Home for Christmas 2013

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Tomorrow, the days start getting longer and lighter.  Hope this Christmas, you enjoy the light of Christ, and the wonder of His goodness.

Bob and I are both up early this morning.  My recital was last night, and I think I am still enjoying the afterglow. Now to move on to our Christmas pageant on Sunday.  Looking forward to see our church children participate.

We bought our groceries yesterday for our girls coming home.  Carissa and Brett arrive on Christmas Eve, and Emily and Marshall on Christmas Day.  With Abbey, Bob’s brother’s daughter, living with us, that will make seven people in our home for over Christmas.  Can hardly wait for all the interaction.  What a treasure they all are to both of us.

We are hoping that amidst all the activity, our guests have a few restful moments.  Emily will be finishing off her thesis in the new year, and then will graduate with a Masters degree as a Nurse Practitioner.  Marshall is continuing to work at the Alberta Legislature as a Legislative Assistant.  With the recent cabinet shuffle, work may look different for him upon his return.   Carissa has spent all fall doing a teaching practicum in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, and will graduate with a Bachelor of Education this spring.  Brett works for Saskatchewan Health in their tech department, keeping the computers running in many of the hospitals in his province.  Abbey moved from Orlando Florida, via Powell River, where she spent the winter with Bob’s sister, Susan.  Shortly after moving here last May, she got herself a job at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary, as a receptionist in their spa.  The weather here is giving her the snowiest, and possibly the coldest winter, in some time.

Bob and I have been in Evangel, and on Erin Woods Dr. now for fifteen years.  We are doing much the same, but church work is always evolving, and we are presently in a very happy spot in our journey here.  A highlight of our year was an Alaskan cruise.  What fun we had together.

Bob’s mom is great.  We saw her both at our nephew’s wedding last January in Orlando, and this summer in Vancouver at the end of our cruise.  My Dad was in hospital at the beginning of the year, and is now living at Prince of Peace, where we moved him on my birthday.  My Mom, unfortunately, has had a very difficult year, and is presently waiting for a Nursing Home to open for her.  Thanks for all your prayers and support for our family in the past year.

Looking forward to 2014.  It will have it’s challenges, but I am determined to make time to quiet my heart, and remember God’s goodness each day this coming year.  And it looks like it will also be a year of celebration for our family with two graduations.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.  God bless you all, near and far.  It has been fun keeping in touch with you.  We love you.
Bob and Sandra

The Bully and the Baby

Young Tom would come to class with a hat pulled down over his eyes, and he never smiled. In and out of foster homes for many years, this young boy was very lonely and very angry. Mean to his classmates, belligerent, disruptive in class – he had no friends. When the Roots of Empathy Instructor brought a young single mom and baby to the class, the teacher was worried that Tom might harm the baby. Upon the advice of the ROE staff, he was placed right next to the baby. Imagine Tom’s reaction when the baby smiled at him. During the first class visit, the boy smiled and interacted with the infant. During the second visit, he took off his hat when he was near the baby. And, at the third visit, he brought a dirty pink feather to tickle the bottom of the baby’s feet. What Canadian founder of Roots of Empathy, Mary Gordon, has discovered is the disarming power of the infant in the presence of the bully.

And one starry night in a stable in Bethlehem a young mother gave birth to a baby whom the Prophet said will be called Immanuel, God is with us. Into the power hungry world, of gladiator fights and public executions, God came humble, meek and weak. The aggression became so intense she had to flee to the desert for a while to escape.

I love the story of Christmas but how can I get my head and heart around the mystery of the creator of the universe nursing on Mary’s lap? Christmas, it seems, is meant to disarm us, to leave us defenceless in his presence.

One of the church fathers has beautifully stated it like this,

“Nature teaches us all the value of infancy. Over what barbarity is infancy not victorious? Father’s know it well and mothers feel it, everyone experiences it, man’s very bowels bear witness to the fact. And so it was in infancy that He wanted to be born. He wanted to be loved, not feared.”

