Crooked places…

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:3-5‬ ‭(NKJV)‬‬

When Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem on that first of Christmases, you can bet that the rough places had not been smoothed out for them. They were unknown – just two more people making their way to their ancestral hometown, so that they could be counted in the cencus. 

Just two poor teenagers, slowly making their way – Joseph on foot and Mary on a lowly donkey. Over the rough desert terrain, without a highway to guide them or to make their travel straight. 

I wonder how much they understood about all that was happening in them and through them. Certainly, they’d been visited by Angelic messengers…Heaven doesn’t show up in your sleeping quarters without making an impression. I think it’s safe to say they knew God was up to something. 

But could they have imagined all that would happen? Could they have understood that this baby was the Messiah? That millions would put their trust in him and find the crooked and rough places of their lives straightened out and made smooth?

I don’t know. But I wonder. 

This Advent, may you be captured by wonder. May you contemplate the questions that this Holy birth produces. May you find that in this contemplation a few of your own crooked  places begin to straighten, and your rough places become smooth. For this is the hope we have in Jesus.  

Forever…

“Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:7‬ ‭(NIV‬)

The prophecies about the baby aren’t just rooted in history. I mean, they are – the Bible is specific about a time and a place in which the baby would be born. 

But the Bible is also pretty specific that this would be no ordinary child. That he would grow to be no ordinary leader. His reign would last forever. There would be no end to his government and the peace it would bring. 

This wasn’t just hope for a season or for a generation or for a period of time. This hope is forever. 

And this hope is shared by millions of people. In different times, different places. In the hugest courts of the day and in the lowliest slums. 

This hope is Jesus – God with us. God among us. God who lays himself down to be our hope. Forever. 

This Advent, may you know something of the hope that never ends, and may it make your days merry and bright. 

Something about that name…

…The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:6b‬ ‭ (NLT)‬‬

There’s just something about these titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. I can’t help but hear them in my mind as set to music by Handel, every time I read them on the page. 

And my heart just swells – with hope. This is who I place my hope in: One whose every name brings me new reasons for hope. 

One who commands grandiose titles, and yet chose to be born a baby. 

One who is bigger than history, outside of time, vast, limitless – yet chose to put on frail human flesh. 

One who is immortal, and yet chose to become mortal and then to submit himself to death. Even death on a cross. 

For you. For me. 

This is where our hope belongs. 

This Advent, may you be awed by His titles and touched by his humanity. May you put your hope squarely where it belongs. May you know that there’s just something about that name. 

Unlikely…

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.
‭‭Micah‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

One of the things I love about the Bible, is how often it’s the little guy, the underdog, the longshot who ends up being the hero of the story.  David wins against Goliath. A bunch of unschooled fishermen bring the Gospel to the world. The savior of the world is born as a tiny, helpless baby. 

The story of the Bible is the story of hope being found in the most unlikely places and the most unlikely people. 

So hundreds of years before the baby is born, the prophet Micah wrote about the ruler who would come from the unlikely town of Bethlehem. Small among the clans of Judah, no one would expect this backwater to be the place where the Messiah would be born. 

But that’s the thing about hope – sometimes it comes from the most surprising sources. 

This Advent may you be surprised by hope. May find it in the unlikely cry if a tiny baby born in a unimpressive little town, who would grow to become the savior of the world. 

Shining in the night…

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

There’s a song many of us who worship in Presbyterian churches love, it starts, “Hope is a star, that shines in the night – leading us on, until morning is bright.”

Because hope is like a light that shines in the darkness…it doesn’t vanquish the darkness entirely. But it shines. And it guides. And it leads us forward to a time when morning has come, and all is bright.

The days are dark at this time of year. The night comes early (4:42pm, according to my Weather Network app). We get a little starved for light. Maybe that’s what’s behind the lights we string on trees and around the edges of our houses. Maybe that’s why we light candles during the four Advent Sundays – we just NEED a little extra light in our lives at this time of year.

A lot of darkness has seemed to gather in 2016. Every once in a while it’s like our world goes through something where the darkness just seems more prevalent than it has been. As a race, we seem to experience fear, shock and despair more often as the events of the day are reported. 2016 has been one of those times. It’s dark out there, right now.

And in times of darkness, hope become even more powerful. Even more necessary.

I cling to hope – like a star shining in the night, leading us on until morning is bright. My hope is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The One that the prophet was writing about when he wrote that the people in darkness have seen a great light.

