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

The Persistent Widow

I have sat on this a while, not quite knowing how to write what I want to say, but I’m going to take a stab at it and hope it comes out ok. We are living in historical times, not only because of the pandemic, but because an even deeper seated issue that has its roots deep in our country’s history has rightfully stolen the show. It’s not that it wasn’t always going on, its just that for the most part many of us (speaking to white people here) may have thought that because of the Civil Rights movement, everything was really equitable and racism wasn’t a thing.

What is obvious is that the events that have happened while we have all been sequestered at home are finally waking us up. It’s not that things like this haven’t happened before – they have. But we hear about them in spurts, we get upset, cry for justice, we lament as common humanity, and then… nothing changes.

Sounds a bit like the persistent widow Jesus talked about doesn’t it?

If I’m honest, that parable has always been a bit hard for me. I know that Jesus shared this story to make the point that God is NOT like a harsh judge that ignores our cries. Luke even said it was to show that we should pray and not give up, because God hears our prayers…. but early in my walk I will admit that just made me feel as if God was like the judge and if we bother him enough, maybe he will move.

Yet Jesus says in this parable that God hears the cries of unjust ways and sees that they get justice quickly.

What exactly does he mean by quickly?

Nothing seems to happen quickly. Especially when it comes to societal change.

The truth is, a large part of those that call America home – and even a large part of the body of Christ – has been crying out for years. I suspect they wonder where God is, and why has He not showed up to change things? The place in time in which we find ourselves now has me (as well as I am sure everyone right now) doing a lot of thinking.

Have we been asleep all this time, forgetting that we are the ones God uses to help justice come to pass? Have we thought, in error, its “not my issue?”

By justice I am not just talking about conviction for officers (or civilians) that take black lives. I know there are many officers out there that take their job seriously and do not treat people differently because of the color of their skin. I also know not everyone cries “help” when they see a black man. But the fact that some do reflects something very, very wrong, and it also reflects a much bigger problem. I am talking about seeing that we, as a nation, have for far too long used unequal scales. We probably have not been aware that there are policies and laws that may never have intended to be divisive (or maybe they were) – but have not ever been reviewed to see if they knowingly or unknowingly facilitated racist views or actions. We have not paid attention or taught our children that history was largely written by white people, and that although there are months decidated to people of color (Black, Asian, Hispanic), their voice and experience in history is largely silent.

I readily admit I spent many years not even knowing what white privilege was. I would hear stories of how hard others lives were and think “wow… that’s hard..” and never go beyond that to enter into their pain, or ask what it was like to walk in their shoes, or even to ask myself about my own hidden biases. I am spending a lot of time doing that now. Frankly I hope a lot of us are. It’s time.. heck its been time for a LOOOOONG time.

I also admit I didn’t get why people were protesting so much. I know that sounds horrible. Lest you think I am heartless or blind, I absolutely know it was because of the events around the deaths of George, Brianna, and Ahmed. But I think in logical ways and so I was trying to wrap my head around why people protested in cities where none of this happened? Solidarity, yes. That I get. But why so long?

Then I remembered the parable of the persistent widow. I got it, finally. People standing arm in arm crying out for their states to bring justice locally. Review your laws. Review your police training, your state policies. See if they are really just. If not – change! (Colorado legislators making some huge changes in how they train their police force is a great example). We collectively must be the persistent widow, crying for justice and working towards it however we can, until things change…. for everyone. But let’s just be honest. If you are white, you most likely have not sufferred and do not have to walk in the same amount of caution the way our black brothers and sisters feel they must. Therefore, the focus IS on equality for black lives right now. I am not saying others do not matter. They do…. but we are not the ones suffering from unequal treament. They need our voices, not our attempts to jump in and say “we matter too!”

(on a side note, if you don’t know what I mean by what I just said, I’d encourage you to google some podcasts or some check out some books or movies that might expose you to an experience outside of yours. They have been extremely helpful for me. Resources are belo.w)

You may feel like you can’t make a difference because you are not a politician, a lawmaker, a police officer, a reporter, or a textbook author. Those are all the visible and prominent roles we see. But what you ARE is someone who should work towards reconciliation in your own place in the world. Especially because we serve a God that invites us -or should I say EXPECTS us – to be ministers of reconciliation, because in Christ there is not supposed to be racism or ethnic judgement. In Christ we are to see each person, with their background and ethnicity, as image bearers with the full capacity to bear his image well. We are to defend them. When there is oppression, we are to call it out and work to make it right. Whether that is in our leaders, at the polls, in our voting actions, or in our protests, it must also be done in our churches, in our ways of being with our neighbors, in our ways of working in our communities.

