Advent Primer


When reflecting on the Christmas story I usually jump straight to Luke’s telling of the nativity. He does a wonderful job at painting the picture of the journey and celebration culminating in the virgin birth. Although joyous, I find that it causes me to focus on the singular event rather than the whole scope of what is occurring.

John’s gospel starts off with the telling of the birth of Jesus by going all the way back before the dawn of creation. “In the beginning” causes us to pull back from the nativity to a view of the entire timeline. Instead of seeing only months, we see thousands of years. We find ourselves looking at Jesus at the dawn of time, the Word that speaks and there is light.

Moving forward we see “the Word took on flesh”. John continues the creation story in his take on nativity. Jesus places himself in his own creation. The Message translation says “and moved into the neighbourhood”. This brings to mind imagery of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve.

“And we have seen his glory” – John 1:14

Adam and Eve witnessed the glory of God. They walked with him, and knowing no sin they were not struck down by the sight. When Jesus took on flesh he allowed us to see the glory in a fallen world. This is not just the birth of God, but the first time since the gate to Eden was shut that the glory of God could be witnessed with an unveiled face, no sacrifice needed.

This is so much bigger than a single moment! For all of history, creation was lying in wait, anxious and crying out because of the separation. The Word takes on flesh, as if it were the final day of creation, a moment of completion we were all waiting for. This celebration is so much bigger than any of us realised. The anticipation dates back further than we can fathom. This moment echoes further than any of the witnesses understood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” – John 1:1-2

I can only imagine how long the wait felt to the angels before showing up to the shepherds. This was no sudden move, but planned since the beginning. It is why John starts with “in the beginning”. Right from the beginning this plan began to rectify the fall of man by God taking on flesh and giving up the skin of God while still radiating the glory.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13

The birth of Christ in John’s gospel doesn’t just look back to the dawn of time but stretches to eternity. The birth of the King welcomes us into an inheritance of eternal life. This moment is not the start of a new story, but is the pivotal mark in the ongoing story. The celebration is not complete for John in the celebration only of a new born king or even in the living God dwelling with us.

The story of the birth of Jesus is incomplete without the acknowledgement of the larger role it plays in history. The Word taking on flesh is the moment of victory, for this world had fallen and now the glory of God has moved back into the neighbourhood. Victory is ensured and the promised inheritance has been sealed.

Yes, the moments of the cross, descent, resurrection and ascension are also required in securing the victory over death and sin. But the moment Emmanuel was born is what all creation was waiting for since sin entered this world. God with us was always the intention and sin created distance from the glory of God. But God, not wanting this separation, took on flesh for a time as a foretaste of what was and is to come. Once again men and women could join the ranks of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day.

John 1 gives us the whole storyboard instead of a single chapter. At the center is Jesus. He is at the center of it all. We are celebrating Jesus, yes the birth of Jesus, but also everything his birth stands for. He is what creation was crying out for and who we still await with joyful expectation.

In Advent we find ourselves in a season of anticipation. We place ourselves on both sides of the virgin birth. We join with all those from Adam until the birth who waited with bated breath for the glory of God to be made manifest. We also acknowledge the anticipation of our current state. We wait for the return of Jesus and the end of this age. We hope for and rejoice in the victory that is set but not yet our reality.

John shows us God has already written the story. Before the dawn of time this story has been written like a play waiting for actors to take their places on the stage. We celebrate moments along the way but Advent calls us to embrace in faith the story that is unfolding before us.

My First Love


I had a great chat recently with a wonderful man who has truly devoted his life to pursuit of God. He is a local pastor who has served faithfully at his church and around the globe for many years. I will probably write sometime about the value of these faithful men and women who have devotedly run the race set before them. They have much to offer. But this week, I want to reflect on the conversation we had.

This man told me he is heartbroken over the way many, like in the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2), have lost their first love. He unpacked this as a loss of desire. He asked, “Where are the all night meetings, the waiting for God to show up in our church services, the spending hours on end together and alone to meet with God?”

As this thought has been rolling around in my head, I have been reading through Acts in my daily scripture readings. I am reading of a group of people that seemingly spent every possible moment seeking the Lord and walking out his instructions.

I love the story in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas are sent out. I’m particularly struck by the part following God telling the church in Antioch to send out these two. The community fasts, prays, and seeks the Lord before blessing and sending out Paul and Barnabas. I don’t know what else is happening in the lives of these believers, but they seem to drop everything to be with God.

