Light in the darkness..

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Like most towns and cities, Brampton has an annual tree lighting ceremony to kick off the Christmas season. The tree is housed in the courtyard at The Rose – a local live theatre.

This year, the tree looks an awful lot (to this geeky soul) like the White Tree of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings movies. One of my favorite moments in the third film is that moment when all seems dark and horrible, but then the camera pans onto the (supposedly dead) tree of Gondor and you see one white blossom…and you know it is all gong to be ok in the end – the good guys are gonna win!

It’s such a powerful little detail.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:

The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live
in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2 NLT

This verse is like that lone white blossom on an otherwise dead tree. It is part of a passage of hope in the midst of dark days in the history of God’s people.

Jesus is that light. He is our hope. He is our peace.

And like that one line blossom, he is the detail that tells us it will all be ok in the end. God’s gonna win!

Amen.

Healing…

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Tonight was the Healing Service at our church. It’s always such a special service to me. It is wonderful to be able to pray with people…it is an honor that people will share their brokenness with you, and it is so touching to see how strong their faith is.

So the whole issue of healing is on my mind tonight. I am convinced that Jesus is meant to heal us. But I am also convinced that our illness or brokenness goes so much deeper than disease or injury. I believe that Jesus is meant to be a holistic healer – one who heals our spirits and our minds and our hearts as well as our bodies.

Isaiah wrote:

 For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

I believe the peace that Isaiah is talking about is meant for all – the world and all who live in it. Not just peace as an absence of conflict, but peace as in wholeness. Peace as in the restoration to how things are meant to be. The

I believe that’s the kind of redemption that Jesus brought into the world through his birth, ministry, death and Resurrection. I believe that’s the kind of healing and renewal for which this world is crying out.

I believe it all started with the birth of a child, a son, who would be called the Prince of Peace, who would rule with fairness and justice.

 

Plans…

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For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

I have blogged about this passage before. But never in the context of Christmas. This is not one of the classic Christmas prophecies. But it could be. After all, what is Jesus if not God’s plan to give us a hope and a future?

Today I am thinking about this text because of a conversation I had this morning. It was one of those moments when God lets you see all the ways he has been working his plans for you and for the people in the community where you serve – plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future. That doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it is beautiful to a shocking degree. I have been grinning all day, each time I thought of it.

I have known and loved this verse for years, but today it has taken on a deeper meaning for me. It has become the living word of God, instead of ‘just’ a good reminder. On the one hand, I know to put my trust in God. Of course I know that. I know that God has plans for me. I know that God has good plans for my future. But it is one thing to know it intellectually, and quite another to experience it full-force.

It must have been a little bit like that for Mary that first Christmas. When she finally held her baby in her arms and just KNEW that everything she had been through – the raised eyebrows at her pregnancy, the moment when Joseph told her he’d thought of calling off their engagement, the long, difficult journey to Bethlehem – had been part of God’s plan to change the world forever. I wonder if she remembered this bit from the scroll of Jeremiah as she held her little boy.

My prayer for us all, this Christmas, is that God would reveal His plan and how he’s been working it in each of our lives. My prayer is that we might be touched not by the intellectual notion of hope, but by the living truth of our hope in Jesus Christ. My prayer is that God’s plans would continue to take on flesh and dwell among us.

Sunday of Hope…

hope-coverMy internet is a little wonky this evening and has deleted the first draft of this, the second entry in my Advent Calendar Blog. I am sorely tempted to simply go to bed and try again tomorrow. But I will not give up so early in this project.

So here we go, again. The Scripture for this evening comes from my favorite prophet, Isaiah (we preachers are prone to choosing favorite prophets, gospels, stories, verses, etc. in the Bible).

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

Isaiah 61:1-2 NLT

This is the part of the scroll that Jesus turned to in the temple as he declared the beginning of his ministry. In essence, this is the mission statement for Jesus’ ministry. It was written down long centuries before Jesus ever walked in this world.

Because God has always been about freedom, compassion, comfort, forgiveness. These have always been the things that God was up to in our world. These are the things that you and I are meant to be about every day as we serve God, as we live as God’s children in this world.

So on this Advent Sunday of Hope, may your hope be continually restored by the Source of all hope. May you be filled with the hope of Jesus. May it spill out of you and touch all who surround you.

Advent!

Today begins my favorite season of the year – the days leading up to Christmas. I love everything about Christmas – the hustle and bustle, the lights, the songs, the parties, the time spent with people we love, and most especially – the worship. This time of year is so fraught with great themes. Light in the darkness. Hope in troubling times. Incarnation. Sacrifice. Life. Death. Eternity.

For some who share my profession this time is a time of weariness. The joy of Christmas is stolen by the grind of work. I understand this, and I certainly have experienced moments of weariness and frustration and despair during this season. But I fight against allowing myself to feel that way about Christmas in general. For me, it is extremely important to find moments of celebration and moments of worship even in the midst of this busy season.

