Monday, January 9, 2012


Devotional for December 2011 WMI Meeting at First Church:

Today I want to talk to you about presents. Now, everyone likes presents, especially at Christmastime. Some people like giving gifts, some people like opening them, but almost everyone I know enjoys both.

About 20 years ago a book came out called, “The Five Love Languages.” The author talks about five different ways people speak love, and receive love, from each other. These include serving one another, physically touching one another, spending time together, and speaking encouraging words. The last of these “love languages” is giving and receiving presents.

Think about it: when someone gives you a meaningful gift they picked out just for you, do you feel loved? Does that present convey love to you in a way words just can't? If so, the author of this book would say that one of your love languages is receiving gifts.

But you know, people aren't the only ones who have love languages. God speaks love in many different ways too. In the Old Testament, we see God serving the Israelites by preparing places for them to rest in the desert, and food and drink too. We see Jesus healing the blind with just a touch from his hands, gathering children into his lap, embracing women who were cast out and alone. We see God spending quality time with his people, and choosing to speak words that heal and encourage, even though His people deserved words of condemnation.

But the love language that I think God especially excels in, is giving presents. He loves to pick out gifts just for us, to convey love in a way that words just can't. And one of these gifts, I believe, is found in the discipline of meditation.

Now, don't freak out because I said the “meditation” in the church. A lot of times when we hear that word, we think of Buddhism or Hinduism, since those religions practice a form of meditation too. However, Christians have been practicing meditation for centuries, and it's a very different kind than that of other religions. For Buddhists and Hindus, meditation is a time of being silent so that your heart, mind and soul can be completely empty. The goal is to be emptied of everything. But for Christians, meditation has always meant a time of being silent and focused, so that your heart, mind and soul can be filled up. We meditate so that Christ can fill our emptiness... with His goodness, His joy, and His love. His present to us is His presence.

Now, meditation is a fancy word, but it doesn't have to be difficult, and may even be something you're already doing on a regular basis. Meditation means purposefully taking time to stop, to listen, to be quiet, and to focus on something that is good, holy, and wholesome. Meditating is like being a sponge. What happens to a big sponge if you stick it in some water real fast, then pull it out? It doesn't get wet, does it? The thing about sponges is that you have to stick them in the water, and leave them there for awhile, and pretty soon that sponge is wet from the outside all the way to the inside. In the same way, when you meditate, when you choose to take time to really soak up God's goodness, it changes you from the outside all the way to the inside.

There are lots of things you can meditate on. About a year ago, I went down to Subway by myself (Greg watched the girls at home), and I spent an hour reading from the book of Hosea. And I got stuck on this verse: Hosea 10:12.

Sow for yourselves righteousness,

reap the fruit of unfailing love,

and break up your unplowed ground;

for it is time to seek the Lord,

until He comes and showers righteousness on you.

Do you recognize that verse? It's the theme verse we've had for WMI this last year. Well, that day in Subway, it was a verse I'd never noticed before or heard a sermon about, and it jumped out and caught me. I spent the rest of that hour writing it over and over, picking apart each of the words, even drawing pictures to help me understand its meaning. I didn't realize at the time that what I was doing is something Christians have done for ages: I was meditating. And it felt so good. I left Subway that day thinking, “Wow. Thank you for that, God. I needed that.”

So you can meditate on Scripture. But there are so many other things worth meditating on too. Like nature, for example. When God created the waters and the sky and the plants and trees and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the animals on land, what are the words he used over and over again to describe his creations? “It is good. It is good. It is good.” Isn't something God himself proclaims as “good” worth your time? I heard a funny line from Terry Rodgers once; I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it. You know that huge maple tree by the parking lot that turns bright red in the fall? Terry was enamored by it, and he said, “If I wasn't a Christian, I think I would worship that tree.” Of course, Terry was joking, but there's some truth in what he was saying. God's creativity is awesome and majestic, and it would be wrong of us to not take some delight in his creations. You're not a hippie because you want to spend a half an hour staring at a red tree in the parking lot. You're taking time to soak up a very real present that God has given you, right here on the Near Eastside!

You can also meditate on art, which humans make using the creative skills God gave them. Right now our small group is going through this book (show book) called “Return of the Prodigal Son.” The painting shown on the front of the book is by Rembrandt. The author, Henri Nouwen, spent several whole days meditating on this painting – noticing the way Rembrandt painted the light on the father's hands, the color of the clothes the people are wearing, how the elder brother is holding his arms – and using what He knew from Scripture, Nouwen wrote this book. He has some amazing insights into the ways we all are prodigal sons, elder brothers, and even fatherd who always takes their children back – and all of this came to him while he sat and stared at a painting.

You can also meditate on intimacy. When I was writing this talk, I was racking my brain for a good story to tell you about how to meditate on intimacy. I finally gave up and came down the stairs, where Greg and the girls were dancing in the living room to music. The song was repeating, “He makes beautiful things, He makes beautiful things.” Eve saw me coming down the stairs and ran over to me. She grabbed my hand and said, “Dance with me, Mommy.” Now, I was busy and had a lot on my mind, but it was pretty clear to me what I was supposed to do at that moment. There are times in our lives when we just need to be with the people we love, without any kind of agenda, without any to-do list, and we just need to soak up the joy of those close bonds.

In the same way, we also can and should meditate on solitude. Because it's in times of solitude that we realize that no matter how alone we seem to be, we never really ARE alone, are we? Sometimes it's only when we're alone that we feel the heat of God's closeness, and we hear His whisper in our ears.

So this is my challenge for you this Christmas: choose to take time to open a very real and very wonderful present that God has wrapped up just for you. Focus on the things in your life that are good, holy, and wholesome, and let those moments fill you up. God doesn't want you to feel empty, but you have to choose to sit still for awhile so that He can fill you up.

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