It might be eay to focus on this now because of course its what everyone is talking about. But it is a long hard work to STAY the course and keep learning, keep educating, and not let the things that are being questioned get shoved under the rug any longer. We must continue to have the difficult conversations, and be humble enough to recognize where we need to change our minds, our hearts, our judgements, and LOVE by walking justly.

I know I have a lot to learn. I hope you will join me and be willing to let God teach you new things in this journey as well!

Resource list: (but note – there are so many others available as well, this is just a start of resources, some I have read/watched and some are on my list for this summer)

White Fragility: Why its so hard for White people to talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison,, Daniel Hill, Jennie Allen

Race in America – video by Phil Vischer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY

Podcasts by Erwin McManus (Mosaic Church) – June 1, June 8, June 15, all on conversations about Race, Justice, personal stories by black leaders in his church

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (book or movie) by Bryan Stevenson

13th – a documentary on Netflix

That craving….

Photo Credit: Free Photo Library provided by WordPress. Whoever took this picture.. I would have loved to be your taste tester 🙂

My kids have always known me for someone who, if you put a bag of almond M&Ms in front of me, will easily eat the entire bag in one sitting. There is just something about the perfect balance of crunch and chocolate. So too, a good chocolate mousse, the kind you take one spoonful of and savor, tasting every bit of the chocolatey goodness. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

I realize not everyone has such a liking for sweets. For some of you, this kind of reaction might only happen tasting a well-grilled, mouth-watering steak or a flavorful soup. Or, if you’re like my girls – it comes with the first bite of some good old Chicago deep dish pizza!

Regardless, we all know what it is to crave something, to savor said craving, to lean back and just smile as all those taste buds explode and send whatever good chemicals firing in your brain that it sends. “Delightful” might be one way to describe it.. “Delectable”…. “Heavenly”… or just down right “Damn that was good!” (Ok, some of you are going to just have to forgive me for that and get on with reading :-).

Why do I bring this up? Well, because its something we can all track with at some level or another. This idea of craving and desire. Oh, sure, maybe for you it’s not food based. Goodness knows there are sundry other things that we crave – some good for us, some not so good. When the weather’s nice, I also crave a good 10-15 mile bike ride to get my blood pumping. In quarrantine, you could say I’m craving a night filled with good friends and great conversations (and amazing food of course)!

Last night I picked up a book I read a few years ago (Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythms: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul) and skimmed the last few chapters again. I realized then that I had never actually finished the book. In one section, he talks about a sermon he preached on Phil 3:16, and challenged those listening to think about things they used to be sure of in God, but somehow had been stolen away, or maybe just lost. The movie “The Stone of Destiny” was a bit of inspiration, and so of course I had to watch it last night.

But it got me to thinking about what I had lost in my own life in some ways:

Delight…. in the Lord.

It doesn’t mean I stopped loving or seeking Him. He’s been true to every promise, faithful to me time and time again. But as I think back through most of my life’s walk, there was a childlike delight about my faith. Even through the tough years of raising teens, it remained. I don’t think I realized it had faltered….. but it did. Somewhere along the way of re-establishing who I was… it got a bit lost I think?

So today, I want to share with you my favorite passage that always reminds me of what my SOUL needs to crave. I hope, as you continue to persist during these times of quarrantine, this can be an encouragement for you too! (and I’m sorry this post is so long. There just wasn’t any other way to do it).

Isaiah 55:1-2

Looking at the first verse as more poetry, it speaks of cravings, and opposites: Thirst – there’s water! No money? – its ok, you can come buy and eat! In an agrarian society where you are completely dependant on the elements for food and water, I have a feeling this sounded a lot richer to the people who first heard it. But look at the progression. Remember that physical representations in scripture are often just natural things we can wrap our heads around to understand the greater message being conveyed.

Hebrew doesn’t have all the words we do and so sometimes translators have to add other words in to have the passage make sense and convey meaning. So I looked at just the Hebrew words. Now, please understand, I am still learning this stuff but still – in Hebrew it reads more like this:

“Why wages bread, earnings satisfy satisfy? Listen, listen eat/devour good good!” — still pretty similar to what we have in our translations. Its easy to read this and think: well of course I am working to earn money and feed my family. That is not the point. He’s saying LISTEN: There’s something more. You work to feed your self, your family – but there is MORE. Better.

Then this last part [anag nephesh deshen] : Be happy, delight. Your soul, desire, emotion, passion, the breathing substance and innner part of you. Fatness!Blessing!

Do you hear that?

God invites us to come to him to have our soul’s craving satisfied. That deep part of us that no one gets to see, that part where hope is supposed to dwell, the part that holds our emotion, our hidden desires, our longings, our fears.