My point is not to quit your job so you can, on a whim, fast and pray. I’m asking, what do I set as priority? What distracts me? And honestly, how many things do I desire above meeting with the living God?

Desire is what drives us. We pursue the things our hearts are for. Our time goes into those things. Our money goes into those things. We have many desires, both as individuals and as a church, that drive our actions.

Jesus gave warning to the church of Ephesus in Revelations. The warning is, you have lost your first love and your desire to be with me. Things will not go well with you if you keep going as you are. Come back to your first love, come back to me.

Repentance is the process of turning towards Jesus. It is turning away from the things that don’t bring life and towards the one that is love. Sometimes we take a look at just the things we know are altogether wrong and turn away from them. I think there is a deeper issue we must face. We must look at our lives and ask the question: What do I desire? We must turn to Jesus and ask that same question.

First love has dual meaning for us as followers of Jesus. Love for God is foremost and God is the source of all love. He is literally the first love. When anything comes above him in desire, we need to repent. We need to repent of those times we have put him on the backburner. But more importantly, we must ask God to give us a desire to be with him, to encounter him, to hear him speak. We were made for this, to be with him. We need (both personally and in our churches) to desire the presence of God, not for what he will say, although he will speak, not so that we will get marching orders from him, although he will guide us, but because it is where we belong. It is where we find our rest and our peace (Shalom).

I am reminded of a song written by friends of mine as I write this, “Where I Belong” by Life Support.The whole song speaks of longing to be in the presence of God. I encourage you to take a listen and let it draw you back to your first love.

The voice of the prophet, as in Revelations, is in our midst now to draw us back to the heart of God. Let us not be like the many who heeded not the message from God, but let us repent of our ways and return to our first love.

What is Love?

Taking time to write about Advent this year is changing my life. There is such benefit to taking time to reflect on what God has done, and anticipate his return.

This post on love in the Advent series has been the hardest for me to write. It is not because I can’t see the act of love it was for Jesus to come in human form as our saviour, not because I can’t anticipate the freedom we will find as we bask in the perfect love of the Father when we go with Jesus, but because the depth of love shown is mind blowing!

“what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”
Psalm 8:4

We see often times in the Old Testament, a sentiment of “who am I that God would love me.” This is not a degrading thought. Rather, it is a realization there is nothing we could do to earn the love of God, yet he loves us just the same. The petition of “God come save us”, is not one of negotiation, for we don’t have anything to offer in exchange that he needs. Rather, it is an awareness that we are loved by God and he wants to respond to us in love. He wants to save us! It is not degrading, but an admission and revelation of how I am truly loved by God and how blessed am I!

The people of God, before Christ, had a deep longing for the way of love to once again rule. Israel had the law which pointed to a God of love, a God of compassion and mercy, which produced a longing in them for love to fully rule once again. This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus was born to rule in love. Jesus was born king over all. This was the long-awaited fulfillment of the law. It wasn’t the fulfillment many expected, and thus hard to see love was at work, as it often is for us.

There are so many times in my life I redefine what love is through my own experience or desire. It is as if I forget that the one who created everything was God. The one who defines what love is, is the same one whose nature is love. Every act of God is an act of love. I forget this sometimes.

The act of love at Christmas was something special. Jesus, who “did not consider equality with God as something to cling to”, came into the world as a baby boy. He came for those he loves, us. He came so we would have life with him. This is not the desperate act of one in need, but a selfless act from God who is love.

At Christmas we see love in the flesh. Every act of Jesus is an act of love. We can know love through the person of Jesus. He did not come just for us to see it modeled. He made a way. He was born so that he might die, be raised, and remove any separation from God who is love. He came so that we might encounter love.

It is so hard for us to understand the fullness of love as it is presented in God. We are creatures in need of so much. We have desires, good and bad, that we want to fulfill. We have insecurities and fears that influence us. God has none of this. He is fully self-sufficient. But he loves us, and sacrifices himself for us. He takes on the pain when we refuse his love and walk away from him, not because he needs us, but because he loves us. He demands our worship, because it is good for us to worship. He demands our surrender because he only offers what is best for us.

What we have to look forward to is a life free of separation from the Love of God. We can dwell in the presence of God always, know no insecurity, no fear, but be fully secure. When we know what it means to be loved by him, only then can we love like God. This is what we are anticipating in his return. For us who love God and have been called by him, that day will be one of encountering a fullness of love that pales the image of love we have seen here on earth. For now we see in part, but when Jesus returns, we will know in full our God and his love for us.

