Friday Uplift, 12-26-2014

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16 So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2)

I’ve been thinking about this set of verses for a few days now, and the two words that have kept popping out to me as I’ve read them and thought about them are “treasured” and “pondered.”
Being kind of a nerd, I looked the Greek translations of these words up to see what Luke was getting at when he wrote this version of the Birth of Jesus.  While treasured isn’t a horrible translation, a better one might be “kept”  or “preserved.” Mary kept these things.  Mary preserved these things.  And the word we translate as “ponder” actually means “brought together.”  So Mary kept these things she heard about Jesus from the shepherds, and brought them together with the things she already knew in her heart.

I think this is what we’re supposed to do too. 

No matter how many Christmas Eve services I have been a part of, no matter how many times I hold up my candle and sing “silent night, holy night,”  something new happens. 
Some new feeling is stirred up, or I hear some text differently, or I hear the carols in a new way based on things I’ve experienced in the past year.
No matter what, each year I experience Emmanuel, God with us, again.
I’m reminded that light has come into the darkness.
I’m reminded that God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to ME. 
Little ol me.
“For unto YOU on this day a child is born”  
For you. 
For me. 
God with us.
And I feel it.

And this is when these words about Mary mean something to ME.
Because when I have that moment of God with me, I preserve it.
I keep it.  I hold it close.
And like Mary, this new experience of Christ is added to all the others I’ve had and makes it more.
A little deeper, a little more full.

Today, the day after Christmas, take some time and think about the ways in which you experienced Emmanuel, God with us, in the past two days.
Keep it. Preserve it. Hold onto it.
Then add it into all the other ways you’ve also experienced Christ in the days, months, and years before this.
Put them all together and you too will get a greater picture of God at work in you and in the world.
It’s a powerful exercise, and one that I challenge you to do today.
Write it down, or talk it out with someone.
It’s a stunning reminder of how present God really is in our lives.

God before us. God behind us.  

God above us. God below us. 
God beside us. 
God with us.

Friday Uplift, 12/19/2014

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

I’m sitting in my office, about to officiate a funeral of a young man, and I’m reminded of a phrase from my ever-favorite, Glennon Melton.  It’s time for some perspectacles.  I think it’s easy to get caught up in the negatives, the bad things that are happening, in the world and in our own lives.  Honestly, it’s sometimes hard NOT to get caught up in the bad stuff.
But then I come in to church and prepare to do a funeral for a 44 year old young man.
And I gain some perspective.
AND I am reminded once again (by Sue today, in fact) that every day is a gift.
Bad news and all. 

I think this is what Paul is talking about in this Ephesians text.
Paul is praying for us to have our eyes opened, and not our physical eyes, but the “eyes of your heart.”
You might not have known this before now, but you have regular eyes (the ones on your face) and heart eyes.
Heart eyes are different, because they see different things.
Physical eyes see nature and people and news, but heart eyes, they see HOPE.
When God is present in our lives, when God makes himself known to us, our heart is opened and though we see the same bad things, we see them in a different way.  Those are perspectacles.

We talk a lot in Advent about Christ coming into the world and breaking into the darkness with light.
That darkness is everywhere, including our own heart eyes.
It’s time for some perspectacles people.
It’s time to open the eyes of our hearts today and see the power of God’s greatness in the world around us, and within us.

Light is breaking in.
Heart eyes are opening.
Hope is peeking out.  

AMEN

The sermon I didn’t preach yesterday…

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”  Isaiah 40:4

Yesterday (Sunday) I came into the office early to prepare for preaching, and read verse 4.  BAM.  Lightning struck.  Or the Holy Spirit.  Either way, I read the above verse in a totally new light.  If it hadn’t been an hour before I was supposed to preach – then maybe everyone would have heard a totally different sermon.  And I’m not sure people would have loved it.

Because this time when I read Isaiah 40:4, instead of the good news I preached it as yesterday, I read it as a warning.

In light of the events of the last week, the continued injustices, the protests, the fear, the hate… this verse meant something different.

In light of more news about people being killed for standing up for what is right or challenging cartels in Mexico, this verse meant something new.

In light of my own ability to jump online to my instant access internet, in my heated home, after a nice hot healthy meal, and purchase Christmas gifts with little or no thought to the cost of any of it… this verse was drastically different.

See, what I read differently yesterday wasn’t so much about the people in the valley being brought up, or the people in rough ground being given smooth paths, but about the earth being made level.
Christ is coming into the world and everything is going to be made equal.
See if you’re in the valley, this is great news.
But, I’m guessing that’s not most of us… most of us are on the mountain.
And if you’re on the mountain, looking down into the valley, this new Kingdom that is coming will bring you face to face with those whom you perceive to be below you.
And God will ALWAYS take the side of the oppressed.
Which is really good news for the oppressed, but really dangerous news for everyone else.

As I said yesterday, Isaiah is a prophet, and the job of a prophet is to hold up a mirror and force us to be honest about what we see.
And for most of us, we are on a mountain.
We are not the oppressed, we’re the oppressor.
And I know, we don’t want to admit it.
But it is most likely true.

In these next few weeks… look in that mirror that Isaiah is holding up.
Be honest about how you really, truly treat those around you in the world: those who are different than you are, those who occupy a world that is not like your own.
And then ask yourself, when Christ comes this Christmas, where do you want to be?

Do you want to be lowered from your perch up on the mountain?
Or do you want to be raised up from the valley? And not raised because you’re suddenly oppressed but because you are down in the valley WITH those who are being oppressed.  Fighting for them, caring for them, being with them.

I know which one I want to be…

Friday Uplift (December 5, 2014)

“My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” 
(Song of Songs 2:14)
Song of Songs is often misunderstood as a love poem between a man and a women, but the book in it’s entirety is one giant metaphor, a love story, between God and us.
And it’s beautiful.
This small verse is one of my favorites, and it’s one that I bring out when I’m feeling “less.”  It’s a call from God, to come out of hiding and speak, to show my face, to be present.
See, when things aren’t going my way,when I get bad news, when I’m feeling hurt or beat up by the world, my tendency is to hide.  I want to crawl under the covers and eat chocolate and never come out.  And while that might feel nice for a little bit, it’s not the full life that God has in mind for us.
God wants to see your face.
God wants to hear your voice.
Not for any other reason than because we are God’s beloved.
That’s it.
Notice in this verse that it doesn’t say our words are sweet, or our facial expressions are lovely.
Nope.
Your voice is what is sweet, your face is what is lovely.
God just wants your presence.
God just wants you.
A relationship, with you.
So even if you aren’t feeling the best, or your face is sad, or your words are angry… God says your face is lovely, and your voice is sweet.
When God can see our faces and hear our voices… when we aren’t hiding –  it means we are together, with God.
No matter what you are going through today – God is with you.
And God wants you to stop hiding and let him have it.
Anger, sorry, love, joy.
God wants it all.
Don’t hide.
YOU are God’s beloved.