Judgment?

But the Lord reigns forever,

executing judgment from his throne.

He will judge the world with justice

and rule the nations with fairness.

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,

a refuge in times of trouble.

Psalms‬ ‭9:7-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The last two posts of my blog have at least mentioned judgement – it occurred to me that if you read them both, you might think I am saying conflicting things.

In the first post (which is really just an image with a scripture verse), God’s judgements help us learn righteousness. In the second, Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.

So does God judge or not? Am I contradicting myself here?

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that the problem with judgement is a very human one. When humans judge, we do it from a limited perspective. We find it easy to get it wrong. We don’t know everything, and cannot know everything, about what we are judging.

God, however, is not limited in time, or in knowledge, or in righteousness. God is the good judge – the one who knows it all and gets it right every time.

God judges, as the Psalm says, with justice and fairness. Yet God remains the refuge for those in need.

This Advent, may you not judge others, but leave that up to the One who judges with justice and fairness. May you trust the One who knows it all. May you find refuge in Him.

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To save the world…

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

When I was in my 20’s John 3:17 was pointed out to me. Everyone knew John 3:16 – it was the verse that was taught over and over.

Even I, who can never remember chapter and verse, knew exactly what John 3:16 said. I could quote it easily. I’d read the Bible – cover to cover – and yet somehow I’d missed this verse. I knew Jesus had died for me, so that I could receive everlasting life by believing in him.

But somehow I’d missed the fact that the scripture clearly says that Jesus didn’t come to judge and condemn the world, but to save it.

This is important because sometimes Christianity and Christians are presumed to be full of judgement. We are not meant to be. Jesus himself wasn’t focused on judgment or condemnation, he was focused on salvation. That was his goal, his purpose, his reason for stepping out of paradise, into such a world as this.

This is good news of great joy. This is what we celebrate throughout this season.

So this Advent, may you be saved, not condemned or judged. And may it bring you everlasting joy.

Wordless Tuesday…

(Tired after a long day, and I’ve started about 3 different blog entries without being able to actually go anywhere with them. So I’m calling it. An image and some scripture are all I’ve got in me tonight – except for this one comment: with God, judgements aren’t something to be feared but something that will teach us righteousness…I find hope and peace in that!)

Joy!

…my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:47‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Yesterday was the Advent Sunday of Joy. This marks a turn in our observation of Advent. We move from the quiet waiting of hope and peace to the celebration of joy and love.

I always find this turn exciting. Christmas is drawing near! Many of the responsibilities of the season have been met – extra services have been put together, I’ve hosted the elders for an open house, we finally celebrated my Mother’s birthday, the gifts (in my case) have all been bought. There are still some responsibilities and experiences to come, but I feel ready and excited to be part of them rather than worried about them or stressed by them.

So, for me, joy has arrived at precisely the right time. That may not be true for everyone. I am always aware at this time of year that there are those for whom celebrations won’t come easily. They are dealing with grief or uncertainty. They are finding it hard to make ends meet, or they are alone in a season that is all about togetherness.

There is a song entitled “Grown Up Christmas List,” (check out my fave version here) that includes the lyrics:

No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start
and time would heal all hearts

That everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown-up Christmas list

This is my prayer for those who struggle at this time of year. I sing these words throughout Advent, whenever this song comes up on the Christmas playlist shuffle in my car. I sing them with joy, but also as a sincere prayer.

This Advent, may your spirit rejoice in God, your saviour. May those who are hurting be healed. And may all of us find and take the opportunity to be a friend, to heal a hurt and to experience joy.

With us…

Immanuel is a wonderful name for our savior. It means God is with us. So much of our faith has to do with community.

God is triune – three, yet one. Which means that God by God’s very nature is a community. Each member of the trinity giving love and support to the other two – this endless cycle of praise and worship.

When God comes to Earth, He is born into a family. The first community that any of us know. Mary, Joseph and the baby, bound to each other. The three of them against the world – at least for a while.

When the baby is born in Bethlehem, he draws people to himself. Shepherds and wise men – strangers welcomed into his midst and made part of the we-were-there-we-saw-him-in-the-flesh community.

We aren’t meant to go it alone. We are made in God’s image – made for community. We are born to families (and if you’re anything like me, you adopt people along the way who become like family even though you weren’t born to each other). We are drawn to communities – maybe crafting communities, hopefully communities of faith, maybe communities centered around a certain band or author or movie or tv show.

We were made to be a “we.” And one of the things I love about this season (even as I find it exhausting) is the gathering together that is such a part of it. Parties and dinners and concerts and services. We gather together as we celebrate Immanuel – God with US. The “us” is important there.

This Advent, may you know God is with you, may you gather with others who know it, too. And may you celebrate.

Restoration…

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm‬ ‭118:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I feel like I’ve said it countless times over the past several weeks – this is the busiest time of year. And in this Season, sometimes ministers get exhausted. When we are exhausted we tend to grumble and complain. We find it hard to take joy in all of the activities we are part of during this season.

