It takes a congregation…

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.  Ephesians 2:19-20 NLT

One of the joys for me this Advent Season has been an art project that the congregation has been taking part in each week. It’s a paper banner, filled with Advent images and scriptures, and each week as the people came into worship, they were invited to stop and colour a portion of the banner.

By this past Sunday, there were only a few spots on it that needed to be coloured in. So some of the ladies of the church and I got together and had a colouring party yesterday.

This morning I came into the church with only a rough idea of how I might display the banner. But thankfully, God showed up and gave me a great idea! It came together really easily, and within the first 45 minutes of being in the office, the banner was up for all to see this evening and tomorrow morning.

I am reminded that while in our context there is often only one minister in a church, it takes the whole congregation to make beautiful things happen, to make worship happen.

I am so grateful for the people God has given me throughout my years in ministry. The community of faith is a blessing, and has always made my life richer.

Merry Christmas!




A few quiet moments…

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.

One of the things I’m coming to love dearly as I serve Graceview, is the quiet of Christmas morning. We have a Christmas Day service, and when I arrive at the church, no one else is there. It is a quiet drive from my condo to the church, with the streets almost empty.

 

Much of the rush of Christmas is over, and now families are gathering together, inside where it is warm. Exchanging gifts and telling stories. Making food and feasting on it.

 

Here are a few images from this morning. My heart is glad to share them with you! May your Christmas be merry and bright, and may you know the presence of the One we are celebrating.

Advent Love…

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

 

One of the things that sometimes bugs us preachers, is how the word “love” is used in our culture. We over-use this word, applying it to whatever we like at the moment – our favourite movie or tv show, a song that is having it’s fifteen minutes of popularity, a certain condiment or a seasonal flavour on a local menu. We “love” at an alarmingly low-rate.

And the media we consume is no help – Facebook allows us to click ‘love’ on any post we are mildly amused by or with which we agree. Characters on the shows we watch fall in and out of love with each other every other episode. And at this time of year, Hallmark movies equate Christmas love with good-looking actors and actresses who have some sort of misadventure together. (And since I’m a hopeless romantic, I will just admit to having watched waaaaay too many of those movies over the past several weeks!)

God defines love differently. God defines love as being willing to sacrifice, being patient and kind and keeping no record of wrongs.

Jesus shows us this love by stepping out of heaven, into our dark, broken, messy world. Living amongst us, healing those who were sick and in need, restoring honour to the shamed, teaching any who would listen about what God is really like, laying down his life to save us from our sin, and inviting us in to the work of blessing the world, in his name.

This advent, may you love extravagantly. May you bless others. May you participate in God’s work of love that brings light to a dark world. May you know that God is with you.

The ordinary…

I love listening to Erwin McManus preach. If you don’t know who he is, he’s a pastor, preacher and author, who serves Mosaic, a church in LA. Mosaic has actually expanded to have campuses in a number of different locations – some in California, and some international.

Erwin always has a way of making me see things in a new light. Recently, I was listening to a sermon in which he spoke about how God transforms the ordinary. 

You see, before Jesus was born, a manger was just a box or trough that the livestock fed from. But because Jesus was laid in the manger after his birth, it has become the focal point of nativity scenes. It has become something we look at as holy. Erwin spoke  about the worship space he preaches in as being just an ordinary room, except that because people have had an encounter with God there, it has become holy.

God takes what is ordinary, and transforms it. 

 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1,2 MSG

 

Do you see – whatever you are doing, you can be holy in doing it. God can transform your ordinary life, into a holy life. And he wants to! Because this will draw you ever closer to God himself, your faith will grow stronger and deeper. And all the ordinary things in your day, will suddenly shine with God-light.

This Advent, may you see God at work – transforming the ordinary into the holy and the extraordinary. 

 

 

Good news…

One of my traditions at this time of year is to watch the movie “Love Actually.” I adore the opening quote:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around. (Opening scene, Love Actually.)

It is far too easy these days to get gloomy about the state of the world, these days. There are too many ‘bad news’ stories that are going around.

Jesus came to break into our bad news world, with very, very good news. News of salvation for anyone who would put their trust in him. News of eternal life. News of reconciliation with God.

That’s what this season is all about. The good news breaking into our reality, changing us, changing our destiny, changing our status with God, changing our hearts. And through all of that, hopefully, changing the way that we live and the things that we do so that the world becomes a better place.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke2:10-11 (NIV)

 

That was the message of the angels, the message of the Messiah. Good news. Great joy.

So if  you’re feeling a little gloomy about the state of the world these days, I want to share with you this site, which shares good news stories from around the world. They are short and to the point – though, in many cases may be more complicated than the sentence or two they are given here, they brought a warm glow to my heart. And I hope they will do the same for you:

36 Good News Stories 2019

This Advent, may you not only know the Good News, may you become part of the Good News, by taking action to bring peace and joy to others in need.

To make his blessings flow…

Yesterday was the Advent Sunday of Joy, and at Graceview, we read a difficult passage in Malachi. As often happens with difficult passages, I had so much to say that I didn’t get to comment on the last few verses of the reading.

They go like this:

4Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4:4-6 

I was so wrapped up in the earliest verses of the reading, and there was so much to cover in those verses, that I had to make the decision not to comment on these verses (or I might have kept my congregation there all day – and that would have been a worse decision).

But as sometimes happens when I preach, I found the message of what I would have said if time had allowed, in the midst of preaching what I had written.

I want to focus on those two little words “or else” in verse 6. This is a difficult reading – a difficult passage. It sounds condemning and like God is being mean, to modern ears. “Or else,” is a threat in our modern language. If your Mom said “or else” to you as a kid, she didn’t have to finish what she was saying…you understood what it implied, and what it implied was punishment. Punishment and trouble and not something that you wanted to have to face.

But I don’t think this phrase is scripture is meant as a threat. I think it is simply a description of what life is like without Jesus. I think it tells us that we desperately need Jesus, that if Jesus had never come into the world, the world would be a worse mess than it is now. We would be without hope, in despair.

But the good news is – Jesus HAS come into our world. And when Jesus comes into our world, the fundament fabric of reality is changed. Malachi says the hearts of fathers will be turned back to their children, and children to their fathers. This is a way of saying that with Jesus in the world, relationships are restored. We know our world is still a mess – but we also know it could be so much worse.

And we know, that we are called to be those who work to make it better. As we try to follow Jesus, as we try to live in hope and peace and joy, we are called to look for every opportunity to bless others – to bring hope, peace and joy into their lives and into the world around us.

Jesus has come and is coming into our world – to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found!

This Advent, may you know the know the joy set before us in Jesus. May you find ways to bring blessing, wherever the curse has been found. May you be part of the light that shines in the darkness.

Finally….

So, all Advent, things have felt a little weird to me. A little off. And a big part of that was that I caught a cold and couldn’t get the decorations up when I normally would. For weeks, my place has felt a little sadder because it wasn’t decked out, the way I wanted it to be.

Well, today was the day.

I cleaned for a ridiculous amount of time, and in the midst of it, I also took time to get the rest of the decorations up. My place is clean, and looks a little like Christmas threw up on it. Yay!

The thing is – celebration is important. And this is the celebration of the birth of our Saviour; of God stepping out of eternity into our humanity; of the defeat of sin and death, forever. Arise and shine! Your light has come!!

So celebrating should be big.

It may have taken some time, but finally, the celebration has begun for real!

This Advent, may you celebrate big. May you know the reason for your celebration holds eternity in the palm of his hand. May you know the eternal joy that salvation brings.

Here a few of my decorations:

Light and darkness…

There’s a worship song I love that starts with these words: “Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness…”

I love it because it reminds me of the lengths God would go to – for us. As out-of-step and broken as we are, God loves us. More than we can ask or imagine.

Enough to step down into our darkness. Enough to step into our mess. To take on our mess. To suffer for us. To take on our sin, and cleanse us from it.

This Season reminds us that there is no length too far for God to go – for you, for me, for all.

This Advent may you know that the Light of the World stepped down into darkness for you. May you follow Him, and find the Light of Life.

Almost Wordless Tuesday…

I’ve been feeling an enormous amount of guilt about the fact that I have been failing to blog over the past several days. It’s a combination of a cold that hasn’t let go, the busy reality of this time of year, and a lack of energy (see previous comment re: cold). So here is a post that is nearly wordless ( a great reminder of how to find peace) and a promise that I’m working on further posts!

God’s got us, friends. Be at peace.

In the mess, part 4…

The thing about life is that it’s never 100% one way or the other. In times of grief, we still find moments of laughter. In times of stress, we are still able to experience peace. And in a season that’s feeling a little out-of-step, a little “off,” a little bit of a mess, it is still possible to celebrate, to find joy, to feel the special spirit of this glorious season.

Tonight was one of those moments for me. I attended the Let There Be Music choir’s Christmas concert. This has been a joyful experience for the three advent seasons in which I have served at Graceviews Presbyterian Church in Etobicoke. One of our elders is the director for this choir made up of about 70-80 senior citizens, our organist/choir director is the pianist, and a number of Graceview members sing in the choir. It is amazing to see the joy that these people have in singing together.

But this year was extra-special to me. I volunteered to put together the slides to be projected on the screen throughout the concert, and then to run them during the concert. This task appealed to my creative side, and there was something extra special about being in the booth, contributing to the overall experience.

It was a marvelous night – full of song and laughter and praise. Those times come, even in the mess.

This advent may you cherish the moment that shine extra-bright. May you know the joy of proposing the Lord. May you know – in the depths of your soul – why God is worthy of your praise!