to impact those around them for good. If you want to see more good, more love, more thoughtfulness in the world, take off those smart phone blinkers and live again!

(Check out this post about a guy who is going to divorce his iphone: http://www.oddcrunch.com/why-you-should-get-a-divorce/0)

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23 things my dad taught me

Martin McilrathToday we are celebrating Father’s Day in Australia. (Happy Father’s day to Martin!) This year sees me finally reaching half my dad’s age! Yesterday I went looking for a photo of him from around the time I was born (since it would be my current age and make for a good comparison). And yes, my husband soon came out with ‘you look like your dad’. The similarities are more than simply physical though, and it got me thinking about the things I do and think that come from him. So I compiled a list of the lessons I learned while living as the daughter of a dairy/beef farmer – jack of all trades – Mr fix and build everything – dad!

1. It’s important to have and display common sense, don’t be foolish.
2. Don’t throw anything away, it might be useful one day (btw, my dad was born into the Great Depression).
3. Think and learn and believe you can do things. Try new and ambitious plans – don’t defeat yourself before you start. Be creative and take initiative, invent things, repair things. Don’t let mistakes or challenges defeat you.
4. Don’t just sit there – get up and do something..
5. God is real and church is important so be there, be serving his family.
6. You stay married – no options exist.
7. God is sovereign over the weather and the harvest, and the days of your life.
8. The universe and natural world are fascinating places to discover and study. Take time to notice the sky, clouds, stars, planets, lightning.
9. Know what’s going on in the world.
10. Be calm and patient if people yell at you.
11. Sitting in the sun is worthwhile and relaxing.
12. Cats apparently don’t mind being thrown 6 metres in the air and landing in a pine tree.
13. Dogs are friends and you should always have one.
14. Porridge is the best breakfast.
15. Huge spiders aren’t going to jump off walls in the night and eat you.
16. New is not always better
17. You can do much with little

And in terms of music, here are some of the many things I learned from him:

18. To Love music!
19. Choir-singing is fun.
20. You can teach yourself an instrument if you try (so I have, several)!
21. How to tune a piano – and in fact, replace a broken string by making one yourself. (I have never tried this however!)
22. How to sing good harmony.
23. Good theology in hymns is important and worth defending.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment.
    Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul.
    They are like jewels on a necklace.
(Proverbs 3:21-22)

Ps. My daughter just reminded me of another: You must shut the fridge because ‘the penguins are coming’.
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