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Archive for December, 2020

As this 2020 is sliding in for home, I have been pondering the year, through the rear view mirror … which is how, I expect, most of us have been desiring to view this year.

This has been the year of the Coronavirus disease, resulting in memories of a year that leave a bad taste in one’s mouth (unless you had Covid-19 and lost your sense of taste).

  • isolation
  • toilet paper hoarding
  • cancelled plans
  • halted travel
  • sanitizer
  • online schooling
  • working from home
  • face masks
  • cancelled arts, sporting and other entertainment
  • cancelled plans
  • cancelled parties
  • closed businesses (some permanently)
  • job losses
  • illness (so some)
  • death (sadly, also true for some)

And all of this on top of the non-Coronavirus struggles of life like racism, politics, riots, natural disasters, relationship struggles, ended marriages, illnesses and … murder hornets?!

This Covid Pandemic season has tested us in ways our communities have not been tested in a lifetime. This year with Covid-19 will be talked about in terms of the tough, the struggles, the hard stuff, the losses, the negative.

Yet, as I have been looking back at 2020, there have also been amazing, encouraging and uplifting aspects that have shown human kindness, strength, resilience and love. Truly the cream has risen to the top, as I look more closely at 2020.

  • society is celebrating real community heroes … nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, those who work in senior’s care homes, those who work in daycares, preschools and schools and (add your own)
  • we are learning to say than-you, for through our wants and needs, we are leaning appreciation and gratitude
  • people have had opportunity to really get to know who lives under our own roofs
  • hand crafts, baking, board games and puzzles have reemerged in our homes
  • we opted, choose to stay connected through distanced meet-ups in parking lots with lawn chairs, outside windows of senior’s homes, Zoom meetings, FaceTime, live (online) church services and small groups, online games and even letter writing
  • weddings still happened and were more intimate
  • graduations occurred with great creativity
  • we started noticing others
  • we cleaned out our closet, basements and garages
  • we got out in nature to exercise by biking, hiking, walking, running and (fill in your preference)
  • we began to see that we are part of something bigger, that our actions can have affect on others … that staying home, wearing a mask are little things done with great love … for others.

2020 is coming to a close and it will go down in history as a pandemic year … but this coronavirus storm has also a year when we began to look at our jobs, businesses, education, shopping, needs … at our lives differently. Though we are all looking forward to returning to many of the good things that have been on pause this year, our new focus might not have us return to the rat race of before, maybe, just maybe we will begin to realize that there is more to life than what we had before …

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Christmas is most beautiful, most compelling through the eyes of children.

As this has been a more quiet, more reserved Christmas, I have found myself pondering moments of Christmas’ past, when our children were young. The excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve, the placing of Jesus into the manger in our nativity, the checking of the ‘Santa tracker’ online, the awe with which they would admire colored lights, the thrills, the smiles, the joy.

The way children, naturally, express excitement over the Christmas season is addictive, creating a longing within our adult selves for that joy, that thrill of hope.

In his dystopian novel, That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis writes a conversation in which Denniston says to Jane :

“Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it as you grow up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children – and the dogs? They know what snow’s made for.”

Like Lewis’ explanation of children loving all weather, whereas adults have ‘matured’ to be more differentiated in our opinions, so children approach Christmas with a unified joy and wonder that we adults have ‘matured’ beyond.

This brings me to a question …
have we matured?

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says :

“… unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Then in Mark 10:15, he says :

“… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

It is as if Jesus himself is saying, don’t grow up!

I am not sure that is necessarily the case in all areas, but I do think that his reminders to be like children is part of his turning the law and the societal norms of the day up-side-down. Not just then, in Jesus time on Earth, but for today as well, as we view children and childhood with limited views on life.

I love these verses in Romans 5:14-16 :

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

It is the cry, “Abba Father” that catches me every time I read it.

Abba was not a word for a ruler, a dominator, a politician or king. Abba is an Aramaic term of endearment, much like Daddy. It is a term of great intimacy, closeness, security. It is a term used by children when things go bump in the night, when the door opens at the end of the day and little ones scurry to embrace their beloved, when eyes are heavy and a warm arms are sought in which to fall asleep in perfect peace.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a commentary on Romans 8:5-17 says :

“Let us notice the word ‘cry’… we cry ‘Abba, Father.’ It is a very strong word, and clearly the apostle has used it quite deliberately. It means ‘a loud cry’ … it expresses deep emotion … It is the spontaneity of the child who sees the father … and not only spontaneity, but confidence.” 

