Can we let them represent?

A friend of mine and her husband do something really cute. Each year, they get one of those small square flip calendars that has one page for each day, showing what day it is to celebrate. Like National Chocolate Chip Cookie day, or National Ballet Day or National Sock Day. Then they do just about all of them. It’s fun to watch when they post their pictures on social media – and definitely gave them something fun to pursue this past year staying home!

Needless to say, when I went to Michael’s last year for some scrapbook pages, I ran across a sticker book for calendars that had a bunch of those holidays in them and I just had to get it.  I have had fun using them making certain desserts for my husband and I, and for sending notes (like to my niece.. did you know your birthday is on national bologna day?)  – but I will never forget the day one of the stickers hit home for me.

Back in March, my youngest chose to use International Women’s Day to come out as non-binary, in a pretty public forum. I know it was a huge step for them, but I will be honest that I scrolled past it and was a bit shocked. Not that we hadn’t talked some before then, but because I immediately went to a place of trying to figure out how I was going to respond when folks called or texted me to ask me about it, and to check in on how I was doing. What’s a mom to do? No matter how you feel about someone coming out, when it’s your own kid, it hits you differently, I will not deny that. Regardless of what it caused me to begin processing internally, I determined I would remain committed to love them. 

I worried of the judgement that my youngest would face, not just from family and friends but even people that didn’t know them.. and sure enough, it happened. The bullying they dealt with in junior high didn’t even compare. We’re talking actual hate speech on one platform. I don’t care how much someone may disagree with their coming out – it was flat out horrible. Thank goodness they didn’t let it speak into their life at this age, but all of my momma bear protectiveness went up just hearing about it, that’s for sure.

So back to the sticker calendar. That first day was really hard for me, I admit. I hadn’t checked the sticker calendar for a while, and low and behold, on March 9th I saw this:

I had to laugh. After many tears and prayers the 24 hours prior, I saw it as God’s nudge to step back from it for a minute and think of the big picture: 

I know the journey this kid has taken. I know the Lord has spoken – and still does – very uniquely to them. They have witnessed God’s saving power in their own life. That is still an important thing to them. Sure, they are in the “figure out who you are” phase that all 20 year olds go through right now, but God’s right there in the middle. He knows them.

For the next generation, they will be growing up in a world where “coming out” happens less and less. From a societal perspective, understanding self as male/female/non-binary may be more common. Schools are considering changing to more gender inclusive language and teaching of alternate family structures.  I know that according to the latest Gallup poll, only around 5.6% of Americans self identify as LGBTQ, so it’s still going to be a very small percentage of folks.  But acceptance of this community will grow, even as we have seen legal rights be extended to them in the forms of marriage and equal protection under the law from a job perspective. From a human right’s perspective, I’m glad to see this happen. 

As a Christian, it could be easy to shrug this off and say that is “of the world” and to stay in my nice bubble of being heterosexual and just not worry about it. But as I’ve tried to share my own thoughts and considerations in my previous posts, the body of Christ cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and ignore this small percentage of people – especially the next generation – as they recognize their own identity. Why? Because its not just “in the world”. It’s people in our churches that have been silent about it because they are not sure people can handle the truth, it’s your kids or your nieces and nephews, or it could be kids in your neighborhood.

Yes, I know it’s not something as a Christian you might be comfortable with. You might wonder how as a Christian you could stand alongside someone who is LGBTQ and be an ally and still honor God, because doesn’t the Bible say homosexuality is wrong? (again, I do not disagree that the scriptures address it, but there is enough I have read about how to interpret the context and original language that has challenges me to have a more grace-filled view of this as well as to question of some misinterpretation. See end of post for book recommendations.)

There are too many that I know who have walked away from church because they could not reconcile their sexual identity with their understanding of God. That breaks my heart. Since when is sexuality related at all to salvation? 

My questions are these:

For the next generation, for those in the LGBTQ community and their friends, how do we ensure the news of the kingdom is still told? How do we make sure the story of redemption is one they will carry on, one they will seek Jesus for, one they will submit their lives to? If we do not accept them in the church, how will they learn the story?

On top of that – who will the larger LGBTQ community let speak into their lives? My guess is, they are more willing and able to hear the message of faith and God’s deliverance and freedom from someone who is in the community and can still bind themselves to Jesus. 

So… can we let Jesus be their Messiah?

Each one of us rises or falls to our own Master. Do we really think that since God knit them together in their mother’s womb (as Psalm 139 teaches), He didn’t know that when their pituitary glad kicked in and puberty started, those rush of hormones was going to make them realize they liked someone of the same sex, or be attracted to both? Yes they probably tried to hide it because its not acceptable to say that in church or their family. Even if they do mention it for prayer, there’s often a sense of shame with it because they cannot make these unwanted attractions go away. Why would they choose to feel this way? So they hide them until they move away from home, and because 20 year olds naturally go through times of questioning their parents faith to make it their own, the two collide and they feel they must choose between faith or being honest with themselves.

