Friday Uplift, 2-19-2016

The Spirit of God has made me, the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
(Job 33:4)

There are so many references to breath in Scripture.  It starts right away in Genesis 1, when it says “The breath of God hovered over the darkness” and continues all the way through when Jesus appears to his disciples and breathes on them,  As some of you may know or have heard before, the words for breath (Pneuma in Greek, Ruach in Hebrew) are used interchangeably with Spirit or Holy Spirit.  It’s not a mistake.
There is a lot of great theology wrapped around this idea of breath and Spirit being the same word, but today I’d just like to simplify it a bit.
Take a deep breath in.
Now breathe out.
Again, deep breath in, long exhale out.
That?  That breathing thing you just did?
That’s God.
God with you.
God in you.
When Jesus left the disciples he said that he wasn’t leaving them alone but that a helper, the Holy Spirit (pneuma) would be with them forever. (John 14:26)
And how do we know the Spirit is with us?
We breathe.
In and out.
All day long.

All night long.

Yes, this simplifies a complex theology of the Holy Spirit, but I have found it to be a great comfort to know these two words are essentially the same.
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy yoga so much.  It’s an intentional focus on the breath… which for me, is a constant and intentional reminder of God within.  This works for going on walks or runs without headphones, taking quiet time, or even just taking ten seconds for a deep breath or two.

NO matter where you are, what you are going through, what is around you, when you need to know where God is, all you have to do is breathe.
“The breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
A few more times, breathe in, deeply.  And let it out.
God with us.
God with you.

Amen

PS.

Need a song on this rainy Friday?
This one always reminds me of the truth of breath and Spirit.
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise”
PS #2
Fun tidbit: If you breathe a cycle of deep breaths in and out 15 times, research has shown that cortisol (the stress hormone) stops being produced and your body makes endorphins instead.  AND it can last up to an hour!  That means a short few minutes of breathing (connecting to God) can calm you down and make you feel better.  SCIENCE!!

Friday Uplift, 2-5-2016

“Be still, and know that I am God”
Psalm 46:10

Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.
Genesis 20:8
I heard a lovely talk about the gift of Sabbath last week, and it’s really got me thinking about stillness.
In her talk, the speaker talked about our cultural epidemic of non-stop.  We’ve made over-working into something noble.
Why?
Have you ever wondered if all the running around and over-working is worth it?
Have you ever wondered if in the hustle and bustle that we’ve allowed into our daily lives, we might be missing something better?
These are really, really hard questions to spend time with – because we know, before we even finish asking them, what the answer is going to be.
No, it’s not worth it.
Yes, we’re missing something.
And we also know that the something we are missing is God.
Sure, we might squeeze in going to church or reading our Bible into the crazy we’ve created, but are we being still?
Are we leaving space for God to be with us and for us to really be with God?
Don’t get me wrong, I think God can work with what God is given, but man, can you imagine what God might do with more?
More time, more space, more you?
Sabbath, resting, being still – whatever you need to call it – is a gift, time where we only do the things that bring us life.  Only things that remind us who we are, and WHOSE we are.
How long has it been since you’ve taken a day or even an hour and only done things that make you more you?

The word STILL in today’s uplift scripture can be translated as relax,sink down, let go, be quiet, or even be idle.

We don’t really value being idle in our culture, but GOD DOES.  God values stillness because it is there where we can best be who we are created to be – and that is a child of God.

You are a child of God. Let that promise be with you today.
Sit with it.
Sink down with it.
Be idle and quiet with this promise wrapped around you like a blanket.

And see what God does with the gift of stillness.
AMEN.
Be still! Just now be still!
Something your soul has never heard, 
something unknown to any song of bird, 
something unknown to any wind or wave or star, 
a message from the Father’s land afar, 
that with sweet joy the homesick soul will thrill,
and comes to you only when you’re still. (unknown)

Two Words I Needed Today; Or – My Friday Uplift After Another Shooting.

But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
(Psalm 59: 16-17)I’ve been on a kick lately of finding verses about morning meaningful, and this one came to me today.
It’s probably because I’ve never been a morning person, and yet lately I find myself up early, before the sun, day after day.
This part of psalm 59 reminds me to sing of God’s love in the morning.
Even when I’ve gotten bad sleep or wake up sick, I sing.
Because how I start my day matters.
And starting with a song of praise to the one who is with me each and every day is the hardest and, dare I say, best way to begin each day.
Yes, even better than coffee.

There are two words that appear twice each in these two verses. The first is “chesed” (heh-said) which we see translated as steadfast, and the other is “misgab” (mis-gahv) which we see translated as fortress.

Man, on mornings like this morning, where we are faced again with someone walking into a school and killing innocent teachers and students, I need these words… both of them.

I need the reminder that God’s love is “chesed” – steadfast.
That God’s love cannot be conquered.
I need to be reminded that God’s love is like the morning, always there, and new every day.
God loves constantly. Without fail.
Even in the midst of what feel like attacks.