One of the ways that I do that is through my blog. So for the second year in a row, I will be writing a daily Advent Calendar here. I will read the Scriptures, and invite you to read them with me. I’ll post pictures each day that will help reflect the reading and the idea that I am writing about.

Today it begins with hope. Long before Jesus was born, there were prophets who spoke for God. Often they delivered messages of doom to a people who had wandered astray. One of my peers likes to call them the grumpy old men of the Old Testament. But in the midst of all their doom and gloom, hope was also present. And the hope was the Messiah who was to come. Jeremiah wrote these words:

“For the time is coming,”
says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.

Jeremiah 23:5 NLT

 

For centuries the people waited. They read these words in worship and dreamed about what the Messiah, the righteous descendent from David’s line, would be like. I believe they didn’t have the slightest clue about what God had in mind. But still, they turned to these words for hope. Because they knew that God’s promises would be fulfilled, that the Messiah would come, eventually.

Our season of waiting is so much shorter than theirs. We have less than a month to enter into patient waiting for the Messiah to come. And yet, as we enter this season,I give thanks for those ancient writers, who bled hope on to scrolls so that God’s people would not grow faint of heart.

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Dark Knight of the soul…

Like so many movie fans, I have been waiting for The Dark Knight Rises for months and months. And like so many of us, I was shocked and horrified by the shootings at the midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado. I first caught wind of the incident from the posting of friends on Facebook, and then read of it on the Toronto Star App on my phone.

Suddenly a movie that had caused excitement and anticipation was now tinged with much darker emotions. My stomach clenched as I read details of what happened in that movie theatre. I wondered if I should go see the movie at all.

But then I thought about how many terrible things happen all the time in this world, and I realized that one of the worst things any of us can do in the face of tragedy is allow it to keep us from living. So today I went to the theatre alone (my Dad not being a fan of Nolan’s interpretation of Batman and my Mom being ambivalent towards action movies in general) to watch as the dark knight rose.

The movie isn’t perfect – criticisms are that it is too long, a little clunky in the telling of this final chapter of Nolan’s trilogy – but it was good. Good enough that I expect I will see it again. The theme of wearing a mask throbs at the centre of this film…every character wears a mask here, whether literal or emotional. The theme of fear – how we experience it and how we allow it to drive us – is also central.

The sad coincidence of how well these ideas fit into discussions of the Aurora, CO shootings was not lost on me as I watched the movie. The shootings were never far from my mind even as the movie drew me in. And I will readily admit that I was nervously aware of every single person who reentered the theatre after a bathroom break (at a running time of 2hrs40min, you can bet there were quite a few who took time for a bathroom break).

In the second installment of Nolan’s trilogy, Alfred explain’s the Joker’s unquenchable thirst for violence with these words “some men just want to watch the world burn.” I do not claim to understand such men – in fact, I hope to stand for all that is opposite to their worldview – but I do believe they exist. I do believe that the perpetrator of these shootings is such a one.

And my heart breaks for all who have lost a loved one, been injured, been terrified or been displaced by this tragedy. My heart breaks.

But despite all this, I stand on hope. I hope for a world that gets better, not worse. I hope for future generations to find a peace we have not yet achieved. I hope for a day when a night at the movies may just be a night at the movies. I hope for a world redeemed.

Jesus said, “Behold! I am making all things new!” and it is to this promise that my hope clings.

The weather?! Really??!

Yeah, really. I’m blogging about the weather. What else do you talk about when you have nothing to talk about?

Actually, I’m writing about the weather because in my little corner of Ontario, we’ve had this unbelievable stretch of sunny days. I can’t remember the last time it rained. In fact, even on the days that weren’t perfectly sunny, there’s been no precipitation. On the one hand, I love that because it makes it super-easy to get out for a walk with the puppy. There’s no prep (her raincoat, my raincoat, rainboots) needed and there’s no clean up afterwards (muddy paws, wet belly to wipe…I AM talking about the dog, people!).

On the other hand, there IS such a thing as too much of a good thing. After a time, the ground becomes hard, the plants suffer, there is danger of fires. I have friends who have been praying for rain because they were not able to get into their church camp due to forest fires.

A day of rain probably means I’ll have to forgo my beloved summer clothes (really, I adore tank tops and shorts and flip flops…I am, apparently, a minimalist when it comes to clothing). It probably means I’ll have to remember to bring Koski’s rain jacket down from my bedroom before our morning walk. It probably means I won’t be eating dinner out on the front porch with my friends in Oshawa tomorrow evening. I could look at it as a bad thing.

But a day of rain means other things, too. It means I will be cozy in my car as I drive to Oshawa (I love driving in the rain). It means that the forests will be less likely to catch fire. It means that the flower and trees will flourish.

