Above: This was in the olive groves that surround the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem…I took this picture specifically because I wanted to post it on this day, the Advent Sunday of Peace.

The truth is that I arrived home 3 days ago. But today I feel like I am finally, truly home. I think it has something to do with having worshiped with the folks of St. Andrew’s Brampton this morning. Sitting in the sanctuary – bawling my eyes out every time one of the Christmas carols mentioned “Jerusalem” or “Bethlehem” – I felt the love and support of my community of faith. And what better thing to be welcomed home by?

I found myself thinking of that night in Bethlehem, when the Christ Child was born. He came into this world in a place that was not home – not for him, not for his parents. He came here having left his home – heaven. And he did that for us. To teach us that love means showing up, being present.

The children of our church presented worship this morning. Their pageant was simply the telling of the Christmas story, but it was done with heart. The worship of children has always been a very moving thing for me.

So on this Advent Sunday of Peace, I am thankful for the peace that comes from belonging with other people who believe in Jesus. I am thankful for the faith of our children. I am thankful for the witness of all who participated this morning. And most of all, I am thankful that love shows up in the form of a child born in Bethlehem who changed everything.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 NLT

Being Christ…


I was at a meeting this evening where an issue was raised about how all of the people at the meeting (elders and ministers, for the most part) treated each other. We were reminded that we are not always very “Christian” to each other.

It was a good reminder. The reality is that those of us in full-time ministry and those of us who have served the church in a long-time capacity (like that of being an elder), sometimes forget that we are called to be Jesus to each other. That we are called to embody the very spirit and manner of the One who gave his life for our salvation. We are called to treat each other with love and and kindness and gentleness. Peace and hope and faithfulness are meant to be at the center of our comments and conversations. Joyfulness and patience and goodness and self-control are supposed to ooze out of us. (In case your keeping count, yes, those ARE all the fruits of the Spirit.)

And yet, all too often, I have been in church meetings where this was not the case. People spoke harshly, shaming and blaming others. Someone got their back up and someone else responded with sarcasm or derision. Hurts were dealt out in equal measure by people on both sides of the issue.

And I think I heard Jesus weeping.

The fact is it is not always easy to keep our tempers in check. When you gather together a group of ministers and elders, you have a bunch of people who care passionately about the church. And sometimes our passions get the better of us.

But we need to remember (and I say this for myself as much as anyone else) our calling. We are called to be Christ. We are called to embody the fruit of the Spirit. We are called to lead by example. We are called to act in ways that honor the teachings of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV


be quiet

I found this on pinterest today, and it struck me. How much hurt would be saved if we all employed this rule? But then I got thinking even further about quietness. I believe that quiet is good for the soul.

We live in a busy, noisy, crazy world. When we go just about anywhere there is a soundtrack playing – at the mall, at the gym, the TV that is on at the doctor’s office or the radio that plays in the car. I sometimes think that we are afraid of silence, we have a fear of quiet.

I think we are afraid of it, because in the silence, in the quiet, our thoughts are revealed. There is no sound to distract ourselves with, and one either finds peace or runs into insanity.

Right now, as I sit writing in my livingroom, the only sound is the whoosh of air through the ducts as my furnace works to keep the house warm and the rhythmic swish of breath from the two dogs and a cat who are napping on their beds nearby. I am very pleased to say that it is not insanity that I am finding in this still, quiet moment. Instead, it is peace, I find here. And thankfulness for all the gifts God has given me.

If your days are busy and noisy and full of distraction, I encourage you to find some time to spend in silence. Whether it is a walk in the afternoon, turning off the radio as you drive, or finding half an hour to turn off all the noise-makers and simply sitting in quiet. As we draw ever closer to Easter, spend some time in the quiet. Hear what your soul says, listen to what the Holy Spirit might whisper to you, or just breathe and put your trust in God.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
Psalm 62:1 NRSV

Angel’s song…



 Suddenly, the angel was joined
by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—
praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those
with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2:13,14 NLT


These verses are so well-known to me, that it is easy to overlook them. To simply hear them as a part of the story, and not see the gold that is hidden in them. For there is gold here.

In this simple song of the angels is housed the ‘way it was all meant to be.’ Glory to God, they sing. Because God deserves the glory. Only God could come up with the plan for our salvation. Only God could send us Jesus. Only God could work a plan for humanity on so many levels – that Jesus would be our salvation…the one through whom we are made right with God; but also that he would also be God’s ultimate sign of love for us – He loved us enough to come here and live as one of us, so that we could never say “you don’t know what it is like”; and also that in the life and teachings of Jesus we would be given words of wisdom for how to live the good life, the abundant life; but also that through his Resurrection death would be defeated.