This week in advent focuses on receiving and knowing the love of God in Jesus. It gives us the opportunity to experience the love of the Father and ask him to redefine what we see as love. It allows us to look to Jesus for how to love, and respond in kind. It gives us opportunity to glimpse a future enveloped in the perfect love of God, and hunger for that today and in the future to come. Love is something that cannot be contained. True love experienced, results in true love extended. May you experience and extend the Love of the Father this day.

Gossip and the Fallout

Since so much of our life is spent talking or hearing someone else talk, I thought I could take consecutive weeks to write about the words we use. If you haven’t read last week’s blog, this one builds on the same topic.

Thou shalt not gossip. I am coming to believe this very strongly. Gossip does not fit in the Ephesians 4:29 grid of what is acceptable speech. It is not productive and has so much potential of causing harm. As I am writing this, I am remembering so many times where I have experienced or witnessed pain at the hands of gossip.

Gossip is: “Conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.”
(Oxford Dictionary)

Gossip is conversation that adds no value. In many instances, it is used to compare and make ourselves seem better in comparison. Our value is not increased or decreased based on the value of those around us. Gossip is a way we attempt to set our value rather than receive who and what God says we are. Comparison comes out of an insecurity in who we are. Gossip can be a sign of our insecurity in who we are in Christ.

Gossip can tear apart a community so quickly. It causes people to align themselves on sides. When there are sides within a community, there will be division. There is one side the church is to be on. The Lord’s side.

Gossip is also a source of pain. The times in my life when I have confided in people and heard they told others had negative impact on me for years. I had a tough time forgiving a breach of trust for years with a few friends. It created in me an inability to love and be loved by others. I kept people at a distance. I controlled carefully what I would share, thinking anything I shared would just become public knowledge. My reaction was not okay. My unforgiveness was not okay. My holding on to wounds was not okay. I have repented of my own reactions. But there were deep wounds caused by sin, deep wounds caused by gossip.

Gossip is not lined with a gospel lens of hope. When we as believers see brokenness, our desire should align with the heart of God for restoration. When we think about a person in a broken state, we should be led to pray for their restoration We should desire a future free of the effects of sin. There is no redemptive potential in talking about someone else’s brokenness.

11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
(Ephesians 5:11-12)

So what do we do when we are aware of the fault of someone? Should we just let them keep sinning? NO! Although we are not to talk about it with others, if someone is sinning they are hurting themselves. If someone is hurt, they need comforting. We should not talk about it with others. We are to be present and love the person in need. We correct as it is required. We pray for them as it is needed. We should not even entertain others’ gossip. In a Christian community, gossip should be stopped as any other harmful act should be.

If you ever played the telephone game as a kid, you know that information, as it is passed along, has a way of being distorted. The further you are from a source, the less reliable it is. Gossip is a great example of this. The more it is discussed, the more distorted it will become. We could be spreading false words that wreck a life.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Matthew 15:18-20

Sin is not to be condoned. When we see it, we need to call our brother or sister to repentance. If they refuse, we bring another into it. If it is still a refusal, we bring the leadership into it. Intentional active rebellion is not to be permitted. But we see Jesus limiting the people involved throughout the process. Discussion of sinful situations is not redemptive. Repentance is.

I will be honest. Gossip is seductive. It is not easy to fight the urge to partake. It takes self control. It takes boldness to shut down conversations. But we have to do it. The health of our relationships and the health of the church is at stake. Be strong and courageous. Speak blessing and not curses. Address an issue with the person at fault instead of others. Invite God to set your value instead of comparing yourself to others.

No Fear

I have been thinking lately about the fruit of the spirit. In particular, I have been thinking about peace. The Holy Spirit produces peace within us and we get to experience it at all times. It is not reliant on circumstances or our emotional state. It is simply available for us to receive as we align ourselves with God by yielding to the Holy Spirit.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Many times in my life, I have had people tell me they feel peace around me. I have received this encouragement from people in all walks of life. This peace is not something I have created or cultivated or searched for. It is something that I have learned to receive and live in.

Peace is something we can receive in any moment as we acknowledge and surrender our fears to God.