The other word, Misgab, means “high place” and although it is a generic word for us, it’s an actual place. It’s in Moab, a large flat desert place, and Misgab is a high point, a mountain in the middle of the plains. From the top you can see for miles, so an attack against someone would be difficult. It’d be like us picking the highest place we can think of, or our most secure building, a place very difficult to be attacked by enemies, and say that God is that place.
God is our Air Force One
God is our Pope-mobile
God is our Mount Everest

I need this word today too.
I need to be reminded that God is strong.
God is a safe place.
And I can come to God when I am in need of those things.
When I’m feeling weak or under attack, when I question whether or not hate is gaining a foothold, I need these words.

Even in the midst of anger or sadness or fear, we can still come to our loving, fortress God.  So if you’re like me, and need these words, especially today, for whatever reasons – let them be a balm on your heart:

God’s love is steadfast: never-ending, never quitting, always present.
God is a fortress: a place we can go when we need to feel safe and secure.

And then, safe in the fortress and surrounded by God’s love, we can still sing.

Amen.

Friday Uplift, 6/19/2015

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.'” (1 Samuel 7:12)

I did a little youtube video on what Ebenezer means this week (you can watch it here) but I thought this is an even better verse for Friday Uplift as well.
Israel had just engaged in battle with the terrible Philistines and won.
This was a big deal, because when they won they knew it hadn’t happened without the help of God.
So Samuel took a stone and set it on the ground to mark the spot where they had recieved God’s help.   When they look back at it, they can remember that they got to that point because of God.
Ebenezer literally means stone of help in the original Hebrew, and think we all have our own Ebenezers we can raise today.
You might be going through something difficult right now, but we’re not alone. God is with you right now – you are still here, still fighting, still strong.
Maybe you’ve come through something difficult and have come out victorious, just like the Israelites, and you know you are where you because God was with you through it.
So today, right now, it’s Ebenezer time.
If you can, find a rock, grab a sharpie, and write on it.
Write where you have come from, what you have triumphed over, or where you see God.
And then put it somewhere where you can see it.
If rock-writing isn’t your thing – then get a journal, and write it down.
If you want to be artsy – draw it.
But today, together, we’re going to Raise our Ebenezers.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer

hither by thy help I’ve come”
That’s us.  Here, raising our stones of help to recognize how God is working and helping in our lives.

If you feel like it, take a picture and let me see. 🙂

Otherwise, raise it up!

Friday Uplift, 6/5/2015

“But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

One of my favorite seminary professors used to say that this was one of the most important verses in Genesis.  That’s saying a lot, considering Genesis contains creation and covenants all over the place.
So what makes these verses such a big deal?  Especially since it’s not one we read/hear regularly like Moses, or Abraham, or Creation?
These two verses tell us something HUGE about God:
Even when God seems hard to find, God is working.
Let me say that again:
Even when God seems hard to find, God is working.
No matter what the scenario, God is working in it.
BUT -and this is an important distinction:
God isn’t making the bad things happen, but God is working in them.
Notice how Joseph doesn’t say that God made this stuff happen, he said his brothers intended something bad, and it was the actions of Godin the midst of the bad stuff that made good happen.
Does that mean Joseph being left behind and sold into slavery magically became good?
No.
Not even close. Being sold by your jealous brothers is a difficult thing to make good.
Does that mean Joseph was ok with all that had happened to him?
Nope.
He forgave them, yes, but that doesn’t make it ok.

But did God work within the bad?
Yes.
So much yes.
I know that trust is sometimes hard.
I imagine while Joseph was sitting at the bottom of an old well, or in jail in Egypt, trust was hard to come by. It was in those times, when Joseph felt like God had forgotten about him, where God was working.
So don’t doubt.
If there is bad happening in your life right now, trust that God is in it.
Even when it’s hard to see God in it, trust that God is there.
Deep within it, working to make good things happen.
Trust that even when it’s hard to see God – God is there.
God is there.
God. Is. There.
AMEN.

Friday Uplift, 5/22/2015

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Most of us have heard or read Romans 8 at some point in our lives, often when we are going through difficult times – because it contains the HUGE promise that brings great comfort. Verses 35-39 remind us, quite clearly, that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.
Nothing.
Not health.
Not sickness.
Not good times.
Not bad times.
NOTHING.
And since Romans 8 is pretty wonderful at it’s end, I think we often jump ahead to that part we love so much (and why wouldn’t we) to immerse ourselves in that promise when we need it most.
But when we do that, we sometimes miss the amazingness that comes earlier.

Verses 18-21 remind us that something is coming.  Something bigger and better than anything we are going through right now.

I don’t often go here, but Eugene Peterson’s Bible Paraphase (The Message) says these verses really well:
“This is why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.  The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.”
God is at work in the world.  Right now.
And so we wait for God’s work to be completed.
And even though waiting is hard, there is something joyful in that anticipation.
Again, Eugene Peterson talks about the waiting in this lovely way – as Paul writes our waiting is like a pregnant mother:
“that is why the waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting. We don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

God is working in you too.

