Today I Saw God

Shine On

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I have so much respect for the thousands of people who work through the night while others sleep. Many of these women and men have important jobs, and they can regularly accomplish what I find so difficult: staying awake at night. I am so dependent on sleep that as soon as night falls, my eyelids start getting heavy, which makes staying awake pretty difficult; especially since we turned our clocks back an hour in November. This habit of mine only increases the admiration I have for all those who can fight their body's instinctive desires to work second or third shift jobs.

Many people share my respect for this group of workers, but this nonstop, round-the-clock working schedule is a modern phenomenon, present most often in developed economies. The agrarian economy that has defined human existence until the past two hundred years could not operate in the dark. But once the lights could come on in factories, on streets and in homes, work changed. Having machines sit idle for half of every day made little sense when you could recreate the same working environment 24 hours a day, and productivity drove employers to change their hiring and management practices to literally work in the darkness.

As we continue through Advent, exploring the theme, "Chasing Light," we remember our calling to be light in dark places, a theme found throughout John's Gospel and letters. We carry Christ's light, for he first permeated the darkness of our world with his light of goodness, love, mercy and righteousness. To be clear, the light we carry does not make us better than those without the light; we have the responsibility to share the gift that we have already received and allow people in darkness to see who they truly are as God's children.

This light-sharing is good news, not only because it allows us to more fully live the way God intended, but also because there are no limitations on light. Light and darkness can both be everywhere, but darkness only exists when light is absent. You can carry Christ's light to your home, your job or anywhere you might be. This universal mission to carry the light fuels my job at Floris UMC with the Wesley Fellows Program. As we continue developing our program, we explore how we can best equip young women and men to carry Christ's light wherever they are, even (and maybe especially) when they aren't working in a church or other "official" ministry setting.

We join the Magi this Advent in chasing Christ's light to discover truth. Where are the dark places in your life, your workplace, your home or your community where Christ's light can shine the brightest?

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A Celebration of Light

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When I grew up in Seoul, Korea, there were war drills. Yes, war drills. On the fifteenth of each month, we had a short 30-minute war drill. Sirens went off, and cars and people had to stop in the middle of the streets, or wherever they were, to hide.

Also, there was a special drill at night once or twice a year for an hour when no one was allowed to turn any lights on in their homes. When I was very young, the night drills scared me.

My mom, who took the Korean War very seriously, was adamant about hiding the light. She covered all the windows with dark fabrics, even door cracks. And if you turned any light on by accident, patrols yelled at the door, "Turn the light off!" I think I was more terrified of their voices than the darkness itself.

When I reached elementary school age, I went to the roof with my dad one night during a drill. It was early summer, and our roof was built with a mini terrace area so we could walk up and lie down on a blanket to watch the stars and look around our neighborhood. I still remember that night. I was shocked to realize how dark the city could be. And how bright stars really were. Amazed at how many stars were in the sky.

I asked my dad, "Where they are coming from, Dad? I've never seen them before."

"They were always there, my darling." He answered. "You just didn't see them well because of the city lights around you."

I learned that night that stars could be revealed more in the dark.

Our Christmas cantata this year is "Celebration of the Light." I collected beautiful music composed by several different composers. You will hear a range of music from a beautiful a cappella song to songs that use a full orchestra, children's choir, soloists and a handbell choir all together.

In the Gospel of John chapter one, John describes the light: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godchildren not of natural descent, but born of God."

From the Gospels of John to Luke, we will illustrate the story of the Light through our cantata. We will hear why the Light came to us and who truly recognized the Light, and we will celebrate the Light with a joyful response: "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" (Glory to God in the Highest!)

"Gloria in Excelsis Deo" is originally from an early hymn, known as the angel hymn, sung during Christ's nativity scene in Luke 2:14. "Glory to god in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will," has been sung in churches since the third century. Many composers created beautiful, celebrant melodies and instrumental music using this lyric throughout history. One of our cantata songs is "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" by Mark Hayes. You will find the line "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" not only in this one song, but also throughout the cantata in many songs and hymns that proclaim and praise his glory and acclaim peace on earth.

You will experience a beautiful celebration through the stories of Mary, angels and shepherds and the prophet Simeon, who will all use beautiful songs to proclaim the joy of the Light.

Christmas is a season of hope, peace and joy, which are things not found in department stores or shiny decorations. We can find them only in Christ Jesus who was born in the lowest place but also as the True Light. I believe that when our hearts become truly humble, we can find the hope, peace and joy of Christ even in the midst of darkness.

As I experienced on that roof in Korea, the Light can be recognized more clearly when the darkness is darker. An amazing part of the story of the Light is the birth of it isn't the end of the story. It continues through us. Jesus called us to be the light of the world. He calls us to shine out from the darkness.

I pray that the story of the Light brings us not only a night of celebration but that it empowers us to be the light in this dark world. I hope you will join me at our Christmas Cantata, December 11, to celebrate the True Light who came for everyone.

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Addressing the Big Things

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If someone were to ask me to name one piece of clothing that I absolutely could not live without, it would be Spanx. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, I'm referring to an item of clothing that helps smooth out imperfections underneath clothing. It has magical powers to make your bridesmaid dress look as though you did not, in fact, sneak in a third trip to the buffet line the night before. In the same way, I would also list concealer as my most-prized beauty product. This smooth, creamy liquid can hide even the darkest of flaws in the skin, turning a blemished or tired face into a bright beacon of youth. I would love to tell you that as your worship leader, I am above such vanity, but the reality is, I'm still working on that part of my soul (#FixItJesus). However, I don't think vanity is the true root of the problem. What is it about these items that I love so much?

The fact is, I am the queen of all perfectionists. Trust me, I know I am not alone as I believe this plagues many of us. Countless articles have been written imploring readers to move beyond the Pinterest/Facebook phenomenon, which leaves a frazzled mom crying in a bathroom after her third attempt at constructing an origami Elsa centerpiece for a "Frozen" birthday party. However, what we don't talk about is the dark underbelly of perfectionism. For some of us, it doesn't manifest itself in cute, chick-shaped deviled eggs that we spent hours on Easter Eve crafting (okay, yes I have done this). For some people, perfectionism can be a crippling spiritual sickness that results in leading a life filled with secrets.

Culturally, we have classified certain problems as "safe" to share with the world, but that leaves out many real life issues. Alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, greed, drug addiction, gambling, debt…the list could go on and on of things that seem too shameful to share in a weekly Bible study group when others are praying for sick loved ones who are in a terrible situation due to no fault of their own or others. However, what happens when some Big Thing happens in your house that shakes everything to its core, including that picture-perfect Christmas-card version of yourselves that you have created?

I was faced with that reality last year. I was new in my job as worship leader at Floris UMC, and I convinced myself that the church did not want someone leading others who did not have all the pieces of her own life together. I decided to do what I do best: put on my game face and pour myself into my job. "Don't air out your dirty laundry" had been a philosophy I was raised on, and this definitely felt like something that shouldn't be aired out. I decided to bury it and do everything in my power to protect my secret so that I wouldn't have to face it or run the risk of anyone else finding out how imperfect my life truly was.

The strategy worked for a while, but six months later I found myself slowly being eaten away by the Big Thing. With nowhere to go, it sat festering within my soul, spinning in circles of "what ifs" that only surfaced when the room was quiet and I allowed my brain a reprise from work. In moments of weakness, it crept to the surface as anger or impatience. It was around this time that I was reading a book by Jen Hatmaker (who is probably my spirit animal) called "For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards." She wrote a chapter on truth telling and our tendency toward self-preservation. Hatmaker states:

"Pulling something difficult from its dark hiding place and into the light is innately healingIt is good to remember in community, and even better to practice individually, that light trumps darkness. If you're concealing a dark struggle, you guarantee its power if it's shrouded in secrecy. Buried, it is free to hinder you, grow in your imagination, and truncate your future. It can hold you back, destroy relationships, and break your spirit. It can absolutely wreak havoc on your authenticity, as the inside contradicts the outside day after day, month after month. Secrets are wild and free in the dark."

Whoa, get out of my head, Jen. She then goes on to spout the powers of speaking truths out loud and embracing vulnerability. There is beauty in creating a safe space for others to be honest with their struggles and take the masks off, because the truth can diminish the paralysis that often follows an internal struggle. Around that same time, I witnessed a woman in my small group share something so deeply personal, that the air seemed to actually shift in the room. I knew that Jen was right, and I was the biggest culprit.

Each week during Lent, we have been discussing the need to deny ourselves, and I have always thought of this in a limited manner related to obvious sins. However, what if God isn't just talking about denying ourselves from the typical list of negative behaviors? What if God is calling me to deny my own unhealthy tendencies of self-preservation and perfectionism? Ultimately, we are seeking transformation through Christ, but how can that happen if we never admit to the problems plaguing us and truly surrender?

I decided it was time to break the silence and seek some actual help during a problem, rather than doing my typical "wait until I've fixed it to talk about it" song and dance. It. Was. Terrifying. First, I had to do some discerning. Who can I trust, and who might have some experience that would be helpful? Obviously I needed someone who was farther on his or her spiritual journey to help me gain a biblical perspective. Once I determined my best outlet, I then chickened out about twenty times before I finally reached out and said, "So, there's this Big Thing. Is this as bad as I think it is?"

Now, I would love to say that everything was easy after that, but that would be a giant lie. Once I spoke the truth out loud, I spent a few days feeling really terrible, because the reality was that I couldn't un-speak it. However, once the vulnerability hangover finally passed, I was able to sit down with this person again and actually air out the problem. It was quite liberating to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and to encourage me to take some challenging, yet necessary, steps. Rather than ignore the Big Thing, I actually uncovered it, exposed some light on it and explored a biblical way of handling things. Energy that had previously been spent spinning in unproductive circles could now be used in a productive and Godly manner, and the result has been incredibly empowering.

So what is it that I'm proposing? Please hear meI do not recommend that we stand on the street corners shouting about all of the Big Things in our lives. However, I am suggesting that we be a little more honest with ourselves and recognize that we are, in fact, not capable of solving problems on our own. The enemy loves for us to be isolated, for that is where darkness can flourish. However, God is greater than any Big Thing in our lives, and he has placed people in our lives who can speak truth to a situation and be a beacon of light in times of struggle.

Is my life perfect now? Of course not. However, I can tell you that it feels so much better standing in the light of Jesus and community than it did huddled in the dark by myself.

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