Why do we think our earnings, our work (or what we do to keep busy now that you may be out of work due to the Covid crisis) – will really satisfy? Yes, its needed. Yes we have to feed ourselves and our families. But there is something deeper here to be learned, my friends. This means we have to step into the world of actually bringing our souls to him and asking him to satisfy that deep longing. Online church, zoom bible studies can’t always do that for you.

Who knows? Maybe its something else that you once had in your walk but you lost somewhere along the way. I’d encourage you to think deeply about what that was.

Trust?

Hope?

Joy?

A desire to even talk with Him? Belief that He actually cared about you?

Wonder about who He really is?

This week: I challenge you. Commit to getting away. Go for a walk. Sit in your car at the park, or in a chair at the far end of your back yard, or on your apartment balcony.

Wake up your soul, and invite the One who created you to breathe whatever is missing back into your life.

Blessings my friends!

Silent Saturday

I don’t think I’d ever heard the term “Silent Saturday” until last night when I was watching a sermon by Max Lucado on Good Friday. Silent Saturday is the day after Jesus crucifixion (well, when we remember it) before we celebrate his resurrection on Easter. It’s when all those that knew Jesus and followed him mourned his death, because they lost their beloved teacher, the Messiah they had been waiting for. Its because they didn’t know what was going on in the big picture, because this isn’t how “The day of the Lord” and the coming of his kingdom was supposed to go, in their minds. Yet it was Sabbath, and so they followed the command to observe it, spending the day in their homes, not working, just resting…. and grieving.

I cannot imagine what that might have been like for them. They couldn’t even get closure. Yes he was buried in a tomb, but no ceremony, no corporate time together to process. No “what do we do now” discussion…. they just had to wait.

As I see the death toll now from those who have lost their lives due to the corona virus, I have a feeling they get what the disciples must have felt in a way none of us do. My heart has been heavy for them in this time.

But it actually got me to thinking. I have heard tons of sermons, read posts and devotionals, and sang songs about Jesus the Passover lamb, about how his blood was symbolically applied to all of humanity on the cross. Its beautiful really, when you think about it:

God delivered Israel out of Egypt and essentially said – I will be your God, and you can be my people, and we can go and change the world if you let me be your God. All the world will be blessed through you and the light I bring as you live in covenant with me. That is exactly what Jesus message was too: My kingdom is here, are you with me? Do you want to help make things right? Learn my way. Follow me. Live differently. Return to Yahweh.

So here is what struck me this year. Keep in mind, I have been knee deep in Old Testament scriptures the past 2 1/2 years, and so as we talk about kings and kingdoms, I come into this knowing that both in the Ancient Near East (ANE) world, and even in Israel, when a king came to power, they generally killed off any threats to the throne first off. It’s just how they did it. Then they built temples and palaces. If they were a good king, their nation and its inhabitants thrived. If they were not, everyone suffered and eventually they were taken over by another ruler…. and the cycle continued.

When John wrote his gospel, he tapped into a kind of cosmic battle idea of light vs dark. He speaks of Light coming into the darkness in the first chapter, he quotes Jesus saying he is the Light of the World in chapter 8, and then he talks about the ruler of the world being driven out in chapter 12.

From an ANE perspective, and from a cosmic perspective, this is fascinating to me. In his triumph on the cross, Jesus did what every other king had done until that time as well – he battled against the enemy that would ruin his kingdom. Only this time, the enemy he fought was an invisible cosmic one that destroys lives, ruins families and nations, causes greed and pain and war and deceit and addictions and every other horrible thing we can think of . This enemy says “protect yourself, you’ve all you’ve got, take what you want, who cares about anyone else” – when God has always said he was right there, if they searched for him… and that there was a good and right way to live. Jesus battled an enemy that wraps the human soul in chains and keeps it from even choosing what is right and living in radical love.

So tomorrow is day we as believers will celebrate Jesus resurrection. We will remember it is the day he took his throne as king – again – having gone to the kingdom that was being ravaged by an unjust ruler and fought and won. His citizens were declared free now, from the sin that had eaten at them since right after creation.

Earth and humanity – reconciled. Still suffering the effects of abuse and torture, of greed and power struggles, of failure and pain – but finally with a king who will forever be a good Shepherd to those who will follow him. Finally, One who can lead the citizens of His kingdom into healing his world, and making things right, one by one.

As to temple building and palace building… God had already declared the whole world to be his temple through the prophets many times earlier. But what Jesus did? He cleansed the human heart and built a temple right there.

That, my friends, is the beauty and wonder of the resurrection. The cosmic battle has been fought, and we have been invited to take our place as citizens of a kingdom with a good king.

Silent Saturday might be a day we remember the disciples grief and loss… but in reality He was just off fighting a war on our behalf. How can that not make you pause in gratitude?