I’m not saying that happens to everyone. Some go their whole lives and never mention it to anyone.  Yet if what matters is kingdom living and lives that reflect the forgiveness and love of Christ, the justice and mercy God calls for all throughout the old testament (Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God) – why do we tend to forget to look at this side, and only focus on the attraction/sexuality side? Can we risk saying “I don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense to me, but I will love you, I will learn, and I will trust God enough with your walk in this”?

Even within the LGBTQ Christian community, there is disagreement on how to walk in the freedom of your identity and remain faithful as a disciple, yet the conversation is respectful. In many ways it is reflective for me of a similar conversation Paul had in Corinthians when the church there was arguing over whether or not they should eat meat sacrificed to an idol. What matters is the power of the Spirit in the life of a believer, and whether or not they are obedient to the voice of the Lord.

Folks, I’ll be honest – this is still an ongoing dialogue for me. It’s still complex and nuanced and hard, and not everyone is willing to listen or walk this road. I get that. But I have to wrestle, for the sake of my kids and the community they are part of. I have to because of the heart of Jesus is to meet people where they are and invite them into relationship.

So let’s love with abandon, die to self in showing grace when it might be hard, be willing to learn, and show them they are acceptable to the Lord by how we invite them in.

Blessings!

Tama

Book recommendations

Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin

Torn by Justin Lee

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

Unclobber by Colby Martin

Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by Kathy Baldock

Two views on Homesexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Zondervan publishers

 (Counterpoints Bible & Theology series)

A Change of Affection by Becket Cook

And if you are looking for resources to further understand or know how to love this community better, check out QChristian.

Breadcrumbs of Hope in the Old Testament

Sure, there are some great verses that always get pulled out and posted somewhere (or made into a sign at Hobby Lobby), but if you try to read one of the books from start to finish, unless you have been taught about their structure, it can feel like you are being thrust into a movie filled with battle scenes, destruction, mythic creatures, judgements, legal proceedings, and declarations of love, switching from one scene to another without a predictable pattern.

Reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be a daunting task. 

Part of the issue is simply that we are expecting one type of writing style when in reality there are many styles represented, and they aren’t in chronological order.  The literary elements that you learned back in high school are very much in play – and when you read it like that .. some of it makes more sense. Or at least it helps you realize that when Jeremiah says something like “Every head is shaved, and every beard cut off; every hand is slashed and every waist is covered with sackcloth” (Jer 48:37) – it doesn’t mean this is true of every single person. You are able to understand that he’s exaggerating – but for sure, people are mourning, they are devastated, and it’s not just a family. It’s an entire people group he is talking about (in this case, the Moabites)

One book I’d recommend that will give you a good overview of the types of writing styles you see across the prophetic books is “Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic” by D. Brent Sandy. 

I know some trains of thought hold that since we are living in New Testament times, we don’t have to pay THAT much attention to the Old Testament. I do not agree with that at all.  It might seem that the Old Testament doesn’t have anything to do with our world today, and yes, many of the stories and prophetic words address historical issues with nations of bygone eras.  Yet there are also portions that, if you study them from a human failure/flourishing perspective,we can easily find ourselves and our world in the stories.The text can then also inform our understanding of what it should look like as God’s kingdom works itself out in our world.

Trust me….the frustration with leaders, the pain of national struggle and moral failure, the injustice…. It’s there in the text just like it is here in our world today. 

Yet what I am fascinated with again, after studying John 10, is something from my final paper in a class a year ago.

The prophetic books are full of passages scattered throughout that look forward to “one day” when all things are made right. Taken together, they yield a prophetic hope of what God would do and how it would look…and let me tell you.. it was a good picture. Like really good… for EVERYONE. 

It’s this prophetic hope that the Israelites clung to when they were refugees returning to their homeland with nothing. They were discouraged, because they suffered due to choices of those that had gone before them, and now they were left with the rubble and difficult work of rebuilding. They were trying to remember who they were, and who their God was, and what He had said of them. There was discord between those that left and those that stayed, so you had some disagreements even within the community as it was being rebuilt. 

Read that again – slowly – and think of it in global terms, not just a western-American-first-world mindset. Especially if you have never had to worry about a place to live (like me).  People experience this today all the time.

