Category Archives: Family Life

Growing Out of the Family Tree

One of my daughters has recently been doing some schoolwork on family trees and family history.  In trying to answer her questions about her ancestors, I have had to do some research of my own.  In fact, I have also been inspired to go beyond the information she needs.  I’ve not gone as far as registering with “” and I’m not in line to appear on the TV show “Who do you think you are?” but I have to say I am genuinely interested in my family’s history.

I also recognise that you might not be, and that you might be dreading what’s coming next… don’t worry – I’ll keep my stories to myself!  What I would like to share with you is a reflection about the relationship between history and legacy.  A good way to illustrate this is to consider what we know about Jesus.

There are a number of different ways of looking at Jesus’ history.  If we wanted a starter for ten, we could do far worse than the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  In this sentence, Matthew tells his readers some key facts about Jesus.  Abraham was the founding father of the Jewish nation, and David was the nation’s most celebrated king.  To have both of these in your family tree was a real privilege and Matthew knew that writing this down would cause his readers to sit up and take notice.

As we read on we discover a whole load more interesting stuff.  It’s largely hidden from people with little knowledge of the Old Testament, but Matthew’s first readers would have caught the references very quickly.  There are four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy.  The mention of women in such lists is rare – and therefore this is significant.  When we look more closely, we may be startled by the stories we uncover…

As well as Mary, whose story we know well, Jesus’ family tree includes a woman called Tamar who pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law in order to trick her way into some kind of inheritance.  Then there’s Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who betrayed her king and city by hiding the Israelite spies and lying to the police.  There’s also Bathsheba: Matthew’s entry reads simply, “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah”, but the story behind this note is dark – when his adulterous affair caused Bathsheba to fall pregnant and he couldn’t hide it any longer, David (the King) had Uriah (one of his most loyal soldiers) murdered.

So Jesus’ family tree contains histories of deception, prostitution, treachery, adultery, betrayal and murder.  Yet look at how he turned out… trustworthy, truthful, compassionate and kind, courageous and steadfast; the epitome of selfless love.  His family’s history didn’t prevent him from leaving the most amazing legacy the world has ever seen.  There’s encouragement here for anyone who looks with sadness at their family background; Jesus understands.  Our families may describe us, but they don’t need to define us.  Whatever our past, we should work to leave a positive legacy.

The Easter Mystery

Over the last few years, the Meaningful Chocolate Company has been selling what it calls the Real Easter Egg.  There are a number of features of this egg that set it apart from the others on the market.  First of all, it’s made with FairTrade chocolate.  This means that the people who grow the cocoa beans are being paid a fair wage for their labour.  Furthermore, their communities are being helped because the proceeds of a small premium added to the price of each egg are spent on a community project like a school or a well.  There are other FairTrade eggs, of course, but this is a good selling point for anyone with a conscience.

Secondly, a percentage of the profit is given to charity.  This is very rare, if not completely unique.  From egg sales since 2011, the company has donated over £40,000 to different worthy causes.  For a start, there are regular gifts to Traidcraft Exchange, a development charity which helps small-scale farmers and producers all over the world.  In addition to this, money has been given to Baby Lifeline, The Leprosy Mission, and Christians Against Poverty.  This latter organisation is a national charity working across the UK to lift people out of debt and poverty, offering free debt counselling through a network of 252 debt centres based in local churches.  You might like to know that Christ Church Ware is one of those churches – help really is “at hand” in these financially troubling times.  Buying a Real Easter Egg really does produce all kinds of ripples of good in this country and overseas.

But the third aspect is what makes this egg the Real Easter Egg; it has the Easter story on or in the box.  The company’s founder wrote recently, “When we first revealed the Real Easter Egg, I was asked by a journalist, ‘What’s Easter got to do with the church?’ I had to explain that Easter is in fact a religious festival and not owned by Cadbury!  This year, The Real Easter Egg radio advert was rejected by the radio authority.  They seemed unsure if Easter was Christian and so wanted our advert to say that our eggs had a copy of the ‘Easter Christian story’ in the box.  We argued the point and they have decided that, ‘on balance’, Easter is a well-known Christian festival.” 

But it’s less well known than it was.  In March 2005, the Daily Mail reported that just 48% of British people questioned said that Easter was about the Resurrection of Christ.  Two years later, on 3rd April 2007, a press release from Somerfield supermarket declared, “Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone.  But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus…” (My emphasis)  This was later corrected to read ‘the rebirth’ of Christ, and then, after consultation with the Church of England, a third version correctly identified that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

There’s no doubt about it; ignorance of the world-changing story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is increasing in what has historically been recognised as a Christian country.  Will you be celebrating it this year?  What example does your practice set to your children and grandchildren?  There are plenty of church events, and everyone is most welcome…

The Problem With Not Emptying Your Pockets

I’m sure that most, if not all of you will know the frustration of pulling a load of washing out of the machine only to discover that it’s covered in bits of tissue from someone’s pocket.  The disaster comes in differing degrees, of course:

  • Sometimes the offending tissue remains pretty much contained within the pocket, so there are only a few bits stuck to the rest of the load – predominantly on the garment with the pocket itself. This is annoying, but relatively easy to deal with – you can simply pick the bits off with your fingers.
  • Sometimes the tissue has been shredded by the washing cycle into a large number of pieces which are spread throughout the wash.  This is deeply frustrating because collecting all the little bits is time-consuming, and you’re never sure you’ve managed to gather them all.  In fact, you can almost guarantee that in a few weeks’ time, when you are in a rush to go out to dinner, you’ll discover bits of tissue you missed on the shirt or blouse that you have carefully selected for your special evening.
  • Sometimes, the tissue isn’t so much shredded as utterly disintegrated so that there is a fine covering of paper fibres over every inch of clothing in the wash.  This is the most irritating.  There’s nothing you can do about this except wash the whole lot again, or use one of those sticky lint rollers to clean the “clean” washing.  This latter course of action takes ages, and is never 100% effective.  (I am told that, for the right pieces of clothing, a tumble in the dryer will remove the fluff, but this obviously doesn’t help for the items of clothing that will shrink under heat.)

Perhaps the worst thing about the situation is that you’ve told your children/husband/wife to check their pockets before throwing their clothes in the wash.  A thousand times.  But they just forget.  It’s as if such a menial task is beneath them, and that you don’t deserve them to do it for you.  They will protest it’s nothing personal, of course, just “forgetfulness”, but in the final analysis, each new occurrence is simply evidence of how they view their ease as more precious than yours (they would rather lazily throw their contaminated clothing in the wash than take five seconds to empty the pockets and save you ten minutes).

There are parallels here with how we treat our sin.  Like a dirty tissue in a pocket, tucked away and out of sight, sometimes we are unaware of it.  Occasionally we realise it’s there and resolve to do something about it, but more often than not, we do nothing (after all, it will take effort on our part, and sometimes, however manky it is, we feel somehow reassured that it’s there – just in case we wish to use it).  God, of course, calls us to deal with it – to acknowledge it, bring it out into the open and give it to Jesus.  If we don’t do this, then like a tissue through the washing machine, we can be sure that our sin will begin to affect our neighbours and friends and the quality of our relationships with them.  And the longer we leave it, and however much we claim “I forgot” or “I’ll do it later”, the more he is right to accuse us of selfishness – of not loving our neighbour as ourselves – and we can be sure to receive from him what we deserve.  If, on the other hand, we do as he says and give our sin to Jesus, we have his promise of complete forgiveness.  So why wait?

The Joy of Christmas

“Christmas-time is here, by golly,
disapproval would be folly,
deck the halls with hunks of holly…
Brother, here we go again!”

So sang the comic songwriter, Tom Lehrer, and I wonder how many of us feel the same way, at least sometimes.  Our nation seems to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas, and this, I am sure, is because of what it has become; an excuse to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need.

The pressures applied upon us by society are subtle: “it’s for the kids”, or “our family have always done this.”  We must join in or people will assume we are grumpy old Scrooges.  Because marketing departments promote Christmas as a time of goodwill and happiness, to opt out of their glitzy celebration is to be a miserable killjoy.  Because they assert it is a time of peace, any attempt to expose the shallowness of that peace is fraught with danger.  Disapproval would be folly – indeed!  Our national Christmas celebrations are precious, and to question their validity or helpfulness is to walk a minefield of sensitivities.

And yet I would rather walk that path than by driven by malignant forces of consumerism, materialism and pride.  I too want to assert that Christmas is precious, but for strikingly different reasons.  Despite what the adverts tell us, and what we may have come to believe, Christmas is not primarily a time for families, or for making extravagant gestures highlighting the love we have for one another.  It is first and foremost one celebration amongst many which tell of God’s amazing love for us.

From eternity, God saw how enslaved we were to the whims of the rich and powerful and to our own foolish pride.  He saw we were living only half a life, encumbered by worries, facing an uncertain future and frightened of death.  And he stepped in to rescue us from that oppression in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Christmas is a powerful celebration of God’s first-hand understanding of what it means to be human; in Christ Jesus, God became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

By giving us his Son, God has given us the opportunity of real peace; not the “grit-your-teeth-Aunt-Gertrude-will-be-gone-by-Boxing-Day” kind of peace.  In Jesus, he has given us real joy; not the plastic-grins of sound-activated dancing flowers or the short-lived, hangover-followed merriness of alcohol.  In Jesus he has set us free to be who he created us to be; free from dancing to another’s tune, free to live life in all its fullness with him as our loving Father.

Now that is some Christmas present.  And worth celebrating.  As we make our plans for this Christmas, amidst the noise of the advertisers who would use us to make money for them, so God is calling us to enjoy his freedom.  Will we listen?