This advent, may you experience that hope. May you know that hope placed in the promises of God is never disappointed. May you hold to the light that shines in the darkness. May you know that the darkness CANNOT put it out.

hope2

Beginning…

For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
Isaiah 9:6a (MSG)

 

Today marks the beginning of the Advent Season – it is the first Sunday of Advent, the Advent Sunday of Hope. For some it might seem early for the Season to begin (my Dad refuses to let my Mom put up a Christmas tree until it is ACTUALLY December…she got her Nativity set up, though, so her decorating has begun despite my Dad’s best efforts!).

It is still November – our friends in the States have just celebrated Thanksgiving. It may seem early for a beginning. But I love the first few days of Advent. Right now it’s all anticipation – there are so many thing to look forward to, so many celebrations to be had.

As a church leader, this can be a time of year in which the pressures get to us. I have friends and colleagues who swear that the joy of the Season has been robbed by the demands and pressures of our work. And for ten years, I have worked very hard to not allow that to happen to me.

Instead, I jump in with both feet. I decorate the house BIG (two trees! Snow globes! Greenery on the banister! Red ribbons wrapping the doors!), I listening to Christmas music in my car, I indulge in the Seasonal drinks (ok, the skinny version…but still!) at Starbucks. I keep my eyes open for opportunity to bring joy to others (finding, as I always have, that is the best way to bring joy to myself).

I was touched by the Rev. Douglas Rollwage’s reminder that the child was born FOR US, during his sermon at St. Andrew’s, Brampton today. That God did all of this – Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, Resurrection and the salvation we find through it – FOR US.

I am convinced, that as long as I keep that message in my heart – and you keep it in yours – we will not be able to feel anything less than grateful, humble joy throughout the Season. May you (and I!) be so blessed.

advent-hope

Final Scotland Post…

“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So I am writing my final post about the Scotland tour from a McDonald’s near my folks’ summer place in Madoc. I’m writing it here because there is free wifi, I have some free time  and because I finally feel capable (mentally, emotionally) to write about it.

Our final day in Scotland was truly a gift from God. We woke up to a perfectly clear sky, golden sunshine and temperatures soaring up to 25C. We could not have asked for a better day to cruise Loch Ness, explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle and then travel through the indescribably gorgeous Glen Coe area.

My phone died about midday (I’d had the screen brightness turned up in all the sunshine, and my battery bank hadn’t charged the night before), so I don’t have pictures that I can access (yet – they are on the big camera and I’ll post some when I’m back to having regular internet access), but despite the minor technical difficulties, the beauty of Glen Coe is burned on my brain. I hope and pray that I will be able to go back some day and do a hiking tour in the area.

Loch Ness and Urquhart castle were both amazing. I have visited many ruins of old and ancient (in Israel, we learned those were two very different things!) sites in the past few years, and I never tire of them. I always say I could spend hours in those places, just letting my imagination run and enjoying the photography opportunities. I loved every second we spent at Urquhart Castle.

Our tour through Glen Coe was an unexpected blessing – our guide and driver conspired to take us through the region as a treat. And what a treat it was! Just the most unbelievably beautiful views.

After a long bus ride, we arrived at Leith where we checked into our hotel and then headed to Prezzo restaurant for our final dinner. It was hard to believe our time in Scotland had come to an end. But we celebrated by singing for the restaurant staff and patrons.

An amazing, deeply moving, and full of joy finale!

Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle from the waters of Loch Ness

selfie with Urquhart Castle in the background

Cold storage room at Urquhart Castle

Spiral staircase at Urquhart Castle

The ruins of Urquhart Caslte under a gorgeous sky!

Rugged beauty…

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭35:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Today we travelled by bus to the Jacobite steam train, which was used as the Hogwart’s Express in the Harry Potter films, then we took a ferry to the Isle of Skye, where we explored the little town of Portree, and then went for a phenomenal dinner at the Red Skye restaurant.

I feel a little bit like I’m pounding the same note over and over – but I am constantly blown away by the rugged beauty of this land.

Everything is so green and lush. Every time we then a corner there is another little water fall, or a mountain top shrouded in the heavy clouds which feed the falls. Some of our group spotted a stag in the fields as we travelled today. And then, as we drive back to our hotel there was an entire stretch of the highway during which we were calling out, “deer! There’s another one! And another! Look, a whole flock!”

As we traveled back to our hotel, there were many who were saying that they are in love with the Isle of Skye, that they hope to return and explore it further.