I’ve worked long and hard in my career in ministry to not be a grinch at Christmas – to find the joy, even when I’m tired; to worship our savior, even when it is my job; to marvel at the wondrous story of his coming among us even when I know the words off by heart.

And yet, I confess to you – I’ve been grumbly lately. I’ve complained about meetings I haven’t wanted to attend and I’ve moaned about events that I haven’t wanted to lead. I’ve whined about the number of evenings in a row I must be out.

But here is the thing: God is good, God is generous, God does not grow weary, God is ready to restore.

The goodness and generosity of God has been excessively apparent to me in recent days. Because as I have showed up grumbling to one engagement or another, God has not held my grumbling against me. Instead, God has blessed me in my work, surrounded me with people to inspire and cheer me, and at each turn breathed life back into my shriveled spirit. God has restored my soul.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

This Advent, may you know the renewing, generous, life-giving love of God. May God show up in person in your life. May you find yourself overwhelmed by blessings. May you enjoy the wonder of the season. May you find restoration in Him.

Peace…

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke‬ ‭1:38‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As we celebrated the Advent Sunday of Peace at Graceview yesterday, we took Mary’s words, “I am the Lord’s servant,” as our motto for this week.

It was a busy Sunday at the end of a busy weekend. Many of our choir members performed in the Let There Be Music Choir concert on Friday night (I was blessed to simply be an audience member there!) . On Sunday evening, Graceview hosted an Ecumenical service with Bloordale United, Fellowship Christian Reformed, and St. Philip’s Lutheran.

Both events were absolutely wonderful and spirit-filled. But both took a lot of planning, effort and prayer to come about. There may have been one or two people who were a little stressed out in all of this (I may have been one of them! 😉 ) .

As I prepared Sunday’s sermon, I marveled at Mary’s ability to take on so much – her child would be born to die, born to leave her in the most painful of ways, born to bear the sins of his people; he would be hunted by Herod, hated by many, misunderstood and dismissed by his own – with such humble strength. I find peace in her gentle, graceful acceptance of all God is asking of her.

And so I encouraged the congregation (and myself!) to say these words in the moments when we feel that too much is being asked of us this Season: I am the Lord’s servant.

It is a word of strength, of encouragement. When we serve God, we are mighty, for God is with us! When we serve God, even if things seem to go wrong, we can trust that God had it all in hand. When we serve God, we are assured that what we are doing matters and will make the world a better place.

So during this week of Advent Peace, may you be God’s servant, may you be a peace-maker, may you make the world a better place.

Good for my soul…

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way my mother encouraged me to do things that were good for my soul. Whatever those things might be (these days it’s a good sweat, some time hanging with my dog, and time with either family or chosen family that top my list), she told me, doing them would pay me dividends in my faith, my health and my ministry.

My Mom is seldom wrong and she couldn’t have been more right in this case.

So at this hectic, stressful time of year, I look for things that are good for my soul.

Tonight, I attended the Let There Be Music Choir’s Christmas concert. And it was so very good for my soul. To see this group of elder singers perform both spiritual and ‘secular’ holiday songs, to sit with members of my congregation, to life my voice along with all the others during the congregational songs, was just GOOD FOR MY SOUL.

I am convinced that this is what the scriptures mean when they say – whatever is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things. When we focus on the good, we our encouraged and some of the world-weary, disillusioned, embittered cracks in our souls begin to heal.

This is actually what worship is all about. In worship, we focus on Jesus who is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. And Jesus begins again (every week!) his work of healing our souls.

This Advent, may you lift your voice in song (whether you can sing or not!), may you be surrounded by those you love, may you do what is good for your soul, and may you recognize the One who is working to heal your soul.

Like a child…

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭11:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

One of my favourite songs is the old Jars of Clay hit, Like a Child (you can listen to it here). It’s all about having faith like a child.

Because there is something wonderful about children. It’s in the way they see the world. It’s in the ease of their faith. It’s in the lovely way that they make friends with someone new in an instant.

And in this video, it’s in the way that they tell the story of Jesus’ birth. I love it. I’ve watched it over and over, giggling and enjoying this version as much as I enjoy the readings that tell the story (much more seriously and with fewer colloquialisms) on Christmas Eve.

I think it is no mistake that when God chose to come to earth, he did it as a child. I hope, fervently, that when I get to Heaven, I’ll be able to spend some time with Mary listening to her stories of Jesus’ childhood. I bet he was an exceptional kid (but then, aren’t all kids exceptional? I know that the ones I’m closest to have absolutely captured my heart, and I have no problem proclaiming them as the three greatest kids in the world!).

This Advent, may you have faith like a child. May you look at the world with innocence and wonder. May you make friends easily. May your faith come easily. And may you fall just a little more in love with that baby born in Bethlehem.