Right now.
It’s true.
And like the world, we also wait for God’s work to be completed.
It’s hard to wait, it’s hard to be in pain, or be sick, or be going through something really difficult – but trust that God is at work.
To be clear – God is not making you sick, or in pain, or making you go through something difficult… but God is at work within it.
Making it something new.
Making you new.
And while God works, we wait.
Because when it’s done, when that work is complete, we won’t even be able to handle the awesomeness.

In the meantime – NOTHING can get in between you and God.
NOTHING.

Friday Uplift (5/15/2015)

“The disciples woke Jesus and said to him, “teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves “quiet, be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
Mark 4:38-39
Have you ever been in a a storm (real or metaphorical) that was so chaotic and scary that you weren’t sure if you’d make it?
How often in those storms have we called out, just like the disciples – “Jesus – don’t you care?  I’m drowning over here!”
I’ve noticed that in my own life, I can work myself into a frenzy about a storm pretty quickly.  I can make it seem a lot worse than it is, and I can look at it from all the wrong angles until I’m a mess, only focusing on the bad, not seeing any good, and most of all, not seeing any hope for myself anywhere.
It is this verse that reminds me that God can and does calm the storms in my life – but it’s also a reminder to trust God even in the middle of them.
Jesus looks to his disciples after calming the storm and asks them why they didn’t have faith in him?  Jesus wanted the trust of his disciples, he wanted them to remember that he would keep them safe.
After all, even in the storm, Jesus didn’t leave the boat.
He was there the whole time, calm, taking a nap even, secure in the knowledge that he was taken care of.
Loving God,
inspire by your Holy Spirit those who are afraid of losing hope.  Give us a fresh vision of your love, that we may find again what we fear we have lost.  Grant us powerful deliverance, through the one who calms the sea and makes all things new – Jesus Christ our Lord – AMEN.

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A few people have asked how they can be included in the Friday Uplift emails, so I thought I’d write a quick note about it to let you know.

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Friday Uplift (5/1/2015)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:9)

This is probably a familiar verse for some of you.
Maybe you learned it in Sunday school, or at camp, or maybe when you went on a trip – as a reminder that God goes with us.
And that’s not bad, in fact, it’s never bad to remember God goes with us when we travel.
It’s not horrible to be reminded that God isn’t just in a church building on Sunday mornings.
But if you take this little section in context, it’s a bit bigger.
At the start of the book of Joshua, Moses has just died, and we find God calling Joshua to step into the role vacated by Moses and lead the people of Israel.
Can you imagine what Joshua is feeling at that moment?
His friend and mentor has just died and he’s expected to do what?
It’s heart-wrenching and terrifying at the same time.
Not only is Joshua dealing with his grief (which is hard enough), he’s also now dealing with this mantle of responsibility that has just been placed on his shoulders.
It’s a lot.
It’s too much.
Have you ever felt like Joshua?
Have you ever felt like just saying:
“It’s too much God.
You’re asking too much.
I can’t do anything more.”
God makes a promise to Joshua that day:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
Believe it or not, in our baptisms, we were given this same promise.
God is with us.
God will never leave us.
Does that mean, like Joshua, we won’t grieve the loss of someone we love?
Does that mean we won’t wonder how we can do what God is calling us to do?
No.
What it does mean is that we’re not alone.
We don’t grieve alone.
We don’t struggle alone.
We don’t do anything alone.
God is always with us.
Whatever happens. Wherever we go.
It’s a promise that I hope you hear today.
So be strong and courageous.
And go with God.
You are not alone.

Good Friday Uplift, 4/3/15

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”
Matthew 15:37

Taking a slight pause from Psalm 139 this week, for this “good” Friday.
I often wonder what is so good about this day, this strange and uncomfortable day.
and then this article came across my newsfeed and it spoke perfectly to this cross that we come to stand at tonight.
It was written by Shane Claiborne, and called “Holy Week in an Unholy World.”  In it, Shane reminds us that this day is about more than the death of Christ.
He writes about a time where he learned this lesson:
“One of the most powerful Good Friday services we’ve ever had was a few years ago. We carried the cross into the streets and planted it outside the gunshop in our neighborhood. We had our services there. We read the story of Jesus’s death… and heard about the women weeping at the foot of the cross. And then we listened to the women in our neighborhood weep as they shared about losing their kids to gun violence.

Calvary met Kensington.

Afterwords, one woman said to me: “I get it! I get it!” I asked her what she meant. And then she said something more profound than anything I ever learned in seminary: “God understands my pain. God knows how I feel. God watched his Son die too.” Then I realized she was the mother of a nineteen-year-old who had just been murdered on our block.

God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday.”

This is the lesson for us today I think.
When you look at the cross, know that God understands your pain. And in then know that just as God doesn’t leave Christ on the cross, God will not leave you in your pain either.
There is pain on this day, yes, but there is also hope.
Hope for the resurrection.
Hope for the day when love wins.
That day is coming.

AMEN