Blessings my friends!

The Curious People of God

Two days now I have woken up with a song in my head – and its not because I was listening to music the night before. One morning the dream was of maybe 10 or so singing the old hymn “How Great Thou Art”, and the next it was a more recent song “Unshackled” by Ecclesia. I had to check myself the first morning, because even in my dream I thought, “wow that guy is REALLY off-key!” … but both mornings had me wanting to dance and brought a smile to my face. Needless to say they were fun dreams to wake up to!

It got me thinking. We are living in unprecendented times here in this country (and world really) – dealing with things we have never had to before in our lives. It’s all over the news, social media, and its consuming a lot of our conversations. Some are fearful, and with seemingly good reason – peoples jobs are on hold for as long as possible, the stock market is volatile, bills are going to go unpaid, food we are accustomed to is scarce, and there is no guarantee things are going back to normal any time in the next month. Oh – and no sports, no school, and everyone’s summer plans are probably on hold, right?

Unprecendented times indeed.

What has been really neat to see in some, and hear in others, is when people are NOT fearful. Not out of ignorance or defiance, but out of confidence. They are unsure of the future, but they are settled. Why? Well I would ask why not? We are a curious people, are we not? The people of the living God, called by name to bear His image wherever we are, in whatever situation.

We have a privilege, a mandate, and no virus stops that folks. Who can explain a people who have confidence in the midst of what is going on? What I think is especially critical at this time, in this space, is JOY in the midst – joy that doesn’t depend on our circumstances but on knowing our lives are in his hands. Prayer – for our city and national leaders, our healthcare workers and first responders, and the sick. Trust. God hasn’t just up and walked out the door here. His mission to draw all to himself is still alive and well.

So what do we do? Sure, we commiserate with our neighbors, friends, families and strangers even, about the 6 feet separation we are encouraged to keep, of how we miss hanging out with each other in person (for those cities under “shelter in place” orders) , how we too cannot find toilet paper (whats up with that???), and that dinner tonight is a smorgasboard of cereal, green beans, and canned chili because that might be all you found that day at the store.

But we can laugh. We sing. We are forced to get creative. We find reasons to rejoice and remember that we know the One who is Hope. Remember the stories of Paul in prison and the songs he sang? Remember the countless Psalms of those in exile in Babylon? Hope that God is still God in the midst of all that is going on. Knowing we do not walk in fear, because His Spirit in us does not fear. I realize that is hard to say when you don’t know how you are going to pay your bills next month, how you will feed your family, or what the next 6 months will bring.

But this is where we will either rise to be the people of God and walk in his ways, in community helping each other and feeding each other and paying each others bills, or we will not. This is where we will help those OUTSIDE the family of God and do the same, as a witness to his great love and care for them too. This is where we voice the hope we have, and why we can say it is well with our souls.

So… serve….help those who need help, whether it be a grocery run or watching kids so they can work. Look for where you can let go of your comfort to help others. Don’t forget to pray! We have stories of sickness fleeing at the name of Jesus. Who knows, perhaps God might open the door to pray for a neighbor and release healing? We’ll never know if we do not offer.

I will leave you today with a Psalm I read the other day, rephrased 🙂

God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear when life and conveniences we have become accustomed to give way, and the stock market falls, though speculations of when this will end roar and confidence quakes as covid numbers surge. BUT.. there is a river – whose streams make glad the people of God!— Ps 46:1-4

Let us share the hope we have, for people are thirsty for something that can be an anchor for them in this time!

Tama

A lesson from Moses

I have always loved the book of Hebrews. Not long ago I was reading chapter 11 again, where the writer looks back at men and women in Israelite history that, in the author’s eyes, exhibited actions reflecting their faith in God’s bigger picture to restore humanity.

It’s when the author talks about Moses that I have to pause.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God…” (v 24)

I know this is true when I read the story of Moses, but I started thinking back to the years that he did initially identify as Pharoah’s daughter. He had been raised in the Egyptian courts, learned their ways, learned how to write and read and did everything they did as Egyptians. Surely he wasn’t ignorant to the fact that the Jewish people were being used as slaves in Pharaoh’s building projects all those years?

Of course I have no idea if he liked living in the court – maybe he did, maybe he didn’t – but he certainly benefitted from it for a number of years. Only in Exodus 2:11 are we told that after he had grown up he walked about and really saw the mistreatment. Initially though? What the writer of Hebrews calls refusing to remain living as Pharaoh’s daugher….let’s be honest.

HE FLED. In fear. After all, he had just killed an Egyptian in anger over how his people were being treated. Was he was afraid his actions would end the favor of Pharaoh? Either way, he wanted to save his own skin – that seems pretty obvious.

