Yearning…

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When I was in University, I first came across Blaise Pascal’s God-Shaped Vacuum theory. He states that
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

I loved this statement because it resonates within me. Jesus fills something that can’t be filled by anything else. And I have long felt that some of the real brokenness within humanity – addiction, greed, ambition (in a bad way) – stems from an attempt to find something other than Jesus to fill that vacuum within the heart.

Maybe you are well acquainted with that yearning for something unnamable. If you are, perhaps it is time to see if Jesus is that for which what you have been searching. If you already know that he is that something, then I encourage you to spend some of your time during Lent reflecting on what that means. There is so much to be thankful for as we continue the journey of faith.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
Ephesians 3:16, 17 NLT

Journey…

In some ways, my journey of faith began before I was born. My mother has always told me that I was happiest in the womb when we were in worship.

I grew up the daughter of a minister. And though I never expected it, I became a minister myself. All of my life I have heard the stories of Jesus and been surrounded by conversations of faith.

In some ways, my journey of faith has no beginning…or at least, no beginning that I can pin down or remember or claim. But I do know the moment that my journey became my own. The moment in which I chose to live a life of faith. I was in university. And though these are not the exact words, I prayed a prayer that sounded an awful lot like this:

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And the most wonderful thing, is that ever since that moment, God has been leading me. Some of the places He has lead me have been unexpected, some of them have been difficult. But most of them have been absolutely wonderful. And I wouldn’t give back one single step of the journey.

May you pray a prayer like this one. May you know what it is to follow God into unexpected places and discover things about Him and about yourself – bout the person He made you to be. And may you know that because God is leading you, you need never regret one single step of the journey.

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21 NKJV

What I don’t know…

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At our Bible Study at St. A’s this morning, I made a remark about the fact that I must be growing up, because more and more these days I recognize what I don’t know.

When I was younger (my congregation is quite convinced that I am still “younger,” God bless them!) I seemed to know exactly where I stood in my faith. You could raise almost any issue with me and I would tell you what I thought. I look back and realize how sure I was about everything.

Now, don’t get me wrong there are still things I am absolutely sure of: that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, that he died for the sins of humanity (including mine), that he rose again on the third day, breaking the bonds of sin and death forever, that those who put their trust in him are forgiven and made new (including me), that those who put their trust in him are given eternal life. My faith is strong and I know whom I have believed.

But as our study group looks at the different characters in the crucifixion narrative, I find I have a whole lot of questions. Many more questions than answers. Why did Judas betray? What was Peter thinking as he denied…or was he thinking at all? Why couldn’t Caiaphas and the other priests, who should have been well acquainted with holiness, recognize the holiness of Jesus? What were Pilate’s motivations?

I realize there is an awful lot I don’t know. And that’s not a bad thing. Jesus taught in parables that were open for interpretation. He left space for us to not get it (even his disciples were good at that). He left space for questions and wondering.

During the season of Lent, may you wonder. May you question. May you find that you are ok with not knowing everything.

“Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
Job 11:7 NKJV

Betwixt and between…

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As we continue our Lenten series “The Story” at St. Andrew’s, today we were taking a look at Jesus’ life on Earth. The time before his ministry, or at least leading-up to his ministry. There isn’t a lot of Biblical material on this time and Geoff handled that (very well!) by taking some time to look at the doctrine of incarnation – the idea that God had to become one of us for the plan of salvation to work.

In the middle of his sermon, Geoff mentioned that believers today don’t question Christ’s humanity. We find it easy to believe that a man named Jesus lived in Israel a couple of thousand years ago. We find it easy to accept that he was, indeed, a human being. We struggle with the concept that he was also divine – the Son of God. But it wasn’t always that way. Early believers struggled to believe he was really a man. They found his divinity easy to grasp – after all, he performed miracles and rose from the dead. But they felt that it must be that he only “seemed” like a human.

I was glad Geoff pointed this out because it made me think of how much difficulty we have with paradox. We like things to be black or white, not a shade of grey. We like to be able to label something, definitively. To put a name on it. To understand it.

We’re not so good at dealing with “both/and” situations. We’re not so good at living in the tension between two possibilities. We tend one way or the other. So with Jesus, who was both God and man, we tend to highlight one of those things and downplay the other. In seminary, we call this having a high Christology (ie, it’s easy for you to accept Christ’s divinity) or a low Christology (ie, it’s easy for you to accept Christ’s humanity).

But the thing is…the life of faith is one lived between. Between our sin and God’s salvation. Between the moment of birth and the moment of death. Between knowledge and mystery. Between who we are and who we were created to be.

It’s not easy to live in the betwixt and between, but it’s good. It is there that God meets us. In the middle of our mess, in the middle of our confusion, in the middle of life.

During the journey through Lent, may you find yourself a little more at ease with paradox. May you find yourself living betwixt and between, and may you know the God who meets you there.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
Hebrews 4:14,15 NLT

Ethereal…

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I went to see the movie, Son of God tonight with a friend. It was well done and interesting. But what struck me most was this feeling of something missing. I struggled all through the movie to figure out what it was.

The best way I can describe it is this: faith is not simply about what you have seen or heard or felt or touched. It is more mysterious than that. It is intangible, ethereal. Something inside of you that moves you to believe: what we mean when we talk about the heart or the spirit or the soul.

No matter how high the production values in a movie, the producers and the director cannot manufacture that thing that moves inside you. That thing that whispers, “Jesus is here. He is real. And it all happened, just as God planned it.”

I felt that thing daily in Israel. As we stood in the places where it all happened. I feel that thing on Tuesday mornings as I help to lead a Bible Study, and I listen to the discussions that the various groups are having about that morning’s subject. I feel that thing when I listen to my colleagues preach, and often when I am in the midst of preaching myself. I felt that thing on a treadmill in a gym in Toronto more than a decade ago, and it lead me to seminary and then ordination.

That thing is what makes the crazy story of God’s love for humanity real and personal and unshakeable. That thing is what drives my life, and what I seek to encourage in others.

I hope that during Lent, you will feel that mysterious, intangible, ethereal thing we call faith drawing you onward toward the celebration of Easter. I hope that it will draw you closer to God and give you the strength to face whatever life brings your way. I hope it will begin to transform and change you, so that you grow to be more like Jesus. And I hope all of that for me, as well.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Funny…

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and a lot of my friends are posting on Facebook about green beer, and going out to the pub. But one of my friends posted something that just cracked me up. It’s an old clip from The Muppet Show. It’s silly and it’s frivolous and it’s fun.

Sometimes during Lent, people get the sense that laughter is not ok. That we are meant to be downcast and heavy hearted for the entire journey. But I don’t think that’s realistic. Life is weird, friends. It can have you crying one minute and then giggling like a fool the next. Real life is kind of messy that way – emotions don’t stay in nice neat categories, they spill over each other and weave through each other.

And life is the richer for it. God made us to laugh (and to cry, and to feel all the other things we feel), and though there are times when it is inappropriate to do so (which makes whatever is funny all the funnier…don’t you think?), for the most part I think God delights in our laughter.

So watch and laugh my friends, and when you do – try to feel God’s delight.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
Proverbs 17:22 NLT

Incarnation…

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Today at St. Andrew’s we had a Christmas-in-March service. In our series “The Story,” we are traveling through the entire arc of Jesus’ life. So today was about incarnation: the word taking on flesh and dwelling among us.

I have had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas out-of-season a few times in my years in Ministry. It’s always interesting to do – I love the music and the scriptures of that season. I love all that it stands for, all that it signifies in the life of faith. And getting to encounter those songs and that part of the story without the hustle and bustle of the actual season, is quite stirring to me.

It was like when someone brings you tulips in the dead of winter, and you are shocked by their beauty, their alive-ness, their embodiment of Spring even as the wind howls and the ice cracks outside your windows.

To sing about the newborn baby while looking up at the Lenten banners adorning our church was beautiful and a little disconcerting (in the best way possible).

As Geoff reminded us in his message, Easter and Christmas go together. You can’t have one without the other. If the was no birth, no taking on of flesh, then there can be no death, nor miraculous resurrection. We celebrate both seasons, but we often celebrate them separately. In different times of the year, with different traditions and songs and scriptures. To keep Easter (and I mean all of Easter, including Lent) separate from Christmas (or vice versa) is to miss the point of both parts of the story.

As one of my favorite Christmas songs says, the baby was “born to bleed away the sins that cover our guilty hands.” The death was present at the birth, as the wisemen gave their gift of myrrh – a substance used in embalming. The life was present at the death – so present and so powerful that it overcame death and our sin was forgiven.

During the season of Lent, may you take a moment to remember that the word took on flesh and dwelt among us. May you see the beauty of the cross that is present at the cradle, and the truth that the cradle made the cross possible. May your Easter and Christmas celebrations always touch upon each other, so that you may know the full measure of God’s love for humanity.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 NIV

Living…

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Tonite I had the opportunity to watch a movie with my GRACE Group. The theme of how to live life well was prevalent in the film, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Lent is a journey from death to new life – we start on Ash Wednesday, acknowledging the fragility of our lives, the ease with which we sin, the sacrifice of Christ which was necessary for our salvation. And then for 40 days we walk toward Easter – that morning when life triumphed over death. The grave was empty and the world made new. My colleague/friend/teammate Geoff is fond of saying you can’t really GET Easter unless you’ve done the full journey. You have to have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a long silent Saturday before you get to celebrate the Resurrection.

Slowly, I’m coming to the belief that you have to have journeyed properly through Lent. Not just giving up chocolate or swearing. Not just singing some of the hymns that are written in minor keys (goodness, the Lent section of our hymn book is a tad on the dreary side, isn’t it?). Not just acknowledged Lent with your lips.

But actually walked that whole journey. You have to have stood, slightly awkward with a smudgy cross on your forehead, aware of your sin, on Ash Wednesday. Thought, acted, prayed and read your way through the weeks of Lent. Each day with the cross looming on the horizon. Each day with the thought and question of what it all means. Taken Communion on Maundy Thursday. Wept on Good Friday. Tried – knowing it was impossible – to get back to what the disciples must have felt on that long, quiet Saturday.

Only then, can Easter Sunday really be celebrated. Because Easter is something like life. You cannot fast-forward through it to get to the parts you like. You cannot simply have a montage and a cool song to deal with all that will happen on the journey (don’t you sometimes wish life was a movie?). You cannot understand the ending unless you’ve experienced the beginning and all the (sometimes boring) bits in the middle.

Living well doesn’t happen suddenly because you wanted it to. It happens slowly, over time. It is the result of a thousand little decisions. It is the choices you make in front of others and in private. It is the meal you shared with others and all the ones you ate alone. It is the failures that lead to an eventual success. Living well is more than the sum of its parts – it is all the parts themselves put together that somehow make a good life. And if you take your eyes off the goal, it is so very easy to get lost.

Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10 NRSV

Jesus came that we might live well. That was his purpose – to give life. And he contrasts it with the thief’s (read: enemy, Satan, evil) purpose.

During this season of Lent, may we take the time to think about how we are living. May we journey through each day with the cross looming on the horizon. May we draw closer to the One who came to give abundant life.

Advice…

Every once in a while you come across some advice that is so simple and beautiful.

I love this:

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Sometimes it is really hard to let go of what was…especially when it was something good or something important. But the only way to live is to be able to let go, to have faith, to accept what is.

During the season of Lent, may you (may I!) spend some time thinking about what needs to be let go from your life, what needs to be surrendered to, and what you need to have faith in. I don’t know what is coming tomorrow, but I know Whose hand tomorrow is in.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6, 7 NLT

It’s coming…

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Today was one of those days – when the snow is still plentiful, but the temperature spikes upward and the sun shines, the birds sing, everything begins to melt and you just KNOW Spring is on it’s way. The promise of Spring is whispered on the breeze. It’s coming, it’s coming.

It is not here yet. The weather forecasters are saying we could get anywhere from 10 – 25cm tomorrow and it will be well below freezing on Thursday.

Still, I love days like today. Spring’s promise has been spoken, a foretaste of Spring has broken through. It’s time may not have quite come yet, but it is on it’s way. Aslan is on the move, to use the CS Lewis phrase.

I love days like today because they remind me of the promises I hold dear as a follower of Christ. God has promised that everything will be redeemed. That the world will be made new. That Christ will triumph and Heaven will win. It hasn’t happened yet, but it has been promised. It’s coming, it’s coming.

As we journey through Lent, we keep our eyes on the horizon, on the promise if Easter. The tomb will be empty. Life will triumph. The resurrection will change everything. We aren’t there yet. It isn’t time for that celebration yet. But it’s coming, it’s coming.

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
2 Peter 3:13 NLT