We adults need to be childlike in our view of our Father God, who desires for us to seek him for intimacy, closeness and security … to seek him as Abba. And not just seek him, but cry out loudly for him.

May we learn through the beauty of how children, naturally, express excitement over the Christmas season. May we be childlike in our cries to Abba.

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Christmas Day has arrived … with no pomp and circumstance, no concerts or parties, no midnight mass or carol sing, no large family gatherings, no hayrides or white elephant exchanges, no mistletoe or warm hugs to share.

It is as if our world’s Christmas has been ‘Grinched’ by Covid.

Yet, the Grinch learned something in his quest to ‘steal’ Christmas from the Whos …

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

In July the comet NEOWISE made it’s flashy appearance across the skies. In mid December South America was treated to a total eclipse of the sun. Just days ago the great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter occurred creating a visible ‘star’ which has been called the Christmas Star (as a bow to the three conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter in May, September and December of 7 BC). While the world’s collective heads have been bowed this year with a pandemic, isolation, racial struggles, loss of freedoms, political power-tripping, fires, floods and our cell phones … the natural universe would seem to be calling us to lift our heads.

Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.

Psalm 123:1

It is easy to feel a sense of fear and loss this Christmas season.

I feel it, as our Christmas dinner will just be hubby, our son and I … our household bubble.

Yet, Christmas Day is here. The day to celebrate what is here … the Spirit of the God, through our acceptance of Jesus, who is God with us. This day is one of thanksgiving for our Redeemer, who takes away the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety, the sin that is within our humanity.

May we look up this Christmas day. Past the pandemic, the lack of Christmas gathering, the sorrows, the pains, past our melancholy misery for holiday nostalgia of past years … may our eyes be fixed on the gift from heaven, that takes away the sin of the world.

“Let every heart prepare him room”

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So it’s your birthday today!

Yes, I ended that sentence with an exclamation mark, even though birthdays have never been something to celebrate in your mind.

I remember the first time I celebrated your birthday with you, your mood would have indicated that you would rather do just about anything except acknowledge you were turning a year older … you were twenty-three.

Though birthdays are not something you wish to celebrate, you are worthy of celebration.

Your roles in life include being a son, a husband, a father but there is one area of your life that I have seen this year (and every year before) that makes my admiration for you grow exponentially.

I have come home from work many days to the awareness that you are having a FaceTime conversation with someone, usually an older person who you once worked with/for, whose home you once lived, or knew somehow in the past. Or it might be a call with that guy who is a security guard at a local shopping strip mall, or the elderly man who you met at the barber. As Covid has snuck into the senior’s home where you work as a chaplain, preventing you from doing your work onsite, you have spent countless hours making phone calls to the residents, making contact by voice and heart, being received with happy excitement as well as teary thankfulness.

And each time I overhear your conversations, my heart is reminded of yours.

Your words speak love, encouragement and hope. Your listening speaks even greater volumes. You remind these people that they are still worthy of one’s time and attention, that they are still alive, that the breath of … not just life, but living and purpose is great within them. And through it all, you are the whisper into their souls that they are a valuable child of God …

A few weeks ago your phone rang, just after we climbed, weary-eyed, into bed. It was that English gentleman you’d met at the barber. He was calling to see if you’d heard if the lady barber (who, herself, is seventy-something) you share is still working. Though exhausted, my attention was fixed on the conversation between you and he. You discussed the barber situation, British television programs, historical events … both of you speaking and listening in turn. It was obvious that he was not eager to hang up, to go back to his silent apartment and you did not rush, but continued the conversation joyfully.

And I lie there, silently beaming with pride in how you gave this man the gift of being valued, being seen, being heard.

This is your gift, your greatest calling, giving attention to those who so easily get pushed aside, forgotten.

Now, today, as we celebrate your taking another turn around the sun, I hope you see the value in every breath you take. I hope you are able to receive attention directed to you. That you feel and know that you you are alive and that the breath of … not just life, but living and purpose is great within you.

May you hear the whisper into you soul that you are worth celebrating!

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The Apostle John wrote Jesus’ words, concerning love :

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

This is a verse that we pull out when one has done a sacrificial act to save another, when one dies in battle, when one jumps in the line of fire to save the life of another.

