Uplift – June 16, 2017

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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

As a parent, one of the things I try to teach my kiddo is that she can do anything.
Anything at all, if she works hard and doesn’t give up.
I try to live this way as well.
But man.
Sometimes life throws really hard stuff in the way.
I know you all know what I’m talking about.
There are days and weeks where we wonder if we really CAN do anything.
If we can make it through.
If we can take the next step.
If we can even get out of bed.
It doesn’t always seem like we can do “all things” as Paul says in this letter to the Philippians.
But, as it often does, the original Greek makes this verse even better for me.
Literally, this verse is translated as:

“I am strong for all things in the one strengthening me.”

You know why I like this better?
Because it puts my strength on God and not on me.
I’m one who likes to think about mind over matter and powering through and getting it done.
I like to try hard, push harder, go further,
And it’s really tiring.
But I am strong for all the things, not because I can muscle my way through them,
But because God is strong, and I am God’s.
So I don’t have to try so hard.
So I don’t have to work at being strong.
God is strong.
And I am God’s.
Say it with me: God is strong.
And I am God’s.

This means that when I’m at the literal end of my rope.
When I’ve got no strength left,
When it feels like I can’t go any further,
I don’t have to.
Because God is the strength I have, and I am God’s.
Now usually, I’m pretty averse to cheesy stuff, but this verse makes me think of the footprints poem.

I can’t believe I just referenced that either.
But really.
Those moments when we are the weakest, when we don’t feel like we can do anything much less “all things”
That’s when God carries us.
That’s when God’s strength shines.

I talked about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness a few weeks ago,
And this is why.
Because God is strong, all the time, but we feel it most when we stop trying.
So stop.
Stop trying to do all the things,
to be all the things,
You are strong for all things because of the one who is strengthening you.
So we can just let it go.
God is strong.
And we are God’s.

Uplift – June 9, 2017

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In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

This has been a week.
There is a lot of stuff out there trying to cause trouble.
Life stuff.
Death stuff.
Relationship stuff.
Just hard stuff.
People I love are sick, are dying, are struggling, and it’s hard to trust that God wins.
Really hard.
Because sometimes it doesn’t feel that way at all.
Sometimes it feels like cancer is winning.
Or hate is winning.
Or prejudice and injustice are winning.
And in the midst of those really hard things, hearing LOVE WINS isn’t all that helpful.
At. All.
But it is.
It is true, I mean.
Even in the moments where it feels the LEAST true,
It’s true.
It’s truth.

The last time I used this verse was almost exactly a year ago.
July 8th 2016.
There were protests and shootings and it felt pretty dark.
This year, the tension almost feels heavier, if that’s possible.
And somehow it feels like the hits just keep on coming.
More people getting sick.
More people struggling.
So what are we supposed to do with this exactly?
How are we supposed to trust the truth we have in front of us?
You guys.
I wish I knew.
I wish I could give you a magic phrase or activity that would magically solve all the doubts and fears and struggles. But I don’t have it.
All I know is that God has promised that we are not alone, and that love wins.
That’s what I have.
And even for me, some days that doesn’t feel like it’s remotely true.

This verse from John 16 is a part of what is commonly referred to as the farewell discourse.
Jesus is talking about his leaving, and the disciples were confused and scared.
They did not like the world within which Jesus was leaving them.
And they were not confident that they had everything they needed to make it.
And Jesus reminded them that he isn’t going to leave them alone, and that even though the world is going to give them trouble
(I like to think this is the Jesus way of saying crap happens)
they should “take heart.”
The Greek there is actually tharseo, which is often translated as “have courage” but the literal meaning of this word is “to be emboldened from within.”
I LOVE this.
And you know what is within us? The spirit.
This past weekend was Pentecost where we celebrate the movement of the spirit and the recognition and celebration of how we are NOT left alone and how through the Spirit God is always with us as we are sent into the world.
The messy, crap-happening filled world.
So when we are tharseo – emboldened from within – it is the movement of God within us, reminding us that we are children, and beloved and not alone.
And then Jesus says that he will overcome the… wait for it – WORLD.
The same place that gives us trouble? Overcome.
The scary, confusing, dark, heavy, difficult, world is going to be overcome.
And then Jesus goes and shows us what he means.
He Dies AND rises.
Reminding us all once and for all that love really does win.
Shows us that love, when it’s right up against the hate and destruction of this world, always wins.
The things that are not of God,
those things that bring us down and cause us to struggle, they will not stay.
They cannot stand.
They do not win.
It’s true.
I watched it happen this week.
More than once even.
It’s still happening.
Even now. Even in you.
Love wins.
That’s the truth.