So they remembered. They remembered the promise of God to their ancestors, words collected over the past generations, and the promise of something better. One day, God would come for them – and when He did:  

  • They would have a good king, one that would rule them well, like David (and in his family line of course)
  • Their enemies would be conquered!
  • They would once again be a shining example that would draw the world to Yahweh!
  • Everyone would sit under their own vine and fig tree (prosperity and blessing for the land)
  • The old would live a long time and kids wouldn’t die young (good health)
  • Justice and righteous living would run down like water from the mountains (no one taking advantage of another, honest leaders, everything fair/equitable)
  • Peace all around in community. People caring for each other!
  • Laughter and dancing, celebrations galore!
  • Everyone would know the Lord, and he would teach them!
  • Everything would be holy and good again, not stained by sin!
  • Sin would be forgiven forever (release of burden and fear)

Pretty big list huh? Prosperity, health, peace, forgiveness and freedom. All the nations coming to Yahweh and living rightly in his ways. On top of that, there were all these other documents showing even more of what people thought it would look like when Yahweh returned (called extra biblical texts). These were written in the timeline between the last book of the Old Testament and the time when Jesus was born. What you end up with is this larger than life picture, one that I’m not sure I fully grasped until now.

Sure, I knew Jesus fulfilled prophecies. But I think there is a tendency to reduce the “bigness” of expectation to just a list, thus reducing the level of impact their fulfillment should have for us. Yet if you can take time to marinate a bit in the world into which the prophets spoke, it makes the things that Jesus says and does come to life in a way you never would have expected. It ceases to be an apologetic list of prophecies Jesus has fulfilled and becomes LIVING HOPE.

Here is what I mean:

Ezekiel is pretty much a scathing book of how wrong everything had gotten. He’s a bit more hardline and exacting than some of the other prophets when it comes to the temple, but very much in line with them on his critique of the leaders, teachers, and priests of Israel (three of the top things all the prophets spoke against). For example, in Ezkiel 34:4-6 we read:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves!……You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally… My sheep wandered over all the mountains… they were scattered… and no one searched or looked for them

What then follows is God’s plan to solve it in verses 11-16

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I myself will tend my sheep.. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice

We know the pattern of scripture is that when God decides to act, he acts. As good Jews, the Israelites of Jesus day were probably looking for God to act like he had before on their behalf: A just king, a non-corrupt priest, and battle plans where the Lord would go before them and do another exodus thing – free them from their oppressors!

So when Jesus shows up on the scene and claims to be the good shepherd, he’s like “remember when Ezekiel prophesied that God was going to come be a shepherd because the leader’s weren’t?”

Yeah, I’m here now doing just that. Finding the lost. Binding up the wounded

“Remember how Ezekiel also said God would come and live in your midst?” (Ezel 37:27)

Yep, I’m walking right here. Are you willing to believe this is how I want to do this?

“Remember how God told Moses no one could see him without dying? Remember Isaiah’s vision where he thought he would die after seeing the Lord?” (Isaiah 6)

Guess what. You are watching me RIGHT NOW and I’m not smiting anyone. I’m bringing them back to life. Did you catch that? 

THIS is why who Jesus is as Shepherd matters so dang much. It’s so much deeper than a list of prophesies he fulfilled. He was walking into the hope they had heard and dreamt about for YEARS.

Yet most of Israel couldn’t see it.

Our world hasn’t changed much in some ways. People are still wandering and longing for better.

Yet we live in the time of God walking with is people! We live in the time of God being shepherd, of God finding the lost and binding up the broken!

It can be tempting to long for “better” when a different leader is in power here in America. Some lived like that the past 4 years, some are longing for that now. But the “better” as believers we are to hope for is really God’s Shalom, and the picture is bigger than we can really understand. So let’s be careful to not confuse Jesus shepherd-leadership with the current mayor/governor/ senator/president. They will all come and go. What Jesus has done will not change.

Now, since the picture of shepherd today might not work well in a society that is largely unfamiliar with sheep-keeping, I have to ask myself: what is the parallel today?

It’s not a church, or a doctrine, or a theological answer.
It’s not an opinion or argument or political viewpoint.
None of that is shepherding.

People need to know there is a resting place for their weary lives and a salve for the pain of their past and present. They need someone to defend them from being attacked.

They need a place to find sustenance when they are on empty.  Something steady they can count on. Someone to help lead them when they don’t know what to do. Someone to step in and remind them who they are, so they walk with purpose, not wandering and aimless. Someone to lead them into life giving things.

People are going to have to see some of those qualities in us that know the Shepherd before they will be willing to trust that He’s really there and really able to be a shepherd for their lives.

So my question to you … do you KNOW Jesus as Shepherd, for your life, or do you just know the verses that talk about him as such?

Can you talk about Jesus as your shepherd as clear as you can articulate your political views? (sorry if I am stepping on some toes here). If not.. why not? Is that an area of growth for you perhaps?

One thing I know is that sheep are stubborn. I certainly know I am. Jesus as my shepherd has had to do quite a great deal of prodding me from time to time….. but I always know He’s leading me into places that he wants me. 

I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on Jesus as your Shepherd this week… and recognize you are walking in partial fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the ages!