This is the depth of love that we remember on this fourth Sunday of Advent. It is the John 3:16 love,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The God of Creation was so desperate that our lives be redeemed, he committed the greatest act of love, sacrificing his own Son, so that we might live.

When I focus on this greater love, in these ways, it would seem that most of us do not even have opportunity to show this greater love. For who among us encounters opportunity or reason to give up our lives for another?

What if,
perhaps,
greater love means something more?

What if greater love means sacrificing beyond our physical lives?

What if we are given opportunity to express greater love when :

  • we make efforts to befriend the less popular, less appealing, prickly person in our class, in our workplace … in our church pew
  • we respond with loving-kindness, rather than setting people straight, when
  • we leave the coffee shop, see a man begging just up the sidewalk and we take out coffee to him (and go on our day without … feeling the sacrifice personally).
  • we listen … rather than speak
  • we make the time to make the meal, write the note, send a gift to one who is grieving, lonely, one who simply comes to mind
  • we say yes, when we want to say no
  • we offer grace and forgiveness, when revenge might be a just response
  • we believe what we are told, rather than reading in to what we think is meant
  • we keep persevering … investing even when relationships poke and push us
  • we get out of our comfort zone to love others in ways that communicate love most to them

This greater love is the anthesis to what our world preaches today about cancelling friends, relatives and groups of people because they haven’t lived up to what we believe they should say, how they should live, what they should think.

It is up-side-down thinking. And this is exactly the kind of thinking … living that Jesus modelled. There is nothing he spoke more of in his recorded lifetime than love. It is through this virtue that he gave the first and second greatest commands (“love God, love others” Matthew 22:38-39)

This greater love, is the love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 :

Love is patient, 
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking, 
it is not easily angered, 
it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails …
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 
But the greatest of these is love.

This is the greater love of sacrificing for another.

May we be found loving other as Christ loves us.

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It is sung every year in churches all around. As a matter of fact, it is said that Joy to the World is the most published Christmas song. Yet, it is was not written as a Christmas Carol, nor was it even a song.

Isaac Watts ‘song’ was published in a book in 1719, as a poem. A hundred years later, the melody is believed to have been written by Handel. But it was not until Christmas of 1836 that Lowell Mason introduced this, ‘arranged from Handel’ song to America and the world fell in love.

The words were formed from Watts conviction that the Psalms and the New Testament are intricately intwined through the life of Christ. This joyful poem turned song originated in Psalm 98 and was not written as anticipation of the Messiah, but of the second coming of Christ.

The lyrics are words of triumph, victory. Of good overcoming evil, of righteousness overcoming the sin of the world, of death defeated and of the start of the ultimate reign of Christ. There is reason to celebrate!

It is in the final stanza that the virtues that this return of Christ heralds …

truth.
grace.
righteousness.
(wonders of His) love.

These are the leadership model of the God of creation … firm handedness, cruelty and control. He will rule all of the world, exemplifying the power in truth, grace, righteousness and love.

To some these virtues can be seen as examples of weakness, of missing the strong arm of God. Yet they describe Jesus, who is the truth, grace, righteousness and love (the greatest commandments) personified. It is he who is not just our Saviour and Lord, but also our example.

Our world is now being introduced to a vaccine that (is hoped) will being to bring this pandemic to an end. The joy that this brings for our future is great, and worth celebrating. Yet a greater savior is coming to save our eternal futures … joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

“God by his righteous judgment
will bring the whole earth
from a state of sorrow
into a state of salvation and joy”
Hengstenberg

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When I was growing up (back in the stone ages), there were two main faces of Christmas; the Christ child and Santa Claus.

Although I grew up with both faces, both individuals as part of this season, I did not grow up confused by the pair who I grew up connecting to Christmas.

Santa was a good, and gentle man, and the stories of him fed my dreams of a magical character who existed to reward my good behavior.

The Christ child was an innocent baby, who was born to eventually die, so that I would never have to deal with the consequences of my human sin.

One gave,

the other took away.

One was jolly,

the other gave joy.

One lived in the North Pole,

and the other lived in my heart.

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One of the words, opposite joy, is despair. When I think of despair, I think hopeless, lacking in peace.

It is interesting that today, this third Sunday of advent, we focus on joy, following peace and hope. Perhaps it is because we, our lives, are absent of joy if we have not received the hope and peace that only Christ can give?