Have you ever run away from a situation in fear because you either made a rash decision, or you hated what you were seeing so much that you just couldn’t take it any more?

Yet the writer of Hebrews looks back at Moses’s actions in this moment and realizes they were the catalyst that became a defining stone in the formation of the Jewish nation. People were being mistreated unjustly, and God wanted to do something about it.

What did Moses wrestle with when he ran away, internally? We will never know. He was human though, and so you might guess there was some guilt, frustration, you name it. What we do know, however, is that he spent quite a number of years in Midian just learning how to be a shepherd.

We look at this with eyes thousands of years later and see God’s provision and His hand in the larger story, but do you honestly think Moses understood the bigger story at the time? My guess is no. After all, when WE are in the midst of OUR story, can WE see it? I don’t think it often feels like that… do you?

How long was Moses gone? It could have been decades. The current Pharoah died, Moses got married, he had kids. I assume he wasn’t sitting with something in the back of his mind going “God will rescue me, I have a calling!” He had, as far as we can tell from the text, resigned himself to being a shepherd and staying where he was.

Yet who Moses became in those years of the mundaneGod saw. He saw the passion for justice. He saw how Moses loved, how he parented, how he took care of the flock under his care. Yet it obviously took some time for Moses to become who he needed to be for the next phase in life.

So the question this passage asks of us, is this:

What about your life? The detours, the things you going though now or might regret from the past – what if you can choose to see them as training grounds instead of just mistakes or wrong turns? Sit into them, accept them, learn from them, and trust that you ARE fulfilling your purpose right where you are at THIS moment…. and that what comes next is going to need everything you have learned thus far?

Take some time to think of your story, where you have been, what it made you, and who you are becoming. Moses didn’t know he was going to be who God would use until God decided he was ready. We may never feel ready to do what comes next, but just as God promised Moses, he promises us:

“I will be with you.”

Blessings, my friends!

The fruit of a life

This past week I received a relatively thick envelope from a name I had not seen in years. Opening it slowly, I read the typed letter I was holding in one had, with a bundle of letters and envelopes in the other. The letter was from Dave, an old youth group leader of mine, sharing with many of those who he had mentored in the past that he was in the final stages of lung cancer. He was returning to all of us the letters we had written to him when he was deployed in Desert Storm and when he later lived in Germany, sharing how much of an encouragement they had been to him during that time.

I stared at the letters and cards I had written him my senior year of high school and first year of college, 1989-1990. I could hardly believe my eyes.

For one thing, no one else I have ever known has saved letters I have written, even though I have saved many other have written to me over the years. The other thing was I noticed (quite humorously) that my handwriting was still the same!

I looked at the weathered and tattered pages and re-read them all, for they documented for me some of the earliest years of my faith. I skimmed them some, recalling things I shared about living in Germany, tough classes I was taking, and how I tried to encourage someone who was also investing in me and my young faith. What struck me the most was a line from a letter dated January 1990:

“…I am no longer befuddled at the thought of living every single moment for Christ…”

I was still 17 when I wrote that, but the statement came nearly three years after my good friend Jill swooped in and latched onto me, a quiet 14 year old that had just left a small school in Germany and got plopped into a high school of 5000 students. I found myself surrounded by people who loved God and just invited others in, along with a few very Godly men and women who simply spoke of their love for Jesus and all they had found in him. They didn’t try to “convert” me – they just loved me, encouraged me where I was, and talked about what it was like to surrender your whole life to him.

I honestly do not know where I would be had they not invested in me. Oh, I was a good kid and so I am sure I would have done well, but I don’t know that I would be someone whose greatest joy is in helping others know Jesus.. the same thing they did for me.

I think that’s a lot of what Jesus meant when he talked about “bearing fruit”. It’s probably similar to what the world would say when they talk about leaving a legacy for people to remember you by. What works were done in your name, what stories will be told about you…

Not that any of that is bad, but the reality is unless you make some huge contribution to the world, you’re probably not going to go down in a history book, right?

Yet fruit. The reality is that Dave and others walked and talked and showed me Jesus, even when I wasn’t necessarily asking to figure him out early on. I was just there. But his life had an indellible impact on mine, as did the other youth leaders that were part of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Big or small, it had an impact.

As I am watching the young women in a bible study I lead surrender their lives to Jesus more and more, it leaves me dumbfounded – primarily because I know I didn’t pray for all that God is doing. Imagine that.. He has his own plans for others we know nothing about, no matter how we pray. I sit back in awe of all GOD is doing in their lives, blatently aware that it is all Him doing things. Just him. I often feel like I’m just sitting on the sidelines.