Christmas Peace

Christmastime means different things to different people.  To some, it’s precious because the family will all gather together.  To others, it’s a fearful prospect because the family will all gather together!  Some people rejoice in the nostalgia that surrounds Christmas, and remember especially their own happy childhood times.  There’s wonder and joy, feasting and gladness and the giving and receiving of gifts; it is a good season to celebrate with friends and family.  Other people’s experience is tinged with sadness as they remember people with whom they no longer share Christmas because of distance, family rift or death.

Often people see Christmas as “the season of goodwill” where past hurts are laid aside and estranged people are brought together, hopefully not in a “grin-and-bear-it” way, but with real forgiveness which buries the past and looks forward to the future.  The reason for this is rooted in the story of Jesus, the Christ of Christ-mas.  At the most traditional “Carols by Candlelight” services, the Bible readings tell the Bible’s story briefly but well.  It begins with the fall of Adam, the rebellious decision of mankind to disobey God and to attempt to manage God’s world with no reference to its maker.  The healthy relationship between God and people is destroyed; there is no way that imperfect and finite human beings can ever repair their relationship with God who is infinite and perfect.  This is a massive problem.

Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah picks up the story; he says in 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  The people’s sin has led them further and further away from God, and they are in exile, experiencing His judgment, not His favour.  There is no way out.  Suddenly, a great light appears.  And what is that light?  Isaiah tells us in 9:6; “To us a child is born, to us a Son is given … He will be called … Prince of Peace.”

The birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas is the moment when God came to dwell amongst us to bring light into the darkness and to reconcile us to Himself.  God, who we have wronged by our pride, has offered to forgive us and make us His beloved children.  Some people jump at this chance; they recognise their lives are not perfect, they know they need forgiveness and they embrace Jesus with glad hearts like a shipwrecked sailor grasping at a life-ring.  Others are not convinced; the way they see things, they are perfectly good enough for God (if he even exists), so they pay little attention to Jesus, like a shipwrecked sailor hiding from the lifeboat crew as they survey the wreckage of his boat.

We tend to think Christmas is about presents and time with those we love, but it’s actually about reconciliation and forgiveness.  First, it is about God’s reconciliation with and forgiveness of those who have failed to love him.  Following on from and flowing out of that, it becomes a season in which people can be reconciled to one another.  How does our celebration of Christmas bear witness to either of these things?

Dad’s Taxi – a 21st Century Dilemma

I’m sure that many of you will know what it means to be “Dad’s Taxi.”  As my children have grown, this part of my identity has developed rapidly.  I’ve been driving my children around for years, of course, but it would appear to be true that the amount of driving does increase in proportion to the age of the child.  In one sense, it’s been fairly easy for me to accommodate my daughters’ increasing transport requirement because I work flexible hours.  However, my ability to be flexible presents its own unique problem – I have a serious gap in my arsenal of excuses!

Consider the parent who works nine-to-five, commutes a further hour at the beginning and end of every day and is afforded only four weeks annual leave.  The question, “It’s half-term; can you take me to the swimming pool / shopping centre on Wednesday lunchtime?” is fairly easily answered; “No – I’m at work!”  Whatever the request, such a parent has a fairly robust argument to employ if they are at all unsure about the wisdom of letting their child attend the function in question.

I don’t have that luxury.  So if I don’t want my children to go, for whatever reason, I can’t hide behind the convenient (albeit partially true) “I’m at work” excuse.  I have to give the proper reason. But actually, this is no bad thing.  After all, if I want them to forge relationships which are based on honesty, faithfulness and mutual respect, then I have to model that in my relationship with them.  So I have to be really clear in my own mind about what is good for my children.  I must make right judgments about allowing them to grow up at an appropriate speed and, above all, I must surely communicate my thinking with them in a way which doesn’t exasperate them (Eph 6:4) but which demonstrates my love.

So “Dad’s Taxi” is part of my identity, but it is inextricably related to my being “Dad.”  Indeed, if I were just “Taxi,” there would be something desperately wrong.  It is in my daughters’ best interests for me to be Dad first and Taxi second.  And that means I have to work out what it means to be a good dad.  So where do I look for guidance on this?

Christmas is coming when we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  He was brought up by Joseph (“a righteous man” – Matthew 1:19) as his own son, but the New Testament makes clear that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God.  He taught his disciples to call God “Our Father,” and the Apostle Paul wrote that, as we entrust our lives to Jesus, so we receive “the Spirit of sonship … by him we cry ‘Abba (Daddy), Father.’” (Romans 8:15)

I dare to suggest that, since God has revealed himself to be “Father,” in God’s world, surely the best way we can care for our children is to model that care on the Fatherhood of God.   And the best way of understanding the Fatherhood of God fully is surely from the perspective of a beloved child.  The joyful good news of Christmas is that we can experience this – “To those who received [Jesus] … he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12).  So have you received him?  Or are you just Taxi?