Joy is not just a product of hope and peace, joy is, much like those, a choice.

Psalm 71:23 says, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” Notice first section, “my lips will shout for joy” … it is a statement of dedication, determination. The Psalmist is committing, vowing that whatever befalls he will shout for joy. He is making a choice. Charles Spurgeon has said of this Psalm, “this Psalm may be regarded as the utterance of struggling, but unstaggering, faith.”

Anyone out there struggling right now? We are in a pandemic people … we are ALL struggling with something in this time in our lives, in the history that is presently being written. We all have struggles that challenge our hearts and souls (and bodies). This is our current, common human experience.

But …

if we can look to the source of hope and peace,

if we can choose, by our will and our unstaggering (well … most of the time) faith to force joy from our lips … it WILL COME BACK TO OUR SOULS!

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). It is new every morning (Psalm 30:5). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Angels experience joy when one person repents (Luke 15:10). We should eat and drink with a merry (joyful) heart (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Hey reader …

did you know that we are in the midst of a pandemic?

did you know that Christmas is coming … but so much of what is part of our Christmas season, is not going to be the same as previous years?

do you feel tired?

Someone has said,

I saw this quote awhile back and it has been tossing and turning in my thoughts.

I think it stuck with me because … I am tired and

all I want for Christmas is to stop being tired

Do you know what I mean?

Do you feel the fatigue too?

I am tired of:

  • missing family
  • longing to travel
  • telling students to pull their face masks over their noses
  • death counts and numbers in hospital ICU
  • missing singing as a congregation
  • the days that are dark and gloomy and short on light
  • words like cohorts, bubble and anti-maskers
  • Christ-followers who are focused on ‘their’ rights in a broken world
  • the people who just won’t do what must be done so that we can be together
  • this pandemic … all of it

And when I focus on these things … then I feel even more tired!

When I focus on Christ, though I am still tired, I feel something else, something that provides strength, comfort and purpose.

When Christ is the focus of my thoughts, my prayers and my attention I have a relief of this tiredness through the peace that only he can provide …. an acceptance of God’s control in my life, in the lives of those I love … all in the midst of a pandemic.

When I give my attention and thoughts to the peace of Christ, I begin to experience relief of some of the fatigue. And through my reception of this peace, the tiredness isn’t as intense, isn’t the focus.

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled 
and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

“Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

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Jerusalem

I have come home numerous days lately to the sounds of choirs singing the anthemic hymn Jerusalem (hubby loves epic music). Last week, as I opened the door to be greeted by this song, my mind played a game of song association and immediately city of peace cried out from my mind.

City of peace … this city, called home by three very different Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity … from such common beginnings came three such unique faiths) all of whom have skeletons in their closets, regarding peace (as in pacifism).

The words of this iconic song are as intriguing as Jerusalem meaning city of peace. Written, as part of the poem Milton, by William Blake. There are some who interpret it as part of a legend of how Jesus somehow ended up on England’s green land in his time on Earth.

Considering Blake (perhaps best described as a non-conformist Christian, for his time) wrote this poem during the dark and dirty Industrial Revolution (referenced in the line “among these dark satanic mills”), illustrating, perhaps a more anti-establishment mindset (or, as NT Wright suggested, Blake might have been referring to the “great churches” as he had used mills as descriptors for the Church of England, in other writings).

This anthemic hymn, though, may not be more than a famous poem had the words not been put to such epic music by Sir Hubert Parry, who was indeed the one who crossed out the original title (“And did those feet in ancient time”) and re-titled it Jerusalem. With his wife, both supporters of the women’s suffrage movement, Parry was happy to allow the song to become the Women Voters’ hymn, saying, “People seem to enjoy singing it. And having the vote ought to diffuse a good deal of joy too.”

Whatever spiritual meaning this song was for Parry and Blake, it is in the final lines that stir up ones spirit.

The final stanza is a call to arms, to fight …

til we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land

I would suggest that this call to arms, if Blake indeed had the spirit of God within him, is an inner, personal, spiritual call to arms. A call to pray, to the sacraments that draw us closer to God, a call to repentance … which avails us to the most exquisite form of peace … peace with our humble humanity and God’s sovereignty … peace in our souls through peace with our God.

Perhaps, we could even rephrase those words, making them more personal still …

til we have allowed God to build Jerusalem in the very fertile sod of our own hearts

“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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:8-9

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