I feel the same way. Our time here has been absolutely magical and has definitely whetted my appetite to see more of this beautiful place.

The hills, the sky, the water falls, the lochs and the green fields are declaring their makers’ praise all around us each moment. It’s all “calling out your name,” Lord, and I just want to join in. What a blessing!

Green pastures and still waters…

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭23:1-3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Today was full-immersion in Scottish history and culture. We began the day at Blair Athol distillery, learning how fine single malt scotch is made, then we drove to the highlands (stopping in the towns of Birman and Pitlochry on the way) to learn about the Battle of Culloden at the battlefield itself, and finally made a stop at Clava Cairns – a burial ground dating back to the Bronze Age – which was featured in the Outlander series of novels.

I have found myself mesmerized by the Scottish countryside. The rolling green holds, the sheep dotting the hillsides, the moody clouds which bring rain showers (if not downpours!) regularly.

It is every bit as I have pictured it to be, and better. This land has always tugged at my heartstrings from afar. It has always been on my “I must go there someday” list. To be here now…it’s hard to put into words how much I am loving every moment of this experience.

I could have spent hours at Clava Cairns…as we pulled away I saw some people on what seemed to be a walking trail, and I can honestly say that having been here, a hiking tour of Scotland is now on my bucket list!

I am always amazed at the beauty of creation, and humbled by the the creator’s artistry. He restores my soul with these things. And I am blessed.

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Flowers in the gorgeous little town of Pitlochry

The River Tay. I think.

Scottish countryside

Adventures…

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭37:23-24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So, I blogged about the concert at St. Giles, but yesterday was full of other adventures: a group lunch and spontaneous performance at a pub, shopping with a friend, a glass of wine at the oldest pub in Edinburgh…and then – well, it’s hard to explain what happened next. I guess the phrase is “comedy of errors.”

We decided to leave the pub and go find dinner – so we asked the bartender to call us a couple of cabs (there were 7 in our group). When one cab arrived, 3 of our group went in it while the rest of us walked around to the parking lot in back of the pub, thinking that the second cab was there. It wasn’t. So we went back to the front of the pub, and there was still no cab. We waited for a minute or two, as a car arrived with the tag “for hire” on it, we got in and told the driver we were going to The Scotsman downtown. 

As we were driving, I began to look for my pouch with my cash in it…couldn’t find it. Began to panic a bit, so I handed one of my bags to my friend Susan, while I looked in the other. Neither of us could find the pouch. At this point, I piped up and said I had to go back. So James told our driver that we needed to go back.  No reaction. So James said the same thing again. Still, no reaction. Finally, Susan authoritatively told the driver we had to go back. 

The driver then asked James if we had called an Uber (an app that connects riders with drivers, and since the drivers are not official taxis, costs less for the riders). James told him no, we had asked the bartender to call a taxi. Turns out that we had accidentally taken someone else’s Uber ride. Oops! 

We got back to the pub, and while James apologized and made good with the jilted uber riders, I ran into the pub to see if I could find my pouch. There was a lovely local gentleman sitting in the chair I had vacated when we left, and I asked him if he’d seen a pink satin pouch with flowers on it. He told me no, he’d just arrived. I explained that I had only left a few minutes before and had been sitting in that very chair. At which point, he began to look around a bit and noticed my pouch sitting beside his chair. He cheerfully handed it to me – all my cash was there, just as I’d left it! (Clear evidence, that God is good and He takes care of me!)

Susan asked the bartender to call us another cab, and we found our way to The Scotsman where we reunited with the others from our party (who had begun to worry!) and had a wonderful dinner. 

(I won’t go into details about our misadventure of trying to find a cab to get us home after dinner!)

These are the things that only happen when you’re traveling. Adventures are part of travel – no matter how carefully you plan, it is just a FACT that you will find yourself faced with the unexpected. Last night’s adventure, in my mind, is filed firmly under “all’s well that ends well!”

What a reminder that the good and the bad often go hand-in-hand in life. To miss out on some of the bad would probably mean missing out on a great deal of good, as well. 

So in this blog entry, I say: thank you, God, for holding my hand, for directing even my misadventures, and for the mix of good and bad that made this experience a delight!

Angus enjoying himself and making frjends at The Sheep’s Heid (oldest pub in Edinburgh)!

Beautiful ceiling detail at The Scotsman hotel in Edinburgh

The group of us, enjoying dinner after our misadventures!