Blessings, my friends!

Psalm 139 meditations

Life is shifting in big ways for me this summer. This morning, I sit surrounded by boxes, house all packed except for a few things here and there. Movers come tomorrow to take all my things to the home that will become OURS, and the wedding is just over 3 weeks away. Although I never wanted to be a bride that is consumed with wedding details, alas.. that has happened. The next three weeks all my spare time will be spent finalizing plans and making signs for social distancing and mask wearing at our gathering 🙂 But yes its exciting!!!

Needless to say, the whole reality that I am picking up and moving to a new town to start all over again comes in waves. I have made some good friends up where Trung lives, but there still isn’t history beyond a weekend here and there for the past two years. So, this morning I read Psalm 139 again. It had been a while, and I needed to be reminded of the truth of being known. So of course the text today was encouraging, reminding me that as I navigate a huge life change and move into a new community, I am still known by Him.. and that is enough.

Interestingly enough, what struck me the most this morning was NOT the first part of the text. It was the part that I usually skip over.

The psalmist goes from this poetic sense of how much the Lord knows him, and how precious Gods thoughts are to him, and then he launches into “If only you would slay the wicked!… do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?… I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies! (v19-22)

Then the closing passage, one we quote often: “Search me God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (v 23-24)

What the……

I used to skip over verses 19-22 thinking oh, that isn’t how we are to think about people now, since Jesus tells us to love everyone – even our enemies – so I can just ignore that part.

Today I read this differently. Today it dawns on me again just how radical it must have sounded for Jesus to say “you’ve heard it said… but I say Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”…

But here’s the kicker: The psalmist didn’t even realize that his poetic calling out of how God knows him, knows his thoughts and everything about him — and the closing “and if there is still anything offensive in me still — fix that too” – is like this wonderful, beautiful poem that is sandwiched around a very big piece of ugliness. He couldn’t even see it.

Now, I’m drawing a very wide brushstroke in saying this, but you have to realize that there was a bit of nationalism and pride in being an Israelite back in the day. They had the One True God. They had a way of living, according to Torah, that would invite God’s favor if they walked in his way. They knew that some of the ways the nations around them lived was actually abhorrent to the Lord (think child sacrifice, worshipping other gods or created things instead of God, rampant sexual practices like orgies and temple prostitutes, horrendous war tactics…. etc ). They were told to hate what is evil and love what is good, and so there was this natural tendency to stand a bit taller and hate what their God hates… which they translated into hating the people.

I’m not sure that’s always what God had in mind, yet its easy to read the text and think that God approved of everything that they thought.

Hm. You know, this was not intended to be a political post but you know… the social commentary on that thought.. um… I’m just going to let that sit for a bit.

Hence verse 24.

This verse points out two things that are obvious to me, that we as followers of Jesus must wrestle with:

1. We may really love God with everything in us, and we can ask him to reveal offensive ways, but we may not even recognize them because they are so deeply ingrained in us. We need to be willing to face them no matter how hard they might be to own up to. These could be thoughts or attitudes towards certain ethnicities, countries, people groups… or it could be how we feel about certain generations, family members…. spouses… neighbors…leaders.. the list could go on and on. I think you get where I’m going here

2. We have to be careful to separate hatred of evil from hatred of the people AND/OR systems who cause it. I know, this seems nearly impossible – but if we do not try to separate the two, we will never be able to see the people for the potential for which they were created. We will be tempted or lulled into thinking they will always be that way, they can never get out of their evil patterns.

Isn’t that the point of redemption? Isn’t that why Jesus came, to vanquish sin forever` (Romans 5) so that we COULD be given a new heart in place of our heart of stone (Ezek 36:26). Isn’t that the point of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to choose what is good in the first place?

Keep in mind that this isn’t just at a personal level. It applies to larger systems in towns and cities, in states and our nation as well. The redemption Jesus brought was not just to change us and our hearts, but to redeem all of creation and the systems of the world. So if we fail to separate people from their actions, we will never be able to call out laws and systems as things that may very well have evil origins.

I know this is hard work folks. To see the state of our nation today and lament that things are not the way they should be… but God is not done. His purposes to create one humanity, one kingdom, redeemed and reflecting his full mercy and grace? That is still happening.

We must be willing to let the psalmists cry be our own, letting the light of the holy spirit illuminate that things we cannot see. Only then can they be brought to the cross, traded for new eyes that can help us push through the ugliness we rightly call evil, yet do it with grace and forgiveness that remind other image bearers there is a better way to live.

As we do this, kingdoms of this world and its evil systems are torn down.

I know, its not happening fast enough. I think those that have gone before us would echo the same sentiment. But don’t give up. What you do, how you live makes a difference. Figure out how to do that in your corner of the kingdom, and keep your heart close to the One that will lead you

My book recommendation today:

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper