Beginning with hope…

Today is the Advent Sunday of Hope. In the church, this marks the beginning of the season of advent – the period of waiting expectantly that precedes Christmas – as well as the start of a new liturgical year. In my life, it means that I am entering a season of blogging more regularly than is normal for me. I treat my blog as my own personal Advent Calendar during these weeks leading up to Christmas.

So, there is no doubt – today marks a beginning. And I think that hope is a very good place to begin. Long before the baby was born in Bethlehem, the people of God hoped for a Messiah. They had many ideas about what the Messiah would be like – most of which got turned in their heads when Mary gave birth to Jesus (Jesus is really good at turning people’s expectations upside down and inside out!). The prophets wrote about a Messiah they would not meet in their lifetimes. And yet in their words Jesus is absolutely recognizable. The words of the prophets are drenched in hope – the hope of comfort and joy, the hope that sin could be forgiven, the hope that the rocky places of life could be smoothed out.

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 40:1-5 NIV

These are the same hopes that are needed in our world today. Life is rocky, the way may seem dark, our sin and shame may overwhelm us, we may lack comfort and joy. But In Jesus God reaches out to us, to make our rocky paths smooth, to light our way, to forgive our sin, to bring us comfort, to usher in joy.

As we begin this season, may you know hope in Christ and may it bring you comfort and joy.

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The Jude Project:

So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful.
Jude‬ ‭1‬:‭5‬ NLT

Last week as part of our Pre-Christmas All Ages Event, I used a video that spoke of the Bible as a single narrative that points to Jesus, instead of a bunch of disconnected stories. In preparation for that evening and as part of the evening I watched the video a whole bunch of times. You can see it here . I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since that night.

At odd times during the day the words “true and better” whisper through my mind and I find myself thinking of the way that the Bible tells us the story of Christ’s sacrificial salvation in so many different stories with so many different angles and nuances, long, long before the birth of Jesus.

So it comes as no great surprise (and yet as a deep comfort) to find in the fifth verse of Jude, a statement that Jesus is the one who rescued the people from Egypt. Because Jesus is the force behind any act of salvation. If there is new life created, if the captives are freed, if the people in darkness find light, then it is Jesus who IS that new life, that freedom, that light.

There is simply no other name for those things. Jesus. This is who and what Jesus is. This has always been who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up and carried away with many worries and concerns and details of our faith life. Sometimes the waters of belief get muddied by all of these things. As we head toward the season of Advent (it arrives on Sunday, people, and I will be blogging an Advent Calendar throughout the season), I found this clarity of who and what Jesus is moving and incredibly helpful.

May you see Jesus whenever there is new life, freedom and light. May Jesus be moving these things in and through the story of your life, today and always.

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The Jude Project: honoring the gift…

I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude‬ ‭1‬:‭4‬ NLT

Time to pick up the Jude Project again. When last I tackled this letter, I wrote about the need to fight for or defend our faith – not as a means of striving against others, but of striving against the things in our daily lives that might cause us to stray from our call to be faithful.

In Jude’s day, there were those who believed that forgiveness was a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card when it came to sin. Let’s be honest, there are many in our world today who treat their faith the same way. They live in ways that are hurtful, prideful, materially-focused, or even wasteful of the gifts God has given them on Monday through Saturday, and then look to be cleansed and pardoned on Sunday.

Jude says: that’s not ok. That’s not how it works.

Yes, of course, Jesus can cleanse us from every sin. He can wash it all away – the shame, the things we don’t want to think about, the things we don’t dare to speak about. He can – he HAS – made us clean, new, spotless. That is the whole point of the cross. We are forgiven. We are free – from sin, from shame, from the darkness that dwells within.

But that doesn’t give us license to go douse ourselves in more sin, shame and darkness. If we recognize the gift for what it is, then our lives should honor it, should pay homage to it, should seek to share it with others who need to know that they can be forgiven, too.

So, Jude says, contend for the faith, fight for it – by living the Way, the truth and the life.

May you live a life that honors, pays homage, and ultimately – most importantly – shares the gift.

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Soul feed…

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It is the practice of the Presbyterian Church In Canada, to grant two weeks of Study Leave to its ordained clergy. Put simply, those of us in full time ministry get (a minimum of) two weeks off each year in order to engage in educational pursuits. Whether we choose to go to a conference, take a pilgrimage or do some self directed study, the time for learning is given to us. I remember hearing a colleague of mine refer to this as “the time the church gives us to go away and get smarter.”

I kind of loved that. But the longer I am in ministry the more I am convinced that what we need has less to do with education and ore to do with caring for our souls. We need this time to rest a bit, relax a little and take the time to read/watch/listen to things that will help us care for our souls. Things that will fill our souls with energy, with hope, with joy. Things that will draw us close to the Maker of our souls. Things that will light up the dark places in our souls.

I have done this in many different ways on the various Study Leaves that I have taken in my almost-eight years in full time ministry. I have taken road trips to attend conferences with friends who are also colleagues, I have gone away for some solitary time to think and pray, I have taken a stack of books and spent my time reading and napping and reading again.

This week is a week of Study Leave for me. I have come to my parents’ house with some books (both printed and audio) and some videos from conferences I wished I could have attended (preferably while road tripping with colleague/friends). This morning as I walked to the gym (a good 40 minute trek each way), I listened to John Ortberg’s book on audio, “Soul Keeping.” I plan on doing that every morning this week. Ortberg has never disappointed me. His books are funny, smart and touching. And I am grateful that as I am listening I am my soul is being cared for, my faith is being strengthened and my somewhat bruised heart is being healed.

What about you? How is your soul doing these days? Take some moments to really think about that and to do a bit of diagnosis on your soul – if it’s a little dry, a little malnourished, a little (or a lot!) in need of care, let me recommend some things to you. Find a good book to read (Ortberg’s latest would do nicely, as would anything he has written), listen to some beautiful music (make it live rather than recorded, if you can), ask God for help (we call that praying) and spend some time with a good friend (you know the people who feed your soul simply by being in their presence).

Your soul needs care and often the pace of our modern lives doesn’t allow room for that. Take the time. Make the time. You will be glad you did.

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? ‭
Mark‬ ‭8‬:‭36‬ NLT