Word of the Week

If there's anything I know for sure, few people like to talk about lying.

Bad people lie. Criminals lie. You and I never, lie, right? We are good people! We just might tell "creative" stories or "white lies" sometimes and then laugh it all off.

But this morning, I want to sit with the opposite of this word: truth.

Truth: the facts about something rather than things that are imagined or invented.

In a world where what happens and what is believed are opposites, talking about truth can be a tricky reality. What is even the truth anymore? Yet, I continue to believe that soul work and truth-telling go in the same sentence.

To care for your soul (so that you have the capacity to bring more goodness and love and light and all the best things into the world) begins with the truth.

So today I'm wondering: what true about you? (And what do you want to hide?)

I have learned in my own journey that when I don't feel safe around people or a situation, I much more likely to skate around the truth for protection. I have learned to have self-compassion for myself in this way because safety is a basic human need and we can't bear our souls to everyone.

BUT, when you are safe, how might your soul be asking you to grow in the practice of truth telling?

Here's one suggestion. Think of some of your most trustworthy friends/ family members. How can you talk about what is true with them?

Recently I have encountered the work of Poet David Gate. (You can find more of his work here). In one of his recent post he offers this:

"The first thing in knowing yourself is to realize that you cannot really be known by your own eyes alone. We need to heed what those close to us perceive, because we are too good at the art of denial and afraid of being as naked as the lies we tell ourselves."

What I love about these words is that Gates points to that self-deception can easily creep into all of our lives if we don't surround ourselves with those who are kind and wise enough to mirror back to us what is REAL.

Of course, not everything others see or say is an accurate reality (we're all human after all and mistakes are made), but so many times it is!

Those who know and love us well have truth to share. And the truth will set us free!

So, friend, this week, in your pursuit of more truth filled living, may just the right people offer grace to help you see.



Do you remember a time when you had a conversation with someone whose life seemed 10x better than yours?

For they offered things like: "My bank account is brimming with savings and I'm well set for retirement."

Or "I got the best new job though I wasn't even looking for one!"

Or even, "My grandchildren are all soccer stars and all on the honor roll." And so on . . .

But are these stories all true? We know better than to believe but still it's tempting. To this question enter this week's word: honesty.

Honesty is defined as the quality or condition of truthfulness or integrity.

In our picture-perfect Facebook world, we're losing this experience with one another because we don't have the conversations that go like this . .

I just stress ate a whole pie.

I am sad and don't remember being truly happy for years.

I never pay my bills on time. My credit score is terrible.

My 7-year old never sleeps through the night.

Or whatever is the honest truth is about your life.

I have to tell you this: when friends confide in me truths like this, I feel gratitude. Why? Because it means my honesty will be welcomed. I feel safe to be real too.

No matter what you might project to the outside, there are things in your life right now that are on the struggle bus. Your best friendship may be falling apart. Your patience for your adult children might be growing thin. You may cry every night because you miss someone so much. Whatever it is . . .


So, I'm wondering, what's one situation this week that you can be more honest about with the people around you about?

Of course, not everyone can handle all the stories closest to your heart. Of course, it's not time for every story to be told. But, I bet if you think about it for a minute, there's somebody in your circle who can hear what you need to say now.

How are you going to be honest this week? Your soul already says thank you for moving in that direction.



P.S. Are you looking for a great book for a group to discuss and practice being more honest with one another? Might I suggest this one that a church of mine studied together. Here's the scoop of what happened . . .

What's the standard answer to the question: "How are you?" That we seem to ask one another constantly.

"I am fine." Right?

But are we always fine? Are we always full of good news with a smile on our face? No. I don't think so.

A resounding theme I think of this blog is that of authenticity.

I want to figure out how to live my life with as much honesty as I can. (And so I write . . . )

I want to figure out how to live with others with as much honesty that I can. (And so I invite you to read and join in the conversation . . .)