Uplift – May 26, 2017

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but he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ;
for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor 12:9-10

Last week I talked about how we’re strong and unstoppable with God’s armor covering us and protecting us …it’s what helps us stay standing in the world.
And that’s still true.
But this week, I want to talk about weakness.
Specifically, how we don’t like it, but how God does.
When you think about your life, when are/were the times you turned to God?
When everything was great?
When you got that dream job or married your person?
When you had a healthy result at your physical?
I’m guessing not right?
Most of us, if we’re honest, don’t call on God during the good times.
The times we call on God most often are the opposite usually.
When we aren’t feeling the strongest.
When we’ve gotten bad news,
When we’ve lost a loved one.
We turn to God in the hardest moments of our lives.
Or, if you’re like me, you turn to God when you’ve tried ALL the other options and none of them have worked out.
Tried to fight on my own? Yep.
Pretending everything was fine? Done that.
Talked about it with anyone who would listen? That too.
Blamed God and ignored God as my punishment for what was happening? Oh yes.
We don’t like to be weak.
We honor those who power through and get over and muscle in.
We say things like “Pain is weakness leaving the body” and “weakness is a choice” to encourage people to fight harder and do more.
But in the life of faith, weakness has a place. An important place.
Also, pain isn’t weakness leaving the body, it’s a feeling you get when things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.
Pain is the result of injury, physical or emotional. And, sure, after the pain heals, strength usually follows, but sometimes it’s just pain. So stop. (Ok, let me just climb down off of my soapbox here)
And I think God wants us to know weakness is ok.
That it can be as celebrated as strength.
It’s when we’re weak, when we’re suffering, when we’re at the bottom,
that’s when we tend to come to God for help.
And while God doesn’t like that we’re feeling this way,
God also knows that it’s just in these moments where God’s grace and love and strength can be felt best.

Paul writes in this letter to the Corinthians that he had this pain that wouldn’t go away, and God told him that God’s grace is enough. God’s grace is what makes us strong.
Paul’s response?
It is in weaknesses that I am strong.

Oooof that is so hard and so amazing.
Because God said that it is OUR weakness that makes GOD’S power perfect.
A more literal translation of the Greek there says that God’s power isn’t complete until it is joined with our weakness. Isn’t that so beautiful?
It is in our weakness that we see God’s grace is enough.
See, in these verses, even though he had been complaining and struggling to understand why his pain didn’t go away, Paul finally understood that God does the best work when we don’t have the strength to do any more.
When we think we’re at the end of our rope, God gives us something to hang onto.
When we think we can’t possibly see in all the darkness within us and around us, God sheds a little light.
We’ve all got things in our lives that can only be overcome with God.
Sure, we’ll keep trying to get it handled by ourselves, I mean, we’re still US,
but the good news,
maybe the best news for those of us exhausted from the fight,
is that the moment we give up on doing it on our own is the moment God is just getting started.