In the big scheme of things, I have to smile. That commission of Jesus in Matthew 28 where he tells his disciples to “go and make disciples” – this is exactly what that looks like, and what it’s supposed to look like (note: sometimes this verse gets a bad rap.. I wrote about it in another post a few months back). One generation helping the next to wrestle with their questions and walk along side of them to understand what it is to be in relationship with a living God, what it is to surrender and let go and trust someone you cannot see.

  • It makes me question if, in struggling with that Matthew 28 verse, we have forgotten how to pursue people? Or perhaps we either do not really trust the power of just what Jesus does when someone really seeks him and finds him, or we never really understood what the Holy Spirit does to open eyes to reveal Jesus and help people wrestle with their own stuff in the first place.
  • I’m not talking about reaching people with the “they need Jesus” attitude that people can smell a mile away, but one that just walks alongside them in the stuff of life, patiently waiting for the hunger and emptiness of life to cause them to want something real. Waiting to see where they might trust you have no agenda but to love them. Waiting for God to show you the when and how to speak spiritual truths to ears ready to hear them.
  • Sure, an inspiring sermon or blog might get people thinking, and I know God can speak through any medium He wants to. But we can’t underestimate vision casting for people what it is to really BE in Christ, to follow him and surrender and be transformed by him. When we share how he is our strength in the mess, how we struggle to trust when the trials come, but how our souls are finding rest in the journey – the Holy Spirit really does work to transform others to draw them near.

    Do we believe that any more? I hope so. But for some of you, its going to mean risking getting over your fear of knowing exactly what to say. Not everyone is afraid of talking about spiritual things – the conversations just look different now. NOTE: If you’d like to read a refreshing take on making disciples in today’s world, I’d recommend “I once was lost” by Don Everts.

  • Walking beside others to show them what it is to follow Christ isn’t just for your pastor, your bible study leader, or those with “theological training”. Its for every one of us. And good news! You are fully equipped, whether you realize it or not, to invite others into a life of faith. Giving people room to ask questions goes a long way. Think with them, wonder with them, struggle with them in their questions… and know that in all of that searching God’s right there.
  • Today I leave you with a quote I found recently online, for I think it says it perfectly. As we go, what we say, what we do, good or bad, gets woven into the lives of others. So go be an image bearer, and let your legacy be that people wanted to know Jesus because they saw Him in you.

    “What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

    Blessings!

    Tama

    Loving Millennials

    I saw a post on an instagram story yesterday that made me shake my head with a resounding.. “yeaaaah, very true.”

    It was Morgan Freeman sitting in an armchair, with the following quote over his head:

    “Toxic mothers are just as bad as absent fathers, but ya’ll ain’t ready for that discussion yet”.

    It was the exact topic that came up the other night with the young women in a bible study I lead. One of them was sharing about some difficult things about her relationship with her mother, and the others just sat there and nodded, acknowledging how true that was for them as well. It made me wonder.

    I have heard so many teachings from the pulpit about the impact that a person’s earthly father can have on their image of who God is and what He is like, but I don’t know that I have ever heard one about how children ever form the same understanding of God from what their mother is like. Because we were created to reflect God’s image and character, male and female, it stands to reason that each gender has a unique way they reflect God and show God to their children… so I asked them the question: “Has your understanding of God been shaped by your relationship with your mother? If so, how?”

    I was blown away.

    Literally, I was speechless as one of them went on to explain just how their image of God and how they relate to him was very much formed by their absent father, yes… but also from how they were parented by their mother. They then also began to explain how the Lord slowly but surely was revealing to them every step of the way that he is NOT like what they had learned. He is not absent, he doesn’t expect them to carry every burden on their own, he knows what they need and provides. All these lies, not about themselves, but about God that were being undone! It was so beautiful to hear how God was working in her life to do this!

    Now I know, of course God can defend his character. Yet this young woman had to have a safe place to begin to unpack all that, and it was in the midst of these girls she found it. And here I was thinking I had nothing I could offer but my home and a meal.. yet that is exactly what the Lord used to create that space. Of course. He will always use what we offer, when we invite him to be part of what is going on.

    But back to my point about parenting.

    There is so much I want to say here, and I just hope I can say it right. I know those of us who are parents would say we did the best we could, and maybe we look back and have regrets (or laugh that we’ll gladly pay for our kids therapy!) . None of us are perfect, and at some point our kids figure that out and have to forgive us for things we didn’t understand ourselves. I get that. But there is a whole deeper level of hurt and pain that many millennials are facing – and they have to dig even further to even know they are worthy of love. I see many struggling to just have a sense of self that is worth fighting for, to know they can make it in the world, let alone get out from under so many hurtful words that came from home.