Teachers of authenticity can be found anywhere, I think. Even on top 40 radio.

I've found myself hitting the repeat button to a song called "Bruises" a duet between Train and Ashley Monroe from the Album California 37 released last year. The framework of the song is a dialogue between two people who haven't seen each other in 10 years-- a typical event for many of us throughout our lives.

In the mix of their catching up in the song, the two learn that life had been hard to both of them (divorces, job failures and more) and there is no need to pretend that they are happier than they are. In the end, this is the chorus that rings through:

These bruises make for better conversation
Loses the vibe that separates
It's good to let you in again
You're not alone in how you've been
Everybody loses
We all got bruises
We all got bruises

I would love to fix it all for you
(I would love to fix you too)
Please don't fix a thing whatever you do

And I love its message of authenticity.

We all can so easily put a front. It's easier. We can all pretend. It's less vulnerable. We want to think that we're as put together as the next person.

Yet, is this what the best parts of this journey called life are about? In my experience, no.

But those who ARE willing to talk about "the not so put together parts" of their lives can often feel isolated real fast. Why? Because in self-revelation, a community of those who believe in "I'm fine-ness" are invited to leave their comfort spaces.

Such is not true of course. We are all wounded in some way. We all have memories from our past and experiences of our present that rub us in painful ways. We all have nights when we can't sleep because the deep troubles of this world seek to take from us peace.

And the people who are willing to admit such are those I want to know more of in my life.

Because isn't it true that when you're with someone who doesn't claim to have it all together that you feel comfortable doing the same?

I know we can't live our lives to the fullest without allowing for authenticity. It's good for me. It's good for you. We've ALL got bruises.

Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16

stores-open-at-christmas-eveI’m proud of you for being in church today for the season of busyness is upon us. No longer in the causal days of fall activities, and not yet to the Sunday before Christmas (where everyone seems to feel the call stronger to go to church).  Seemingly it feels like a not-so special day. But, it is in this post-Thanksgiving, early December date that the excitement of the Advent season begins, the four Sundays on the liturgical calendar of the church where we stop and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  This year, we are approaching Advent together as we “Wait With . . .”

Many of us have the “hurry up” part down. Maybe not the waiting . . .

We know how to get things done.

Many of us braved the crowds this weekend and headed to the malls to get the first or second round of our Christmas shopping completed like Kevin and I did. Oh, what insanity.

Many of us took that climb into the attic or on the top shelf in our garage to get our Christmas decorations down and have our house look like a disaster zone for many hours until it all started to come into order.

And, then some of us timed ourselves to see how many Christmas cards we could write before we knew the responsibilities of life and work got to us again this coming week filling our kitchen tables with stamps, address labels and cards galore. There always seems to be something to do this time of year.

But, wait?  That’s what we are talking about today?

This is not just our forte. By nature we are an impatient people. We like to have things OUR way, when WE want it, don’t we?

When will the train come? How long will this grocery line take? How many more miles till we get there?  When will my life get better? When will my husband or wife change? When will I get everything out of life that I wished for?

However, my desire for this Advent season both through the Sunday worship services and the Wednesday night worship services that you and I have the ability to redefine what it means for us to wait for Christmas.  And this year instead of focusing on the typical Advent words like hope, joy, peace and love—we’re going to stick with what it means to wait with others.

We’ll wait together for Christmas to come as part of our spiritual discipline of worship. We’ll hope to see this waiting period not as wasted time or meaningless time. We’ll hope to see this Advent not as punishment . .. “Can’t it just be Christmas already?” We hope this waiting period becomes an opportunity to feel in our bones the urgency of the season, urgency to position our lives through a posture of waiting to receive the love that is ours to have in the kingdom of Christ.

Today, as we begin, the exhortation scripture leads us to begin with is to wait with the prophets, in particular the prophet, Jeremiah.

Who is Jeremiah?

Jeremiah is known in Biblical history as the weeping prophet, an emotionally charged, unlikely spokesman who was called to ministry about one year after King Josiah of Judah began making his reforms in the temple—a key moment in the history of the nation.

I say an unlikely spokesman because Jeremiah was the least likely kind of guy to expect himself called to God’s service.

If you think throughout scripture, all the great leaders or prophets made excuses to God when they were called, some were too young, some were too old, some said they simply didn’t know how to lead. And the same was true of Jeremiah.

He told the LORD that he did not know how to speak, for he was only a child. But, scripture tells us that all of this changed when the LORD reached out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth reminding him that he put words in his month. There would be no excuses; Jeremiah was equipped for all that was to come.

And spoke Jeremiah did, calling the people of Israel to a life that pleased God.

For the next 40 years he served as God’s spokesman—though when he spoke, as it common with those with spiritual gifts of discernment and prophecy, few listened.  But he kept on keeping on.

One chapter prior to our text’s opening for today; we hear the banner statement over and over again throughout the book, saying "the word of the Lord came toJeremiah_by_Michelangelo Jeremiah."

And this was the context: corruption of the kings of Judah went from ok to worse after its good king Josiah. God allowed invaders to come in the country.  The fall was upon them.

So at this present time, already hundreds of Jerusalem’s residents had been forced by Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar into exile. Soon others would be forced to go as well as Babylon was growing stronger by the day.

We know that it was the 10th year of Zedekiah’s reign, another one of Judah’s kings known for his corruption. Though King Zedekiah had struck a deal with Egypt to hold off Babylon a little bit longer in the previous chapters, thinking he’d provided for himself the security he craved, this too would soon fail.

Above all, it’s a storm of confusion all around as they refused to listen to God.   However, the worst had not happened yet, but any person with common sense could see that hardships were even going increase.

But to everyone’s surprise: this is not the time when the weeping prophet wept.  Oh, to the contrary, at this seemingly impossible juncture, Jeremiah gives a word of hope.

Look with me again at verse 14:

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness the land.”

It’s a promise. It’s a word of restoration. It’s word of the Lord that focuses their attention on their past and not just present that can have redemptive qualities, but on their future.

Seems strange, though, because the people were in mourning. Grief broke out across the land. They were grieving about what could have been. Grief about what will never be. In particular, this grief had everything to do with the loss of David’s dynasty, the history of this family generation after generations leading the people. They were sad to now be even smaller and less significant than they were before. But, to this grief, Jeremiah says, “Don’t call this a tragedy just quite yet.”

Why? Because a “righteous branch” is going to spring forth from David’s line.

If we read this as and Messiah prophetic text (i.e. pointing our attention to Jesus), we see that the one would later be born in David’s city, Bethlehem with Joseph as his father (from the house and lineage of David), then the prophecy came to be. Of course, it didn’t come as the people expected. It didn’t come in the lifetimes of the people who heard this word first. But it did speak for a God who would go with the people through the rocky places of their journey as individual and as a nation and never leave them without hope.

It is true that some prophetic words are harsh throughout scripture, or seem harsh to our ears, but ultimately HOPE is the real motive behind any true prophet’s message. Prophecy is a loving gift of the spirit enabling us who are walking in the darkness of life to see light at the end of the tunnel.

And our exhortation this morning is to wait with prophets like Jeremiah and all the other prophets of our day and time. To wait with expectant ears around those of us whose giftedness is to hear God’s call and then share it with us.  To wait in the coming month in celebration of this righteous branch being born! The fulfillment of the great joy!

We don’t talk a lot about waiting with prophets or even the modern expression of prophecy very much in church because when we simply say the word, prophet, we’re afraid. We’re afraid because of all of the negative experiences we’ve had with folks in our world claiming to know God’s plans, only to have their predictions fall on their face.  We’re afraid of the Kool-Aid, literally.

But what a shame this is. For I believe the false prophets among us have destroyed the good reputation of what is most needed in our time, those who are willing to tell us the truth. Those who are willing to look at what seems like a “bad situation” and give us hope, just as Jeremiah did with Israel.

Have you ever experienced a person with prophetic gifts? And by this I mean a person who told you the truth—not just in every day conversation, but truth-telling at a deeper level, truth-telling that cut to the heart of a situation you sought to hide or ignore?

We love to speak ill of prophetic types (as much as we like them) because it is true their role is to tell us what we don’t want to hear.  Or simply stated, prophetic types can be annoying. They are really good at cramping our style.

In college I had a friend full of these kinds of gifts, prophetic ones. She was a dear to me, however, I didn’t have thick enough skin for her honesty quiet yet. But I would have much to learn.

One afternoon in the middle of my junior first semester, well into the bulk of my education certification coursework, I sat in our shared apartment with this friend. I was practicing my handwriting for my cursive writing class and next up was cutting out letters for my bulletin board making assignment. And this friend took one look at me and the pile of art supplies around me and said, “You’ve got to get out of that major. You’ve got bigger things to do in the world than displaying good handwriting or pretty bulletin boards.”

It was hard to hear of course—I’d planned my whole life around being a teacher and to drop the major mid-way seemed like career suicide.  And not that there is anything wrong with being an elementary teacher, but it wasn’t me.

But, I knew she was right.  I needed her to tell me the truth. I needed to get off the couch and think about going to seminary. And you need those people in your life too.

Where would I be today without that friend? I can imagine, you’ve had prophetic voices that have guided you, re-directed you and  lovingly told you to listen to God afresh also. And without them, you wouldn’t be here today either.

What a great reminder, then this week of Advent is for us to wait with the prophets among us.  To give thanks for Jeremiah, his voice, his passion, his word of hope that we get to see fulfilled on Christmas Eve. And for us, to know that God’s word is alive and well and there are spoke people, given as gifts of grace that help us find our way. Because ultimately what Advent is all about is making more room for God in our lives. And, without prophets we might not know where to start cleaning out the spiritual closets weighing us down.

And, an opportunity to know God is here today—here at this table—ready for us to receive what was broken for us, not just for the sake of being broken, but broken so that God’s light might shine in us and in our dark, dark world. Let us gather and shift our hearts to taste and see that God is good beginning. Let us wait for this prophetic word which is the living bread given for us. Let us eat together in expectation of a God who always gives us hope and never leaves us alone.


Excuses, Excuses: I’m Afraid  Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

As we end our “Excuses, Excuses” sermon series today and thus our discussion on what can hold each of us back from relationship with God—I think we’ve saved one of the most important excuses for last, an excuse that all of us struggle with regularly. And this is it: we are held back from the new horizons, possibilities and dreams that God has for us because we are afraid. We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of losing what we had in the past. We are afraid of what we cannot control in the future.

We all know about fear because fear is something that each of us deal with if not every day, regularly.

Albert Hitchcock in fact once said, “Fear isn't so difficult to understand. After all, weren't we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It's just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”

No matter who or what is the big, bad wolf in your life, this fact unites us: we all have fears that keep us back from God’s best for our lives. We won’t start new relationships because we’re afraid of getting hurt.  We won’t apply for new jobs because we fear we won’t get them. We won’t get out of bed on some days because we fear it won’t be better than the day before.

We fear losing the approval of those we love. We fear being exposed for who we really are. We fear making really big mistakes. We fear loneliness. We fear poverty. We fear fear itself, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said.

In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, we encounter a woman who like us wrestled with fear but courageously preservers—modeling for us a different way of being with our “I’m afraid” excuses.  Esther is this woman’s name. And although her name might sound familiar or at least maybe sometime you’ve seen it in the table of contents of your Bible—few of us really know the story of her life and why this particular tale ended up in the scriptures in the first place.