Uplift – May 19, 2017

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Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day and, having done everything, to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:13


As a person who hasn’t ever really liked violent or war-like images around God, I have long ignored verses in scripture about fighting or going to battle for God.  
They just make me uncomfortable.
I’m not a fighter.
Sure, I’m passionate and I’ll stand up for what I believe is right, but I’m not someone who jumps into the fray fists first.
It’s why I’ve found myself drawn to Gandhi and MLK Jr and the many other non-violent protesters in our history. It’s like they’re my people.
So this verse, about putting on the armor of God, has always been a tough one.
I’m not a soldier.
I value those who are, I think they are incredibly selfless to put their lives on the line for me and my freedoms, but I find it hard to relate to this image.
Especially when there are images of what this armor of God looks like:
A roman soldier looking man with a suit of armor on…

(Usually the question on these pictures says “Are you ready for battle?”… Um. nope.)
So this suit of armor, the armor of God, includes a belt of truth and a breastplate of righteousness.

A shield of faith and a helmet of salvation.

It has shoes of peace and a sword of truth.
The pictures usually are the suit of armor and then there are just WORDS on the armor, like having the word on there makes it the thing.

You guys.
That it NOT what Paul is saying.
Not at all.

Paul was writing this in his letter to the newly born church in Ephesus to help them live into their new identity in Christ.  What does it mean that they’ve been given a new life? How does that life look different than their old one?
The people in this new church knew that the city in which they were living wasn’t suddenly without problems or temptation just because they began following Jesus.
(to which we all say, DUH)
But Paul wanted the people to know that with Jesus on their side, they could withstand anything.
Any temptation.
Any evil.
Any illness.
Any struggle.
Any doubt.
Not that they wouldn’t come, but that our faith is what helps us stay standing.
So he uses this metaphor.
Of armor.
Which let’s be honest, is not all that relatable for us today.
A suit of armor is pretty impractical actually.
But to the people in Ephesus – this probably made a lot of sense.
They knew what an actual suit of armor was supposed to do.
It was supposed to keep them alive in battle.
That’s what the armor of God does too.
It protects our new life.
But it’s not an actual suit of armor.
God’s armor is different.
And it doesn’t look a thing like battle gear.
We have truth surrounding us, like a belt.
Instead of a breastplate, we have righteousness protecting our hearts.
Instead of a shield, we have faith protecting us from the barbs and arrows sure to come our way.
We have salvation covering our head, like a helmet would.
Instead of sword or other weapon, we have the word of God to help us fight against injustice.
And we have shoes (Paul says, any shoes will work, as long as they are peaceful) that help us take the Gospel out into the world.
I mean. Dang.
Doesn’t that seem better than a whole bunch of metal armor covering you?
When life gets tough, when things don’t go the way we hope,
When temptation surrounds us and we want to give up.
When we think we aren’t going to survive whatever battle we find ourselves in,
Then we remember the armor that God gives us.
The world tells us over and over again we are in danger, imminent danger, and we need to take care of ourselves and protect ourselves with metal cages that insulate us from the world outside.
But that’s not what a life in Christ is about.
We don’t need a metal suit protecting us, but faith and truth and peace.

Paul is reminding the followers of Christ, reminding us, that when we feel like we’re under attack, like either the world, or those around us, or even our own bodies are trying to pull us under… we have Jesus, and he has promised to be with us.
And then Jesus gives us all these tools to help us in the battle to just stay upright.
So remember this the next time you struggle.
Remember that Jesus has given you gifts that cover you from head to toe.
Yes you.
You’re not alone.
And you’ve got this.

Uplift – May 12, 2017

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Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he went to a desolate place and prayed.
Mark 1:35

I’m not a morning person.
I want to be a morning person, really, I do.
But oof.
It’s just so darn hard to get out of bed.
I used to be anti-snooze, but now I’d say I’m a snooze aficionado.
But a few times a week, I manage to get myself out of bed before the sunrise.
And honestly, there is something kind of magical about that time.
As the horizon gets lighter and lighter.
As the sky changes colors as it brightens.
It’s peaceful and calm and holy.
Even though I’m tired and often wish I were still in bed, it’s still a holy place.

So it’s no wonder that when the Gospel authors recorded Jesus praying, they almost always noted the time of day – that it was early, very early, as Mark says today,
There is something that happens early, before our day really gets going,
before things ramp up.
That’s when Jesus prayed.
I notice they don’t say he prayed at the end of the day,
Or in the middle of the day.
And though I’m sure that Jesus prayed more than once a day,
It’s interesting that if the time was noted, it was the morning.

I think it’s because of this same thing I’ve experienced before the sun rises.
It’s holy.
So calm and peaceful.
There aren’t kids awake.
The neighbors haven’t started working in the yard.
No one is calling or emailing.
You haven’t had time to regret things or worry about things to come.

Very early, while it was still dark.

Also, in Mark’s gospel, notice how Jesus goes to a desolate place to pray.
In the dark, in the early morning, to a desolate place.
The Greek word used here is erēmos
And it means a place without people, solitary, or deserted.
I like to think of the modern version of this prayer as being in a place without distractions.
How often are we really in solitude?
There’s always a way to connect with someone else right at our fingertips.
And we use it.
All the time.

So often the first thing I do in the morning is pick up my phone.
Jesus prayed.
(which is why he is Jesus and I’m not, obviously)
But what might happen if this is how we do it?
If we got up and prayed first?
If we got up, before the sun, and went to a place by ourselves and prayed first?

So here’s what I’m thinking…
Prayer can be overwhelming.
We don’t know what to say or how to do it.
So if that’s the thing holding you back,
I’d suggest to think about it like a conversation.
Ask for God to be with you in your day.
Tell God about the things that are worrying you.
Lift up the names of the people in your life that are struggling.
There’s no “right” way to pray. I promise.
But if that’s too much for you, if it feels overwhelming,
(even though I promise that it’s not)
try the Lord’s Prayer.

Or, if you’re Lutheran like me, Luther wrote a morning prayer that can be just lovely:

Whatever you pray, I’d like to challenge you to try praying this week.
Get up early. Before the sun.
And have the first thing you say be a prayer.
It’s just one week.
You can do it.

Uplift – May 5, 2017

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Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5

There are those days where nothing goes right.
Or you’re wearing crabby pants and can’t get them to come off.
Or where you get bad news after already having bad news and bad news.
Or where some long buried grief rears it’s head once again and you just spend the day crying.
At our house, when my daughter has a moment of pushing back against the parental units, we often remind her that tomorrow is new day.
A chance to start over.
So we’re just gonna go to bed, and let tomorrow be tomorrow, and today be today.

As fixers, we like to DO something to make a day better.
We tell each other and ourselves what we need to do
Go for a walk.
Or a run. (though if you’re like me that makes it worse somehow)
Or do yoga.
Or go out with friends.
And some of that does work.
But sometimes, it’s just the day.
And the only way to make it better is to end the day.
Go to bed.
Get some rest.
And then wake up to a new day.

Sometimes, this happens.
It’s literally just a matter of letting the worst day happen, be done and moving on.
And that’s awesome.
Then you can wake up and remember this verse and embrace the joy in the moment.

But sometimes, this verse is figurative.
And the weeping filled-night lasts a long time.
More than one night.
And you are just waiting for the new day.
The morning to come.
And it feels like it never will.

It does.
Let me tell you right now.
It. Does. Come.
Joy comes.
It’s not always immediate.
But no matter how long the night, the new day, and joy, do come.

Sometimes, the joy comes because you don’t feel the pain as acutely as the day before.
Like a baby-step away from the weeping night.
That’s all it takes.
I have a friend who says that sometimes after you’re really sick, like with the flu, and you wake up that first day and think you might be able to get out of bed and maybe even eat something, and it feels amazing.
To someone else it might be just average-feeling, maybe even still pretty bad in comparison, but you know what really bad feels like so it’s time to celebrate not feeling awful.
That’s joy. 

This whole psalm (psalm 30) is a celebration of promises kept.
The author is rejoicing in the joy that has come,
while also not forgetting how bad things were.
This psalm is a reminder that yes, things might not be great right now.
They might not be the way we had hoped they’d go.
They might even be really, really bad.
But there is joy to come.
Even in the midst of the worst, there is joy to come.
I promise.

Even better, God promises.

Uplift – April 28, 2017

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Now faith is assurance in what we hope for and confidence in what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

I was listening to a great interview with Richard Rohr this week and in it he said “A loss of certitude can feel like a loss of faith.”

Oh my goodness yes.

Why do we have such a hard time with our lack of certainty in faith?
Having faith does not mean we have all the answers.
Having faith does not mean we are question free.
Having faith doesn’t mean we are without struggles or difficulties.

And honestly, nowhere in scripture does it say that this is the way things go.

Jesus even tells his disciples that one needs only faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains.

Do you know how little that is?

That picture doesn’t really indicate an abundance or something immovable and unshakeable.
So then, why do we struggle when we aren’t one hundred percent sure all the time?
Why do we assume it’s bad to lack certainty?
Faith is assurance in what we hope for, and confidence in what we do not see.
Looking at the Greek, another way to translate this sentence is: faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.
Doesn’t sound like certainty at all does it?
Faith is all our hopes mixed in with all the evidence that God is at work that we can’t see.
Well then.

A perennial favorite author of mine, Anne Lamott, said that “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
Faith isn’t a perfect life getting everything I’ve asked for.
Faith is seeing the mess, as Lamott says, and then either seeing God at work redeeming it, or trusting that God is working in it, even when we can’t see it.
And darn if that isn’t a whole lot harder to do than believing with proof or certainty.
So it’s easy to say I don’t believe because I don’t see it.
I don’t believe because I’m not certain.
But that’s not what we’re asked to do.
We’re asked to believe despite certainty, with all our doubts and struggles and questions all mixed into the way we hope things are.
No wonder so many people walk away.
Sometimes people think that just because I’m a pastor that I don’t ever struggle with my faith.
That I don’t have days where God feels really far away, or out of touch and I’m not sure I quite buy it.
But I do.
We all do.
So when you feel that way, when you just aren’t sure, know that it’s completely fine,
and you are not alone.

Faith and doubt go together.
Faith is not being certain, but trusting in the midst of great uncertainty.
I’m not saying it’s an easy thing.
But faith asks us to trust,
to believe,
that we are loved,
and we are not alone.
Full stop.

Uplift – April 21, 2017

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And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:24

Oh this verse.
So short, yet so full.
The verse right before it says that we hold fast to hope because he who has promised is faithful (remember that from two weeks ago?)
But then, since we don’t have to worry about ourselves anymore, what are we to do?
Since God is taking care of us, is faithful, will hold us and care for us and love us – what do we do?
Paul says we think about how to provoke each other into love and good deeds.
That word there, provoke – it’s only used one other time in the whole Bible, in Acts, when Paul and Barnabas couldn’t agree on anything, so they provoked each other so much they parted ways.
So what does that mean here?
We are supposed to provoke each other into good?
What an image.
Bug each other to love.
Poke at each other with good deeds.
The Greek word is paroxysmos – literally meaning irritate or incite.
Think about how you can stir up love and good works in each other.
Ponder how you can irritate someone into loving service.
This seems so funny.
Like competition for good people.

Our Cancer Support Group met this week, and one of the things we talked about was what the best things people (close and not so close) did for them when they needed help.
See – sometimes, here in the passive aggressive northland, we say “let me know if you need anything” and then the people we say it to WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING because that’s how we roll.
But what if we just did stuff?
What if we just provoked each other to love and do good?
Our group – made up of people in the midst of treatment, finished with treatment, or grieving the loss of someone they love – came up with a list.
So I’m sharing it with you today.
To poke at you.
To incite you to do something like it.
To provoke you into doing good for someone else today.
Let’s get to it uplifters – you KNOW someone who needs help.
So do it.