Yes, God deserves the glory. That is the way it is meant to be.

Peace on Earth is also the way it is meant to be. We are made for relationship with God and with each other. We are made to be at peace with each other. We are made to be at peace with the world around us. When we fail at peace (remember Shalom? – that is what I mean by peace), then brokenness occurs. When we don’t live holistically and sustainably within the world that God created for us, disease breaks out. When we don’t live holistically with our fellow man, violence breaks out. When we don’t live holistically with God, evil breaks out.

We need peace. We need not just an end to war or other violence, but an end to the way we exclude others, the way we poison our world, the way we try to fix things on our own and leave God out of the equation.

May the song of the Angels ring loud and clear this Christmas. May it remind us all of how it is meant to be. May each of us seek and find ways to give the glory to God and bring peace to the Earth.

Sunday of Joy…


I always appreciate being at church after a tragedy. Not that I ever want a tragedy to occur, but when they do, being in worship with my family of faith is a blessing. I remember my Dad preaching words of hope and comfort after 9/11, in those first few weeks when it still felt like maybe the world was ending. I remember how beautiful it was to sing and pray and read words of hope and of peace in that very troubling time.

On the one hand it was hard to be at worship today – my emotions over the Connecticut school shootings are still very close to the surface. On the other hand, I was so relieved and blessed to be there. For some it might have felt like it was ironic in a terrible, terrible way that today is the Advent Sunday of Joy.

But for me, it felt right. Not because I want to just smile and laugh and ignore the pain. But because I believe that joy is stronger than pain. That joy can be felt in the midst of pain. And that joy can help to heal our wounds.

So my smile was wobbly today in worship. My tissue was drenched by the end of the service, and my eyes and nose were red. But there were so many good things that happened in my community of faith today. We baptized a baby. We listened to our children sing and play the handbells. We laughed. We danced (does this mean our Presbyterian card will be revoked?!). We sang Go Tell It On The Mountain at the top of our voices and clapping broke out.

And God was with us. God was drawing us together. God was healing us. God was blessings us.

In the Gospel According to Matthew we find these words:

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:22-25 NLT

Jesus came so that we would know that God is with us. On the good days, on the bad days, on the ordinary days. Jesus came so that we would know God cares and so that we would know what it is to experience the joy of being unconditionally loved.

So that we would have a joy inside us that shines in the midst of darkness, that smiles through the haze of tears, that sings and claps, even when our hearts are broken.

Mary and the angel…


In 12 days it will be Christmas Eve. I hope you are on your way to ready, if not completely prepared yet. Personally, I am just about finished with my preparations. I have a few gifts that I am waiting for them to arrive in the mail. And I have a lot of wrapping, some mailing and a little grocery shopping to do. But that’s it. And I am pleased.

I think the time has come to make the turn from waiting for the birth to telling the story of the birth in this Advent Calendar blog project. I love the story of Jesus’ birth. I love all the details and the way it came together. So I want to take my time with this story, to tell it slowly over the next 12 days.

Let’s begin!

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Luke 1:26-33 NLT

When I was a child, this part of the story scared me. I mean, I understood that God is love and that therefore one might expect that God’s messenger would be loving as well. But I was terrified at the idea of an Angel waking me up in the middle of the night. I didn’t want God sending me any messengers. The thought just scared me.

So I love that Luke says that Mary was confused and disturbed. I bet she was! I would be too, if this happened to me.

But I as I grew up I began to understand that somehow Mary had courage even in the midst of being confused and disturbed. That somehow, this messenger was welcome, even in the midst of her fear. Maybe because his words are so good. His message is one of hope and joy and the absolute confirmation of God’s love for Mary.

Maybe because angels – who have been in the presence of God – have a calming way about them.

Or maybe because Mary already had faith in God, she already lived with peace in her heart – peace that passes understanding. Peace that her son would bring into the world and share with all who chose to follow Him.



(PS…it is really, really hard to find non-cheesy angel images!)

Peace on Earth! Peace on Earth!

I am taking a break from a full-on Advent Calendar blog tonite. It’s been a long day with a late (though great) meeting this evening. God is at work in my community of faith, and it is a beautiful thing to see.

So tonight I want to share a video of one of my favorite Christmas songs. This is the band Casting Crowns, singing their version of “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” I love the way the have re-envisioned this old carol. I love the message that surrounds the song in this clip. This is exactly how I feel in my journey of faith.

So watch and enjoy (it is a little long, but worth every second!). And may you find Peace on Earth this Christmas season.

