GLORY TO GOD IN THE LOWEST

Sharing this lovely post from my corporate chaplain. It’s okay if the holiday season is difficult. It’s okay if you don’t feel the cheer that you assume everyone feels. Remember the Reason for the Season – Look up and be blessed!

It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth…to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there…Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn…Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold an angel of the Lord stood before them… and the glory of the Lord shone around them…and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward all. (Luke: 1-14)

Although most scripture scholars agree that the details of Jesus’ birth are more fancy than fact, it may still be comforting to wrap ourselves in the earthy familiarity of this story. Looking back to the time of Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary, the too crowded inn, a child born in a manger, and looking up to see the “glory of God in the highest” can serve to connect us to the spirituality that lies hidden beneath the materiality which so often characterizes Christmas.

But we run the risk of missing the true meaning of Christmas if we only look back but not around, up but not down. The story of Jesus’ birth is nostalgic when understood only as an event in history but it is radical, as it should be, if we realize that we are to give birth to his Spirit here and now. It could be said that divinity is the “D” in our DNA. What we call God and imagine residing in the heavens is the life-force that is born, and breathes in each of us. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is meant to remind us of the dignity/divinity of humanity and of our call to bring light to the darkness that surrounds us, and peace to the people with whom we interact.

It is a fact of life that for many, this season of joy is anything but. Experiences of illness, loss, economic hardship, family dysfunction, and other harsh realities can blur the blessedness of Christmas. As we celebrate this sacred season may we be especially sensitive to those whose bodies, hearts, and souls are broken. For it is in the lost, least, last, and littlest that we come face-to-face with the divine. When we care for and about those for whom there is no room in the inn of our warm homes or at the table of our full feasts, we encounter and give glory to God in the lowest.

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Diving In

whatever-you-do-or-dream-you-can-begin-it-boldness-has-genius-and-power-and-magic-in-it17The New Year is rapidly descending upon us and I know that many of us are more than happy to be rid of 2016. This year has brought such strife – political unrest, death of beloved celebrities, economic woes, and on and on. Ah yes, the New Year has to be better, right?

Well, sure, but it isn’t going to happen all by itself.

I was reminded of this as I sat pouting at home on Sunday night, throwing myself a pretty significant pity party.

You see, it was my 50th birthday. A milestone that for many brings lots of hoopla and festivity, but for me, it didn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. Friends and family all wished me a happy birthday, I am well and employed – all of things not to be taken for granted -but somehow it didn’t feel like “enough”. Even though I have never really done much for my birthday, even though I have learned throughout the years that trying to do something during the holidays is, to say the least, challenging, it still felt lonely and sad knowing there wasn’t a big party waiting for me or a special someone to make a big fuss over my special day.

Oh, woe is me!img_4815

After I was able to drag my 2-year-old-child self out of the kicking and screaming tantrum I was having, I realized that nothing happens in a vacuum and I had created just such a vacuum.

The reality is that most people in my immediate circle had no idea it was my birthday let alone that it was my 50th. I suppose this is a result of a childhood spent feeling like my birthday was more of a burden than a celebration; an inconvenience rather than something to look forward to. So I kept this tidbit of knowledge to myself and would casually toss it out in random conversations hoping against hope that someone would pick up on my desire to have a party and run with it.

Shocker! They didn’t.

Much as I would like for people to know my inmost desires without my saying a word, they simply do not. And unlike the forever popular romantic comedies, there rarely is a best friend or random stranger to provide this information to my loved ones for me. I have to actually open my mouth and express my wishes for people to hear me and act.

This is a difficult lesson for me because I have always been a people pleaser. The daughter of an abusive alcoholic, I have always worked hard to make sure that everyone else is taken care of and put my own needs and wants aside. My motto has always been the less you notice my presence, the less likely it is that I’m going to be hurt. And sure, that keeps new wounds from being inflicted – or at least limits the number significantly, but it also builds a wall so high that I end up feel lonely and slighted when I don’t to be center stage on these momentous occasions.

So what does this have to do with New Years?

Well, as I thought about this last night and this morning, I realized that each one of us has the opportunity not just at dawn of the new year, but every single day to dive in and create the life we want rather than wait for it to happen on its own – which, let’s be honest – means we’ll be waiting for a very, VERY long time.

We have to be willing to look at the life we feel we deserve or want and create a plan of action to obtain it, not just sit idly by and whine about how others are getting the achievements and fun that we want but have never been “lucky enough” to get. Does this mean we have to go through long, tedious hours of goal setting? Not necessarily, but there has to be some active participation on all of our parts for these things to occur.

None of us can change my health, physical abilities or our artistic abilities without making a decision to start lessons or spend more time practicing or working out and then actually acting on that decision.calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

None of us can start making an impact on children, homelessness, animal rights or whatever the passion is without carving out time to actually get involved somewhere and, as Ghandi stated, be the change we want to see in the world.

And none of us can create healthy, positive friendships that encourage things like birthday parties or support systems for those inevitable times of strife without actually stepping out into the world and start engaging with others in similar positive, loving ways. Sometimes this means reaching out to old friends, sometimes this means finding new friends, and sometimes this means seeking counseling or support to find healthy ways to engage to bring people into our lives that will be the blessings we need.

Going into this New Year and expecting it to be awesome just because it isn’t the current year is a recipe for certain failure. Things have to be put in place so a positive change actually happens. Am I suggesting that I’m joining yet another dating site? No, but I am saying that I am going to make a more focused effort to get out and participate more; to be more engaged in other people’s so they can be more engaged in mine.

new-years-resolution

How about you? What changes would you like in your life that you’ve been too fearful of making? The reality is that we only fail by not trying. Simply opening the door to a new challenge is success in and of itself.

I would love to hear what you are planning and maybe we can keep each other encouraged and motivated. Feel free to comment back with your thoughts, hopes and goals. I look forward to reading them all and walking with you every step of the way.

Join me! Dive in and let’s see what this New Year can bring!

 

 

 

Judgment

Judgement Day. That day when the trumpets will resound, the earth will cease to exist the way we know it today, and the Lord will make His way to use on a chariot of white steeds. It’s a day that believers see to equally anticipate and dread and it seems as we get closer to Christmas, the return of Jesus our human mind turns to the concern about what will happen when this actually occurs.

Our church has discussed this topic a good deal during the Advent Season. It makes sense. Here we are a mere 10 days from the celebration of the birth of our Savior and it’s only logical that we talk about what happens next.  I must confess, however, that the more I listened to the messages about this fantastic event, the more I had to wonder if the idea of a judgement is truly a God-inspired thought or the result of the mindset of the Gospel readers.

During my time studying at various biblical and non-biblical schools throughout my life it has been made pretty clear that the disciples, even to the end, had a hard time reconciling the idea of a peaceful savior. They, like us, were looking for a military leader; a King to come and destroy their enemies and put them in a place where they felt honored and respected. They wanted to see those who had been oppressing and enslaving them crushed so they could smirk in cool satisfaction as their cries were finally heard and their prayers answered. Maybe they, again like us, were hoping to see the roles reversed so they could treat their oppressors as abusively as they felt they had been treated.

Of course this is understandable. Of course those who have been enslaved ache for redemption from the horrendous life they have lived but the dividing of good versus bad as described by John in Revelation feels, at least to me, more like a human desire than a Godly vision.

Let’s just take a moment to look at it.

If we as Christians have truly been saved from our sins; if all of our wrongs have been made right do to our faith in Christ; if our hearts have been changed and we, despite daily failures, are striving to serve the One we love and worship (some days more than others, of course), what then will we be judged for on Judgement Day?

Will God be holding court for all of us individually, as represented in the movie Defending Your Life?

If so, then God is just as hypocritical and passive aggressive as our worst enemies.

You may think I’m must being blasphemous, but I truly think the Bible supports me in this.

According to Psalm 103:12, the Lord promises to move our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West. He’s already forgiven us and forgotten the things we have done.

Well, actually, He knew we would do them before we did them, had already forgiven these actions by the time we asked for forgiveness, and has directed our paths from that point forward so we can be where He wants us to be now. Unlike our human mind, God is actually able to truly forget the evils we have done in the past and does not need to remind us of them. It’s not as if He’s going to show us all of our worst moments and say after each one of them “I forgave that one…and that one…and that one…” My God is not a god who thrives on humiliation nor does He want us to feel guilt for things that have been put in the past.

The God I believe in wants to rejoice with us for being with Him; for making the choices we made so we could learn the lessons we needed to learn. I have already been judged and forgiven. It’s done.

Okay, you say, so maybe He’s judging the non-believers or the murderers or the rapists. He’s judging those who do heinous, unforgiveable acts here on earth.

Well, in theory, I get that. But hasn’t He already done that?

Assuming that He needs to wait until the end times assumes that He lives in the same linear fashion that we do and therefore won’t know the condition of our hearts – our choice for or against faith – until the day we die or the day of His 2nd coming but to believe this flies in the face of who I believe my God to be.

My God already knows the condition of my heart and those around me.

Despite our humanity and all of our sinful actions (and mine have been far too many to count), He knows what we truly believe and what we don’t. He knows each and every choice we will ever make and He knows the end result of our lives. Only He knows what will happen to those who fail to acknowledge Him and I don’t believe that part of that plan is for us to be all standing in one room watching while perhaps those we loved while here on earth are sent away from us for eternity. That would only cause us pain and the Bible says that there is no pain in heaven. Isn’t that one of the things that defines heaven?

Here’s the bottom line…

…at least from my humble perspective.

God has created each of us with the ability to seek Him and become like Him. It is His greatest desire we will seek Him, fall in love with Him, and seek to serve Him in every way we can. Perhaps He gives us all the time we need in this life – and maybe even others (gasp!) – to find our way to the right place. Regardless, I believe that if indeed there is a final day, the Lord will come to us the same way He did before…and the way He told us He would come.

There will not be trumpets blaring or cymbals crashing. There will be no 7 horsemen or destruction of the evils of this world – at least, not by God.

We will not know the day or the moment. He will come as He told us He would throughout the New Testament….like a thief in the night. He will not come to shatter, crush or destroy but to heal, restore and bless.

And this, my friends, is the kind of second coming I can truly rejoice in.

 

 

Through God’s Eyes

glasshalfemptyhalffullAre you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person? I like to believe I’m a glass half-full person, but at this time of year, I think I become far more of half-empty type the closer it gets to Christmas. There are so many things I think I’m needing and missing that at other times of the year don’t even cross my mind. I blame this on the sappy-sweet storylines of all the Christmas movies. Now don’t get me wrong. As you know, I love Hallmark movies – the sentimentality, the warm-heartedness, and the campiness of these movies. But as you are probably aware, the movies produced by this excellent organization will also acknowledge that there is a problem with these charming tales.

In the world of Hallmark, this time of year has an amazing magic which makes even the most unattainable hopes and wishes come true. Everyone gets exactly what they wish for every single Christmas despite the cost or sacrifice that needed to be made to have this happen, all relationships are not only repaired, but bettered, all money issues solved, and all loneliness eliminated because “that’s what this time of year is all about”.  And yes, there’s also the absolutely perfect dusting of snow that must be present regardless of where the movie takes place because what is Christmas without the perfect snowfall?

perfect-christmasLike it or not, all of us have likely fallen victim to this Hallmark fantasy to some degree or another. We put up the decorations, buy the ugly Christmas sweaters, spend hours shopping for just the right present and feel certain that when we have done all of this just right, we will have bought the right to get all of our hearts desires fulfilled but, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, we do not live in the Hallmark world.

All of the decorations, presents, ugly sweaters and Christmas cheer will not magically make our lives fit into our favorite holiday movie. God doesn’t suddenly become Santa making sure to give all of the “good boys and girls” the gifts they long for and hard as it may be to accept, just because the holiday season appears on the calendar, all of our burdens are not magically lifted from us – not even temporarily. As a matter of fact, the struggles we feel during the ordinary days of the year are often magnified during the holidays.

Maybe this happens because we buy into the images others project about how perfect their holidays are and we assume that we have somehow failed at the whole holiday celebration thing – or maybe even life itself. Or maybe we feel in some way that we are being punished for choices we have made in the past or that we are somehow not worthy to have the same joyful experiences others to do. Maybe we used to have those perfect holidays but the person or people who made it special have died or have been otherwise separated from us and we are left feeling isolated, broken and alone.

sad-holidaysTo be honest, I have struggled with feelings like this through the years. My home was rarely a place of safety let alone joy and since my birthday also falls during this Christmas season, my “special day” was often lumped together with other celebrations or forgotten all together because of the overall stress and busyness of the season. I have longed to find the “perfect person” to spend holidays with and have sought ways to celebrate the holiday that would make me feel the way I think others must be feel because it’s what I’ve seen in all the Hallmark movies but that “perfect holiday feeling” remains elusive – and there’s a good reason for that.

The reality is that the images floating around in my head – and maybe yours, too – about how Christmas and my birthday should be are probably just figments of my imagination – no more real than the snow falling in Tampa at the end of a Christmas movie.

Much as I wish things could be different, life is not nor will it ever be a Hallmark movie. There are no perfect endings or nice, tidy ribbons to tie up loose ends. To make matters worse, none of us know what the future will bring any more than we can go back and change the things of the past. All we can do is choose how to move forward. So what does that mean for Christmas this year and in the years to come?

For me, it means that I have chosen to put away the cynicism that has grown in my heart over the years due to years of unmet, unrealistic expectations about special events and celebrations- and I’m starting with Christmas. To make this happen, I am choosing to try to see Christmas through God’s eyes instead of my own.

What does Christmas look like to God? As I see it, it’s not about the lights or ceremony. It’s about a loving Father watching His only Son being born – rejoicing in birth while simultaneously grieving the path His only Son must take in order to fulfill His perfect plan.

I imagine Jesus at once a newborn taking in the sights and sounds of the cold, star-filled sky while also understanding His purpose for this journey and experiencing fear and sorrow.

I imagine Mary, Joseph, and all those who came to see this miracle in a manger looking on with awe and wonder knowing they had been chosen to be a part of something so much bigger than they and knowing this moment and all to come were completely out of their hands.

10277-christian-christmas-quotesLooking at Christmas through God’s eyes I am reminded that every single one of us was placed here on this planet at a specific time for a specific purpose and that even in the times of heartbreak and loss, we are perfect in our imperfection; loved more fully than we can ever imagine even when we feel the most unlovable and none of this love has to do with how we decorated our homes, what festive clothing we wore, or what presents we purchased for others.

My prayer for each of you during this Christmas season is that you will find a new sense of awe and wonder about Christmas and feel anew the amazing love that God has for each and every one of you which led to His bringing His son here to save us.