As the story goes, Esther was a young girl, an orphan of Jewish descent who was taken in by her older cousin Mordecai when her parents died. Her adopted father, Mordecai was a descendant of those who were captured when Jerusalem fell to Babylon (and thus went into exile) about 100 years before.  However, since the Babylonians fell to the Persians, Mordecai, Esther and the other Jewish people are now living under control of this new king, Xerxes.  And life isn’t easy living for the Jews as a member of the religious minority in the primarily secular culture. If life wasn’t bad enough under the Babylonians, now they were controlled by the Persians. And in this environment, we know nothing else about Esther other than what chapter 2 of Esther tells us that she “had a lovely figure and was beautiful.”

But, change is brewing in the nation. Much like the tale we might know from British history—where King Henry VIII gets tired of his first wife and divorces her for no good reason other than he wanted more children from a younger virgin wife, so goes the days of their lives in the Palace in Persia. King Xerxes divorced his wife, Vashti and seeks a new bride. The king makes quite a show out of the affair, welcoming a contest to see what young woman attracts his attention the most.

Mordecai encourages young Esther to participate and also forbids her to tell anyone at the palace her true nationality. Esther was to just blend in, not overly mention that she was of the tribe of Benjamin.  And, as Esther goes through the vetting process, she rises to the occasion, attracts the favor of the King and wins the contest. Soon she’ll be made to be the new Queen!

Meanwhile, Mordecai begins to get into some trouble, especially with Haman, the grand vizier to the king.  Mordecai finds out that two of the men in the king’s court are plotting to kill the king and sends word through now Queen Esther about the plot. The king executes the two men and Haman is furious.  He feels that Mordecai, a common man has superseded his position as right hand man to the king.

The best way I can describe it is this: you ask your supervisor’s boss for something instead of going directly to your supervisor and then your supervisor has a chip on their shoulder forever more about you. But, instead of getting over his attitude—and taking a time out for a reset, Haman takes matters into own hands. We read in chapter 4 that he gathers together a group of people to take not only Mordecai’s life but the lives of his tribe, the Jews.

So, what a quandary Esther and Mordecai find themselves in as they learn about Haman’s plans.

The remnant of Israel left in Persia—the people said long ago to be God’s beloved people—soon are about to face a genocide, unknown to them. The only two folks who know about it are Esther and Mordecai. And the only person who can do something about it is truly Esther, the Queen. So, you think she should just go talk to the King about this, don’t you think? But there’s a catch. Yet, let’s remember what happened to the last queen, Vashti. When the King was angry at her and found out she’d deceived him, Vashti was fired on the spot via a royal decree. Esther had not come this far in life—rising from orphaned girl to life in the palace—to throw it all away right now!

I can imagine there was much fear as Mordecai and Esther began to talk through all of this resting on their shoulders. Something needed to be done, but what if it cost them their lives? What if they couldn’t come up with a plan that worked? What if what they tried to do made the situation worse? What if?

Fear, at this juncture could have easily robbed Esther of her place in history, her moment to shine, and her opportunity to be God’s instrument to protect a group of people in need of someone to watch out for them. Fear could have kept Esther locked into a position of deceit. Fear could have stopped God’s light from shinning forth in this dark situation.

But it didn’t.

Esther, laid down the excuse of “I’m Afraid.” And, instead she embraced the opportunity to do her part, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to recognize that God had given her this moment in time to be fully herself.  For though we know that while there were apprehensions on Esther’s part, Mordecai encourages her in chapter 4, verse 14 with these famous words, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Do you, get it, Esther? Do you really get it? God has put you in this position for such a time as this!

One of my favorite books is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  It tells the courageous story of Corrie and her sister and father, living in a small town in Holland during the time of World War II, taking the great risk of hiding Jews in their home knowing that these acts could one cost them their own lives.

