Sunday 1 December 2013

The Christmas tree that was waiting to be discovered

In most living rooms across Australia, December 1 heralds the appearance of a rather fake-looking evergreen tree, gaudily decorated with various assortments of even more fake-looking glittery baubles, haphazardly strung with (mostly) flashing lights, and lavishly adorned with boa constrictors of tinsel... all topped off with a plastic golden star (of course). And so the Festive Season begins... with the annual tradition of putting up the Christmas tree, and without which, no Australian family Christmas would be considered complete.

Now admittedly, I confess to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the concept of the Christmas tree. It's not as if I'm totally against this universally accepted symbol of the Festive Season. And yes, our family enjoys following the 'Christmas tree tradition' each year, although our K-Mart special is now 14 years old, shedding artificial pine needles like changes of clothes, and at 1.5m tall is considered rather vertically challenged when compared with the latest floor-to-ceiling specimens pictured in the 2013 Christmas catalogues.

But, I hate how the Christmas tree seems to have stolen the show. While every self-respecting self-promoting shopping mall proudly offers customers the opportunity to meet their 'one and only' Santa Claus, more numerous by far are the stylishly decorated Christmas trees prominently displayed at regular intervals on each level (perhaps over-exposure to heavily ornamented fake fir trees lulls shoppers into spending a little bit more than they otherwise would have on those gimmicky Christmas gifts that nobody ever uses anyway). The popularity of the Christmas tree is enough to rival and almost eclipse that of the jolly old man in the red suit, so much so that the commercial world has adopted this symbol as its own and is on a mission to rebrand the religiously offensive Christmas tree as the more socially acceptable 'Holiday Tree'.

In Christian homes and churches also, we have often allowed the not-so-humble fake Christmas tree to replace the all-too-humble, yet real symbol of Christmas - the Nativity of Christ. Each Christmas we seem to be unaware that the Fake and Secular is getting bigger, brighter, bolder... It's crowding out the Living Nativity which is considered too simple, too small, too outdated.

Therefore, I have been harbouring a growing resentment toward the Christmas tree in the living room. I've tried to compensate, to balance out the fake, to smother the secular, by decorating the shedding K-Mart special with Christmas ornaments in the shapes of angels, shepherds, wise men... even a baby in a manger. I'm fooling no one though. The artificial evergreen may have dominated my lounge room each December, but it has failed to meet my expectations... it did not capture my heart. In the end, it is not real or living, only a poor facsimile that disappoints.

So, I was about to reject Christmas trees once and for all. I didn't want to bow to the commercialism or worship the false anymore.

       I discovered something
                                          that had been right there
all along...
               and it completely changed my perception of Christmas trees...

...something glorious caught my eye as I gazed out my window the other day - the Poinciana tree in the front garden... it seemed to be on fire! It was resplendent in brilliant burnt-orange flowers. Of course, the Poinciana tree is always dressed in fiery orange at this time of year... this and every year towards Christmas time.

Why had I never realised this before? Standing right there in the front garden is our very own Christmas tree! It's been there all along, but I never recognised that it was a Christmas tree until now. No matter, it just waited. And every year allowed itself to be decorated in beautiful bright orange petals transforming it into a real live Christmas tree, the likes of which cannot be bought at any store or made in any factory.

For the Christmas tree that was waiting to be discovered is provided each year by the One who is Real and Living. It is He who created the Poinciana tree in my front garden and appoints it to become a stunning Christmas tree every Advent season. I have no hand in putting it up. I do not need to hang baubles or tinsel. I contribute nothing.

Nothing except my admiration and adoration of a great God who always gives the best gifts, if only I would open my eyes to see them, because the extraordinary and the truly real is often discovered in the places that the world considers ordinary and unworthy. How marvellous it is that I need search no farther than the fiery Poinciana in my front garden to find a real Christmas tree which testifies to a Living God who has already given us the ultimate gift - His Son. That is something truly worth celebrating!

Friday 29 November 2013

A paralysis tick called Perfectionism

Australia is home to a rather insidious parasite, Ixodes holocyclus, more commonly known as the paralysis tick. It occurs in a 20 kilometre wide strip all the way down Australia's east coast and is particularly prevalent from August through to February when it is hot and humid. An adult female of this species can cause paralysis by injecting neurotoxins into its host as it feeds, and every year many pet dogs and cats succumb to its poison - left undetected, the results are often fatal.

It's surprising isn't it? That such a small creature can affect a much larger and seemingly more powerful host like a cat, dog, or even a human being, in such a devastating way. Because the paralysis tick starts off so small it frequently goes unnoticed, even as an owner carefully searches through the fur of the family pet each day.

But each day it remains, it feeds off its victim and grows stronger.

Each day it remains, it injects its poison and its larger and more powerful victim becomes weaker. The poison works through the host's body and silently yet stealthily saps its strength.

The paralysis tick sucks up lifeblood. The paralysis tick replaces that which gives life with that which ultimately has the potential to bring death...

...but before it kills its victim it immobilises it. It paralyses. The host is conscious, but gripped in a state of powerlessness. Weakness. Unable to move.

And that, in many ways, describes me. I too have a paralysis tick. My paralysis tick is not called Ixodes holocyclus - one of its names is Perfectionism. And it fills me with fear.

I have a desire to write. But I am afraid.

I have a desire to use words to say Something. I am just not sure what. And I am afraid.

What if I have nothing worthwhile to write?

What if nobody likes what I write?

What if somebody disagrees with me?

What if it's not Perfect?

And that's what has been paralysing me. The fear of not being perfect, and knowing that I never can be. Now I must ask One more powerful than I to pluck off the paralysis tick called Perfectionism, because I know I can't do it myself. I think it's going to be a rather long and drawn out process, because I find myself fighting against the One who has the power to remove the parasite. Yet I know I can trust him. He knows I am not perfect, but he chooses to treat my deepest need...

I need a cure. Jesus is the doctor. He cures my paralysis by washing me with his lifeblood.

He's the complete opposite to the paralysis tick. He is the great Saviour. More powerful than my greatest fear.

Friday 15 November 2013


Do you know the meaning of the word fortitude? The dictionary defines it like this:

ˈfɔː.tɪ.tjuːd n. courage in pain or adversity.

This is a word that has been relegated to a bygone age and no longer finds a place in the conversations of today. But, I think that Christians today should know what it means, because it is an attribute that should be evident in the character of every child of God. Courage in the face of pain or adversity often reveals itself when we feel the least brave and the most helpless. At these times we must remember that the LORD Almighty has said that it is not by our might or power that we are given the victory – it is by His Spirit (Zech 4:6). “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on [God].” (2 Chr 20:11)
As the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:55) Sometimes when suffering and adversity come we are overwhelmed and become dismayed that we cannot press forward to overcome… but take heart, it is at these times we must show fortitude. The church with fortitude stands and withstands.