    Even as I type this I know.. its no different than previous generations, as I am sure many of you have had to do the same thing.

    So why am I pointing this out?

    Because those of us who are older (yes, I would put myself smack dab in that now that I am parenting 20 year olds myself) cannot underestimate the role we play in the lives of the younger generation. I don’t care if they are in our families, our churches, our workplaces, or our neighborhoods. Some of them are struggling to find or keep faith, or figure out who God is, but they are wrestling it out from under some very difficult stories. Some of you get that, because you had to do the same thing…..some of you, like me, probably don’t get the struggle. I am grateful that when I think of my own mom, I know she played a big role in making sure I knew I was loved, and that is probably why it wasn’t hard for me to believe that about God.

    Whatever you do, don’t give up on the millennials around you, and don’t set them to the sidelines just because their lives look a bit messy or misdirected. Go find them. Be willing to feed them and just sit and ask about their world. Ask the Lord to show Himself to them, and then pray for them in the quiet and let the Holy Spirit do the work only he can do. It will take a lot more time than you think or might want, but God is infinitely patient, and things often work on his timeline, not ours (imagine that!)

    Trust that truly, he is able to “make everything (and everyone’s story) beautiful in its time” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

    Blessings!

    Don’t get stuck this season

    I am reading through Matthew this Christmas season, and although I don’t mean to skip over the genealogies, I am just not finished with what I want to write about them yet. I know a part of me needs to find the mystery again. Today is of the story of the wise men visiting Jesus when he was a toddler, and Herod’s attempt to destroy this young boy – yet God, always ahead of the power curve – tells Joseph to go to Egypt.

    I have to think about that a bit. It reveals a few key things:

    1. There are definite power structures that oppose the things that God is doing in the world

    2. God is not ignorant of these things, nor is he ignorant of the people through which they come

    3. God is going to protect that which is important for his plan and purpose, so that things happen on his timeline

    4. Nothing can stop the really important things, which is in this case, protecting Jesus

    Now, what we never do in the Christmas story is focus on all the collateral that comes with Herod’s decision. The camera’s lens, the author’s focus, is on the hero of the story, this little child who wise men from the east travel to see. Already, under the age of two, just the mere knowledge of his presence is causing panic in the heart of kings. Already, they are threatened and reverting to what their ancestors have done all through history: kill off the challenge to the throne. Don’t seek the Lord to see what he is doing, just protect your own interests.

    In our 21st century mindset when anything that takes innocent lives or brings destruction to those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes the subject of our outrage and cry for justice. Yet here, we barely make mention of the many young boys that were killed nearly two years after Jesus was born, in Herod’s thirst to protect his throne:

    Matt 2:16 “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under…”

    In our 21st century mindset, we would look at this and ask “how could a god save one baby and let all these other die? How could that god be good?”

    And we would get stuck here, just like we get stuck look at all the injustice in the world today with child abuse and slavery and the mistreatment of refugees. Please do not hear me wrong on this: those are things that we should fight to make right. We should cry out for leaders to do things differently, for what is important to take precedence. We should expect them to not ignore the vulnerable for the sake of their own gain. That is not my point today though.

    I guess I wonder why we never ask this question of the Christmas story? Oh sure, we paint King Herod as the bad guy, but today I have a different thought. Today I question why we never get frustrated at the chief priests and teachers of the law who told Herod that the Messiah was to born in Bethlehem. Why did they not counsel him to let things be? Why did they not paint a picture of how good this was to be, God being faithful to his promise for Israel? Were they afraid, fearful too? I’m pretty sure by that time they were “in bed” so to speak with not only Herod but also the Romans. Blind and deaf to the things God was really doing.

    And because of that, many families lost their little boys that year, and I am sure the heart of God wept right there with them, because that wasn’t supposed to happen either.

    It all happened at the hands of a powerful king who could only think about his own skin, his own rule and power, and the rule of his son in the days to come. We need to remember that what we see happening today, around the world in our nation and others as well, has been going on since the beginning of time. We are foolish to think it can ever really stop fully, at least in this age.

    What God is doing might seem to have “left the country” – but just like Joseph and Mary returning to the land with Jesus years later, in all reality it was just waiting for the right time. The plans of God will keep growing, keep developing, right along side the power structures and people that think its harmless because they cannot see it.

    There will probably still be collateral damage, my friends.

    My challenge to you is to not get stuck focusing there, asking “why did God allow that??”. Now, I’m not going to give you some platitude that “everything happens for a reason” — because those of us who have lived through hell and back know that in the midst of it, whatever bigger reason seems paltry and fake and downright cruel. That collateral damage is way often due to corrupt power structures, greedy people, or our own human selfishness and ignorance. Bad decisions, made out of our own hurt. There’s no excuse but its the way it is. It sucks.