Best things done for me list:

*Called me from the store and asked “what do you need while I’m here.”  *Brought meals. *Sent me funny videos or jokes to cheer me up.  *Prayed for me, and told me when they did it.  *Walked the dog for me. *Moved my garbage can to the curb and back every week.  *Cared for my caretakers.  *Told me when they thought of my loved one.  *Completed grant applications for me (to help with bills).  *Sent me gift cards to restaurants. *Cooked for my family on chemo day.  *Sent me cards often, not just once.  *Just texts to check in or to say they were thinking of me.  *Said “How’s today?” instead of “how are you?”.  *Organized cleaning/rides/etc.  *Mowed the lawn without me asking.  *Came and sat by me at church so I didn’t have to sit alone.  *Took me out once a week so I got out of the house.  *Made sure to check in when things calmed down so I didn’t feel so alone.  *Took me out to get a pedicure or coffee.  *They just DID things without making a big deal about it.

You guys.
Notice how all of these are pretty easy?
Some of them cost nothing or very little.
Little things make a BIG difference.
And that’s what we’re all about here.
We are uplifters.
So consider this your provocation.
(poke poke poke)

PS.  If you are in need of uplifting, or you need help, please, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask. I know it’s hard, and I know you think you can do it on your own, and honestly you probably can, but you don’t HAVE to. This community is full of people just waiting to be with you and help you. Start with us. We’ve got you.

Good Friday Uplift – April 14, 2017

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I normally post on the Wednesday after they get emailed out, but today is Good Friday, and next week we’ll be well into Easter so I’m posting today, when it makes the most sense.

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

It’s Good Friday in the church.
A day where we observe and remember the death of Jesus.
I think I speak for all of us when I say, it’s not really the best day for the church.
We call it “Good” but it’s anything but.
It’s hard.
It’s uncomfortable.
It’s sad.
I’ve always had problems with people telling me that I should be happy that Jesus died for my sins.
I’ve heard this a lot:
Jesus died for you.
And it never once made me feel good.
I just felt bad.
And guilty.

So no. I don’t think today is good.

And you know what?  I think that’s ok.
I think we need to feel how bad things got before we can really do the joy of Easter.
We need to be right in the middle of how bad this day is in our history as followers of Jesus.
As author Danielle Shroyer says, “we killed God you guys.  This is really bad.”
She also says we need to go all the way down before we can really rise up.
This is the uplift.
And I spend a lot of time reminding us that God is with us and that we’re going to be ok.
I believe that, I do.
But for just today.
We’re going to sit in the bad.
In how crappy things are.
How this isn’t how we thought our lives would go.
How it isn’t fair.
We need to go all the way down before we can come back up.

As I listen to the story of the arrest and torture and killing of our God on this day,
I hear all the ways in which I fall short.
All the bad.
How I’m like Peter, and can’t handle the pressure and so I deny my beliefs.
How I’m like the disciples, and run scared at the first bit of difficulty I face.
How I’m like Judas, and sell my very life for a little more… power, money, etc.
How I’m like Pilate, and see the injustice around me but I don’t want to get involved so I just wash my hands.
How I’m like the crowd, and follow the tides of mob mentality as they turn.
Even how I’m like Jesus, begging God to give this journey to someone else.
Oh do I see myself in this story.
And I feel bad.

Jurgen Moltmann said that “the cross cannot and will not be loved.”
So we don’t have to be happy and joyful that Jesus died for us.
We can be sad, and feel the full weight of what happened on this day.
Because Jesus knew.
Jesus knew what was going to happen and didn’t change his mind.
While we (yes WE) were still sinners,
while we were turning against him and selling him out and running away,
At our very worst selves…
That’s when Jesus died for us.
To change the way things worked.
To make a new system.
A system based on love.
So that we may be handed new life instead of the death we actually deserve.

So today, go to church.
Even though it’s not happy.
Even though it makes us feel bad.
It’s ok.
Go all the way down.
And then come back on Sunday.
What goes down does come up.
Christ will win.
Death does not.
It will be time to rise,
and we’ll be able to rise anew,
with joy for having gone all the way down.