Most situations are just like this: they have their good points and their bad points. You could look on them as a blessing or a curse. You could see the positive or the negative in them.

I think God calls us to see the blessing rather than the curse. When we focus on the negative, we rob ourselves (and those around us) of joy. And we are called to live joyfully.

I love that old saying “Life is not about avoiding the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” And that is just what I plan to do tomorrow!

The good and the bad…

I’ve been struggling with my fitness routine lately. I’ve had some bad binge days when it comes to food and some malaise when it comes to exercising. But tonite I fought my way through the second bootcamp class of the week, and I am pleased with how I feel. I am pleased that I worked hard today – at exercise, at eating well and at my vocation.

Some days are bad. Some days are really hard. The trick, I think, is to not allow those days to be overwhelming. To not allow them to be the end of the story. Bad days definitely come, but so do good days. So do days when it is easy to work hard and live up to the goals you’ve set for yourself.

I saw this on pinterest this evening and it made me smile:

I admit, I am not usually thinking of Jesus during my workout. I’m usually thinking of oxygen and the need for more of it. But I like this picture. I believe the words written here.

And when the bad days come, I need to remember this. Because in this statement of purpose, I find hope. And all that is needed to change a bad day into a good day is hope rightly placed.

He lifts you up!

I have a song by Audio Adrenaline going through my head right now…the lyrics go “you get down, He lifts you up! You get down, He lifts you up! You get down, He lifts you up! Every time you’re down, the Lord lifts you up!”

I find this to be so true. Every time I find myself down – and yes, that happens even to a fairly balanced, fairly bubbly person like me – God sends something to lift me up. Today it was a gentleman who is a client at our foodbank. He stopped by my office and just ‘wanted to talk.’ I sat and listened as he told me about the terrible things he has been through (abuse, addiction, depression, his wife leaving him, disease, etc.) in the past few years. But then he would get this grin on his face and say “God’s shown me so much, though. God is with me all the time.”

He told me how he had become addicted to cocaine, but God had sent a police team into the bar where he got his drugs and all the dealers were cleared out. He said one day one dealer got angry at him and wouldn’t sell to him anymore and that meant that he couldn’t get his drugs anymore. That began the long road to recovery for him.

I loved his honesty and his ability to see God at work in the places where most of us would think God does not go. I found his faith inspiring and his smile contagious.

Things are hard at at the foodbank right now. We are surviving week-to-week. Today there is a total of $56 left in the bank. It will take at least $1800 to buy food for our clients a week from now. It seems insurmountable. And yet – God provides. Endlessly and faithfully. And I am so grateful that He does. Because in sharing a little food with those in need, there is a much deeper blessing to be found for those who serve.

Messing up…

It’s been a tough week for me Weight-Watchers-wise. On the one hand I’ve had awesome success with Weight Watchers over the past year. On the other hand it has been a frustrating game of one-step-forward-two-steps-back since about January. If I have lost anything since then (and whether or not I have is arguable, because I have been up and down a lot), it’s been a very minor amount. Recently, I’ve found that I am letting myself get away with extra tastes and “just a pinch” of this or that.

This is not good. On the one hand, I am sticking to very healthy eating most of the time. My diet has improved leaps and bounds over this time last year. On the other hand, I have been sabotaging myself with all these little extras. This week, especially has been difficult. To the point that tonite I decided to pretty much scrap this week, understand that the scale may say something very nasty to me on Sunday, and start fresh after weigh-in on Sunday morning.

Sometimes we mess up. There’s no great reason for this slip-up on my part. I have kept my exercise up this week, I have been planning healthy meals, I have been enjoying my work and loving the weather. Perhaps this is just a culmination of some stress that has been piling up over the last several weeks. Maybe it’s emotional-jet-lag from a truly terrible week I had a few weeks back. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to show some grace to myself.

After all, that’s what Jesus would do. That is what God has always done with us, his children. The Old Testament is full of moments when Israel messed up. When they turned away from God. When they lost the plot. And though God warned that turning away from Him meant turning away from love and life and goodness and turning towards the opposite of those things, He never stopped taking them back. The people of Israel never got to the end of God’s grace. God was always ready to take them back one more time. And when they got to the point where it might look like God was finished with them, God changed the rules of the game.

He sent his Son, to live and to die, to teach and to rise again, to break the bonds of sin and death forever and for everyone. I love that about God. This is the the thing that keeps my faith going even when I’m in a dry spell or  struggle. Because I know, no matter how badly I mess up, Christ has already paid the price for my mess-ups. God’s grace is THAT big.

So I am having grace for myself. This week, I have messed up. I recognize it, I own it, and I am sorry for it. I will be careful over the next two days and I will begin fresh with Weight Watchers on Sunday. And I will remember to be thankful that in Weight Watchers, as with God, it is never too late for a new beginning.