We all have a shadow side, a nemesis that if left not owned and reclaimed, could potentially destroy us, just as the person who cannot identify with weakness, becomes a bully and their rage at weakness causes their downfall. In taking upon himself the full weakness of human form, Jesus shifted human power structures forever. In Christ, crying in the manger and dying in weakness on the cross, we are invited to embrace our shadow side and discover his grace and acceptance. The Christian call is not to move away from being human but is an appeal to a fuller more complete humanity, as we were created to be.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected so we might know that Love would go that far?” ― Francesca Battistelli

Inside Out

“Make an impact”, “Realize your potential”, “Change the world”.  Sometimes I get weary with all the striving and the pressure our students (and myself) face with trying to make a difference in the world.  Is that what God intends?  I get to be at a significant crossroads in people’s lives and help them discern what their ambitions mean in the light of living Christianly.  What sort of compassion, generosity, diligence is required in our daily lives when we seek to honour God?  I am very thankful for all you who work as unto the Lord and seek to be obedient, faithful witnesses in and through your work and daily activities. Glad we are in this together!

A couple weeks ago I shared with some students who seemed particularly driven. In the midst of our leadership and influence it is critical that we are nurtured by our Source and Life-Giver.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote his challenge from God, will we accept that,

 “‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,in quietness and trust is your strength”?

Yesterday I met with several pastors and leaders from the Mount Royal U area including our MRU chaplains, Kristal Hoff and Art Kung(picture below). During our prayer time Kristal also shared this scripture. I was struck by how much we want to work from the outside in but God insists that somehow things work from the inside out.

MRU chaplains

As Paul writes in Romans 12:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

From Kelly Johnson, Chaplian at University of Calgary

An Inconvenient Christmas

Christmas is not found in the in a post card Winter Wonderland world we imagine. Rather, it is discovered in the messy life of our unfinished tasks and unfulfilled longings.

God’s comfort, however, comes when we welcome Him into the fragmented parts of our lives, not just the parts we have all together. Mary welcomed the baby Jesus at an inconvenient time in her life. As a young woman engaged to be married, she is invited by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Then, nine months later and three days journey from home, her moment of birth arrives while she is lodging in a barn. Now that’s inconvenient! God’s timing is perfect but not always opportune.

Vulnerable and humble the Lord of all arrives, clothed in humility, disguised as a man. Like an Avatar but more, Jesus is fully God while becoming fully man.

Mary Joseph and Jesus#1#
I struggle at times to see how my every day life connects to God’s greater purposes in the world. Looking at the Bible, however, I see another reality. God is at work in this fragmented and suffering world. We are in the middle of a great cosmic struggle that will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ. For now, creation groans, we groan, the spirit groans and the groaning is getting louder. (Rom. 8) God is in the midst of this groaning with tears of his own. We are not alone in our struggle; there is hope.

God is on my side even when I doubt myself and waver in faith. His promised Holy Spirit is our advocate who comes alongside just when we need him. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8.) God’s help, in this verse, originally meant “together against” and to “support and help.” Christmas reminds us that God is on our side even when we fail to see Him.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

The Interrupted Life

It has been said, “Life is in the interruptions.” Christmas also reminds us that God is in the interruptions.  We spend so much of our lives on hold, it seems.   Now we are waiting for Christmas holidays to start and then we’ll wait for the next paycheck to pay for them.  We stand in line at the checkout; sit in traffic jams; wait at the doctor’s office.   We look forward to the birth of a child, long for a prayer to be answered and hope for a problem to be solved.   Can it be that these delays are opportunities for life too?  Can we find God in the middle of unfinished tasks and unfulfilled longings?  I think this is where we will most often find him, if we are looking.

The whole world is in a Grand Interruption.  The first Advent of Christ was the first phase of God’s great rescue mission.  We are in the in-between times while we wait for his return and our final adoption as sons and daughters of God.  According to scripture, creation is like an expectant mother,

  “ . . . we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  (Rom 8:22)

Creation has been subjected to futility by the will of God as a consequence of fall of humankind.   Yet creation hasn’t given up hope, but rather groans like a woman in labor longing for the birth of her child.  The sons whom creation is giving birth to are every believer who longs for Christ’s return.  Because we live in a fallen groaning world, we too groan with expectant longing for the good that God intends for mankind.   For the word of God says

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,g for those who are called according to his purpose.  (Rom 8: 28)

Most of us prefer things that are neat and tidy and with happy endings.  Christmas is about Jesus coming into a mixed up world and God dwelling among us.  If God can be born in an obscure and stinky stable, he is able to abide in our messes.   Do you ever feel like you have to get it together for God before you can let him into your life?  It’s as if he is standing at the door and knocking but we leave him there because we are so busy tidying up.  Let’s invite him into the middle of our muddle, because life is in the interruptions.