There is a difference between caution and fear. Caution is when I heed the warning sign that says don’t go on the dark rocks because you may be swept out to sea by a wave. Fear is when you look down every minute to make sure the rock you are standing on isn’t as dark as the ones by the water. Caution informs a decision, whereas fear makes a decision.

Fear paralyzes you. It changes the way you think. It irrationally causes you to self protect. It ignores what is true or logical, and becomes the basis for your decisions. It grabs hold of your emotions, body and mind.

When I lived in Waterloo, I lived in a house with a few guys. We came up with a phrase: fight, flight, or Jesus. Our bodies have a survival mechanism called a “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. Intended for life and death situations, our bodies can overreact to common non-life-threatening stressors in this way as well. When stress (or fear) hits, our body naturally goes into a crisis mode and the crisis centre takes over with fight or flight. Jesus is what we referred to as the other option. We are able to surrender our fear and place our trust in God. We are able to come under the perfect love of God.

Martyrs are an example of this response (ie. Stephen in Acts 7), as is Moses interacting with Pharaoh, and Jesus being arrested (John 18). We are called to a different response than fear. Peace can come as we hand over the fear and the stress and receive the peace offered to us.


I went on a last-minute hiking trip this summer with my friend Mat to Pollets Cove. It was a 5 hour drive to the start of the trail. We arrived just under 2 hours before sunset to the trail that should take way longer than that to complete. We set out anyways and arrived at the end of the trail just after the sunset. Having never been there before, we quickly scouted out a place to set up camp with only the light of dusk to guide us. We set up the tent on a windy cliff top and climbed in the tent as it was raining. While searching for our flashlights, we found some sticky substance in the tent. Our flashlights illuminated a tent covered in marshmallows! An open bag had been left in the tent when it was packed up. We were 10km from the closest people, with no cell reception in an area known for bears, wolves, coyotes and mixed breeds. The wind howled around us and suddenly the fly on our tent blew off as we attempted sleep. My friend was hit with fear (which is understandable given the circumstances). He sat straight up and whispered, “Do you hear that? I think there is an animal out there.” He started praying and quietly said, “JOEL PRAY!” As we prayed he began acknowledging and surrendering his fears to God. We asked for God’s protection and for the tent to stay upright. It took some time, but eventually we found peace and fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up to see that our tent pegs had been ripped out of the ground but the tent poles had somehow dug themselves into the ground to keep the tent upright. The fly stayed attached on one side and didn’t blow away. We were safe, and our prayers had been answered.




Circumstances like this can trigger fears that are dormant in us. The invitation of God is the removal of these fears. Fear is not supposed to dwell in the same house as the love we have found. Perfect love cleans house. It casts out the fear. This perfect love is found only in God. It is the love that Stephen finds as he is addressing the crowds and while being stoned. A removal of fear does not promise the removal of circumstances or pain, but it places the onus for protection away from us and into the hands of God. It brings peace because we can trust that God is good and what he has for us is good. He knows what we need and is trustworthy with everything we hand over to him.

This is the peace we have to offer the world. It is not an invitation to simply manage fear so we can coexist with others. It is an invitation to encounter a perfect love and share it with others. The world experiences the presence of God in us when they spend time with us. They will find their fears disappear in the moments they are with us. But we are not the saviour of their lives. We get to live in the perfect love of our heavenly father at all times. When those who do not know Jesus experience his love in us it is for but a moment. It is a moment of opportunity, an opportunity to be free of fear. The more we encounter the love of God, the more we give access to him in place of fear, the less we are affected by circumstances, even momentarily. The more mature disciples we become, the more steadfast we become, planted securely in the love of the father. God is so faithful and gracious in moments when we still encounter fear and stress. He welcomes us to hand him our fears, and trust in his love.

There is no fear
There is no fear in Your love
With open hearts God
We are ready to run
Into Your presence
There is no fear in Your love
(“No Fear In Your Love” by Jeremy Riddle)

I often find myself singing this chorus. It spurs me on to encounter the love of God. It helps me invite God to expose any fears that are still present and helps me release them to God. It reminds me there is no reason to fear, and to run into his presence completely exposed. It reminds me the only place fear remains is where I haven’t allowed the presence of God access to. His invitation is for all of me. He desires my heart to be wide open to receive the fullness of his perfect love. He desires this for all of us. Listen to the song and respond to the invitation of God to run into his presence, and encounter his perfect love. Hand over your fears to him and encounter peace in the place of fear.