    The reality is that whatever it is – it won’t stop the mystery of what and how God moves to reveal himself to the world. It didn’t, nearly 2000 years ago, and it won’t now.

    Take courage, my friends – the purposes of God to redeem a world from its own pain and corrupt ways WILL NOT STOP. I know this probably doesn’t answer the “why” for the pain in your own life, the hardships you have gone through, but I hope that in midst of it you can take a step back to see the mystery and hold onto the hope that He is still working.

    May the mystery of it all be your delight this Christmas.

    Blessings!

    Tama

    In with the new?

    As believers, we might easily quote verses and pictures proclaiming “Beauty for Ashes”, holding to the image that God can bring anything good out of something hard. Or, we find encouragement in a song like “God’s not done with you” – clinging to the fact that our unfinished stories can still hold purpose and promise in the years ahead.

    I honestly believe this is true, yet the reality is that until you have had this truth tested, it only feel so real to you. It’s not “yours” – until you walk it, own it, and come out the other side. Then… its no longer just a cute little picture. Its a deep truth, burned into your life, built into your theology.

    I will share this as a precursor to the post: I look back, and have to admit there was a day where I once felt like a piece of my heart died with my marriage, and I wondered if it would ever return. I trusted God would bring me back to life. I thought for sure all of my heart would be resurrected…. Then I would hit a day every now and then and wonder if I could ever experience delight and joy in a relationship like I had before. It was on a day where those feelings were right on the surface that I wrote this.

    I share this just as a testimony to how much the Lord heals our memories, how much he can shift things for us that need to be shifted, even when we seem stuck. Because in reading this over again – I guess I was stuck. I hope it will be an encouragement for some of you that may be stuck in your own way.

    P.S. In case you’re wondering.. Joy has returned and I am floored at quite a number of things right now 🙂

    ______ ________ _______ _______ ______ ________ _______ _______

    Today I ran for the first time in a while. Spring finally in full display, from the trees to the flowers blooming, to the scents that mark a holiday weekend floating in the air (everyone was grilling out for Memorial Day cookouts). It was beautiful. It reminded me of when life was simple, and all I cared about was life and loving Jesus more and more. Sometimes I wish I could go back – back before the scars, before the hurt of life marred the way I see the world. Before I had to start over all again.

    I keep thinking of a verse the Lord gave me a while back:

    “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing; Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” Says the Lord (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)

    It’s hard for us as people, not to look back, isn’t it? Back to before when we were younger, or when we were single or married, or before we lost our job, our loved one, our whatever we built our life around before it got so complex. Before we gave into the addiction, before our body started breaking down, before we left the life we had and moved across the country. Before we started asking questions or …. before whatever.

    You know we’re not alone in thinking that way, right?

    The Israelites did the same thing. Over and over, when God was bringing them to freedom in the wilderness, they longed for the things of Egypt. They longed for when they had meat in abundance and luxuries, obviously forgetting their great slavery. They forgot that the idols they worshipped were powerless, that the gods they served were but figments of their imagination.

    I’m not saying things in our past were idols necessarily. After years of fearing anything I enjoyed was an idol, I have set down that way of thinking, and I’m not about to take it back up again. Yet what is it about looking back and longing for things that were?

    Sure, sometimes its because we are afraid of change, but that’s not always it.

    More often, I can’t help but wonder if its because its what we know, and the new seems unfamiliar and strange. There is no map, there isn’t a pocket guidebook for what’s next or what to do when we get there.

    Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the Lord reminds them that the foundations of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. He will move on their behalf, even though they don’t remember him

    Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)

    “I will go before you

    and will level the mountains;

    I will break down gates of bronze

    and cut through bars of iron.

    I will give you hidden treasures,

    riches stored in secret places,

    so that you may know that I am the Lord,

    the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

    Poetic. Mysterious. Something to make them wonder. He never tells them what the “hidden treasures” will look like, or how He will move, but he says He will.

    Even though they still forget him.

    Maybe we are more like them than we realize, unable to see or even perceive what He is up to in our years to come. Maybe we wonder, how could what is to come ever be better than what was?

    Oh… but if we remember the heart of our God… He is a God that always keeps His promises. His love is true, it is faithful and never gives up. It was offered to us over a sacred meal with a cup of wine, a new promise.

    We question how the new could ever be better….yet if we are able to dwell in the mystery that is the Lord, and swim in the love that He offers us, somehow I think we will find it that the new – however different – is still just as full of joy and delight in ways we could never imagine.

    Are you willing to keep pressing into the One who loves you, to let Him do this for you? I hope so my friend….I am praying for courage for you for the journey forward!