Shalom 2.0…


Yesterday I wrote about Shalom – the Old Testament word for “peace,” which also means restoration and completeness and “how things are meant to be.” I think this is what our world longs for…we all know that something is broken in our world. It must be, because children get sick and die in our world, seemingly healthy people get diagnosed with cancer in our world, people commit suicide in our world. These things happen daily, and they tell us that something is terribly wrong, something is broken here.

Faced with these realities, we might find ourselves overwhelmed. We might want to give in to despair. We might want to stop believing that the Biblical idea of Shalom, peace, is possible in our world. While I certainly understand that temptation, I also think it is a bit of a cop-out. Because if we say that peace is not possible, it gives us an out…we don’t have to strive for peace because it isn’t really possible.

But we are called to be agents of peace in this world. We are called to be those who live the ways of peace, of Shalom, of how-it-is-supposed-to-be-ness. That is part of what it means to follow Jesus – to work towards those things that may seem impossible to us, but that are for the good of us all.

The prophet Isaiah writes:

Lord, you will grant us peace;
all we have accomplished is really from you.
O Lord our God, others have ruled us,
but you alone are the one we worship.

Isaiah 26:12-13 NLT


I think peace has to begin with faith. With the trust that says that God will bring about what seems impossible to us. That God is big enough to bring about what seems impossible to us, and that all the other things we might put our trust or our faith in are not big enough to accomplish peace.

When Jesus was born, it was not into a peaceful time and place. He came into the midst of our broken, messed up world. (Remember, after his birth, a whole bunch of babies were killed as Herod tried to protect the power that he held as King.) He came to show us what Shalom looks like in bodily form, in a life lived out, in choices made and in lessons taught. And ultimately, eternally, in a life laid down in sacrifice.

Often at Christmas we like to focus on the little baby Jesus, but one of the things those of us who preach regularly strive for is to keep the whole story of Jesus in mind at Christmas. To remember the messy bits as well as the pretty bits. To remember the sacrifice and betrayal as well as the birth and Resurrection. Because it is only in the complete story of Jesus (which begins with creation, according to John) that Shalom, peace, the-way-it-is-meant-to-be is found.



Today is the Advent Sunday of Peace. I often wish we had a word like Shalom in the English language. Shalom means peace, but it also means wholeness, completeness, prosperity, restoration, wellfare. It means peace, but it also means “how things are meant to be.”

Zechariah said this about his son John:

And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:76-79 NLT

Zechariah is describing the role his son John will play – telling the world about Jesus and preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus.

But he is also describing God’s plan for Shalom. Through Jesus, Shalom was to enter the world. The light would shine on those sitting in the shadow of death, the light would guide them to the pathway of peace – of shalom.

Jesus is meant to guide us to the way things are meant to be. To the restoration of what it means for each of us to be human. The restoration of our relationships with each other and the restoration of our relationship with God.

I think this is a very rich definition of peace…one that reaches far beyond the idea of peace as simply the “absence of conflict.” I pray Shalom for each of you as you read this blog, and as  you go about your daily lives.

There is a way to Shalom, and that way’s name is Jesus.

Finding balance…


The last two days have been kind of crazy. Packed full of activity – lunch with friends, back-up singing at an Elvis impersonator’s concert (I never get sick of dropping that detail into conversation!), Christmas shopping, addressing Christmas cards, cooking, buying turkey(s). It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

So on the night before the Advent Sunday of Peace, I find myself reflecting on the lack of balance I’ve had this week. It has been full of one thing and another. It has been sadly lacking in peace and rest.

I found myself at the local mall this morning. I had gotten too little sleep the night before and had too many things on my to-do list, and now that I think about it…I was one of those grumpy joyless people that make me frustrated at this time of year. Now that I’m on the right side of a good long nap with my dog, some time spent with friends, and the completing of so many things on my list, I realize I could have actually enjoyed this morning. I could have spread all my errands over a few days. I could have stopped and taken it all in rather than rushing from one moment to the next. I could have found the balance between getting it done, and enjoying the moment.

Micah, the prophet, wrote:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
one whose origins are from the distant past.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock
with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.
And he will be the source of peace.

Micah 5:2-5 NLT

Part of the problem with my experience this morning was that I got so focused on the list of things to do, that I forgot the reason I was doing it all. In the end, it is all to honor Jesus. To celebrate that moment when Love came down from heaven and dwelt among us.

Micah says that Jesus is meant to be the source of our peace. So I will try to make him the center of my celebrations from now on. I will try to smile when it might be easier to scowl. I will tap into the source of my peace, and remember that this is about him first and foremost. I will pray that you will be able to do the same.