In describing her upbringing and what brought her to this point in her life of feeling as if such an “I’m not afraid” type of attitude came over her, Corrie tells this story from her childhood:

Corrie, as young child, was upset thinking about her father dying someday. It made her quite upset as it would any child who loved their father very much. As was his habit, he sat down at the edge of her bed to tuck her in.

“Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?”

Corrie sniffed a few times feeling overcome with the emotion but gathered up enough courage to answer her father’s question, “Why, just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t rush ahead of Him. When the time comes…you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”

So also was true, I believe of Esther at this juncture. At just the right moment she knew what she had to do.  And, though the word “God” is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, making it the only one of its kind in all of scripture—we clearly see the leading of the divine at work. God is preparing and leading Esther for exactly the role that has already been prepared for her to play in this story.

Look with me at chapter 7. The plan is in motion—Esther seeks the perfect time to speak on behalf her people to the king, throwing a party in his honor. And at this party, look with me at verse 3 to see what Esther says to the king, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people.”

Without backing down, without letting her fear control her, Esther boldly stands up and uses her position to ask for mercy not only for herself but for everyone else whose lives were in danger.  The king grants her request, and the gallows that were originally built by Haman for Mordecai were now used for all those who plotted against the Jewish people, unfairly.

Sigh. What a relief! The king showed Esther favor! All was well.

As we process this story, what I think is most remarkable about Esther is the fact that freedom for her and many others comes in the telling the truth. What? What did this sweet little girl need to tell the truth about?

If we go back earlier in the book, we realize that Esther was not this young woman’s given name. Her real name was Hadassah—a Hebrew word connected to the meaning “darkness.” Esther became her royal name which scholars say is related to the Hebrew verb “to hide.”  Thus, by taking on the name “Esther” she was choosing a life of deceit.  She was hiding her true identity. She was hiding hoping that no one knew where she came from. She was not fully being herself. She was Jewish, a foreigner, not being honest about being an outsider leading the king to believe that she was one of them.

Scholar Amy Oden puts it like this, “Ultimately deliverance comes through claiming Jewish identity. Esther takes a great risk in revealing her true Jewishness, through Mordecai points out that she is sure to die either way. Nevertheless, once reveled, the king responds favorably and the Jewish are saved.”

Ah! The story is making more sense here, isn’t it? Esther is a girl who many of us certainly could understand. For we often don’t tell the truth about who we are either. We make up that we were little league champions when we only got a trophy for being on the team. We make up the fact that we were born to a mother who graduated from Harvard, when she only completed Harvard high school. We make up the fact that our boss gave us a promotion last year when what we really mean by last year was 10 years ago. And we say all of these things out of fear!

But, Esther, changed the course of her life. How? She told her truth. “Hey, everyone, this is who I am. I’m Jewish!” And, God blessed it.

And doesn’t this just cut to the heart of what our fear is really all about. We are aren’t truthful in our words, in our actions or in our intentions because we are afraid if people knew us, if they really knew us then, our lives might radically change. We might not be so highly regarded. We might not win this award. We might not advance in our career. We might never find anyone to love us as we hope someone special would.

But, the witness of Esther and the countless other stories we’ve studied together this fall, encourages us all otherwise. Because what has been the common theme throughout this entire series?  We can lay aside ALL our excuses because to God all of them don’t amount to much. We are loved in our questions. We are loved in issues with organized religion. We are loved in our negative impressions of ourselves. We are loved in all our deficiencies. And today, we are loved in our fears, or even when we’re trying to hide the truth. But, instead, we are invited to come out from behind whatever bush or tree we are hiding behind and come into the light of God’s love for us.

Because we need not use the excuse of “I’m afraid” because we don’t have to fear; we just don’t. Freedom comes in just laying ourselves out for God to use, even in spite of ourselves.

So, my friends, what is the story of your life that you need to tell today? What is the secret that you need to bring forth to the light?

Let us simply not be afraid anymore to tell the truth. Esther wasn’t. And we don’t have to be either.