2012 Mistique


2012 will be remembered as the winter solstice with its ‘end of the world’ forecasts and ‘dawn of a new age’ predictions. Which will it be? The mystique around 12/21/12 is centred around a combination of the Mayan calendar ending its 5125 year cycle, and the sun being aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years –which is all very intriguing.

Jesus spoke about the end of time when he said that,

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.” . . . “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25, 28)

If the signs are telling us anything, it is that the grand future hope of a new world will be arriving soon with the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Our redemption is close, and this is the reason to get up and look up with great anticipation.  What’s more, these signs tell us to prepare our hearts by living in that future hope now.

Jesus also said, “People can’t observe the coming of the kingdom of God. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17.

In saying this, Jesus reminds us that we have no further to look than in our hearts and in our current dilemmas to find God. Looking for a solution ‘out there’ to our problems can hinder us from benefitting from the changes we can experience now. As one author has put it,

“. . . if you feel you’ve got a problem to solve that is ‘out there’ and you don’t see or want to see any possible relationship between the ‘you’ who is trying to solve the problem and what the problem actually is, you may wind up not being able to see the problem accurately, in its fullness.”

God is active within the dysfunction of our families, our churches and our whole society. He is working to complete his good purposes in and through his people. The beginning of seeing our problems clearly is to see our own contribution to the problem. By suspending the old story we tell ourselves and opening ourselves up to the possibility of another script, the one that God is telling us, we are empowered with the prospect of new possibilities. It might amaze us how the things we can’t untangle begin to solve themselves when our desires line up with God’s.

This Christmas let’s invite the hope of the world to reside in the messy manger of our lives and watch what he will do.

 

 

Family Reunion

Have you ever had one of those uncomfortable family reunions, a kind of “Meet the Fockers” part three? You are not alone. One biblical family get-together that I can relate to is the reunion of Jacob and Esau.

Jacobs reunion with his brother Esau was like facing a ghost of the past. Family life in their home was one of divided loyalties. Jacob, Rachel’s favourite son and the younger twin, was the homebody; while Esau, dad’s favourite, was the hunter and outdoors man. Children are not always like their parents. Sometime a jock dad has an artsy son and an introverted Dad has a social butterfly for a daughter. In my case, both my daughters are more to the extroverted side than me. Differences are great, but it can create favouritism if parents are not self aware. The missteps in the family of origins can have a lasting effect on our relationships and choices in life if left unacknowledged. Jacob made his choice in his youthful zeal to follow his mother’s guidance and steal something that belonged to his older brother — his blessing. The fallout in the home was enough to divide the family, and sent Jacob to the wilderness and eventually to the home of Uncle Laban,the brother of his mother, who was like her in his deceptiveness. Some sins just seem to run in the family. The long years of serving Laban, in exchange for his daughter, were the making and breaking of Jacob. In Laban, he came face to face with himself and ultimately God. This brings me to my favourite part of the story, the reunion of the brothers. Twenty years of working for Laban were enough for Jacob and his family. However, setting off for home meant meeting one of his own personal giants, Esau. Would Esau receive him or finally get his revenge? When Jacob left it was at the threat of his life. The story has a happy ending, but not until Jacob has spent one long night wrestling with the angel of the Lord. The next day, Jacob limping and nervous meets Esau saying,

Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. Gen. 33:11.

Jacob is repentant and transformed, from a man who deceives to a man who blesses; from Jacob to Israel.

Our past so often comes back at us, like a ghost, threatening to haunt our steps or stop us in our tracks. The good news is that God uses these very relationships to bring out His best in us.