Who does your thinking?

I have this little post-it note sitting on my standing desk beneath my monitor, mainly so that I can see it front and center. Right now, it’s about as close as I am going to get to God hand-writing a note to me… but lately it’s something I have needed to remind myself of more than I’d like to admit.

In case you can’t read it, it says “Who does your thinking for you?”

Have you ever had a season in life where maybe you were in a rough spot, you were working through things, and eventually you get to a place where you are feeling ok, and then something happens and your mind gets thrown out of whack?

Yeah.. I just caught myself in that place this past weekend. You see, I would like to think I am a pretty positive person, always looking on the bright side of things. Even when life gets hard. I dig in, trust God will get me through, and keep plugging. I guess you could say my default thinking kind of runs like this:

  • Default: I’m doing well!
  • Default + hard stuff = I’m doing ok, keeping my head up and believing for the best
  • Default + hard stuff + outside voices = well maybe I shouldn’t be ok? Am I missing something here?

It’s this last part that I want to talk about today. Somehow I have this weird guilt feeling that I shouldn’t be doing so well when things get hard because everyone expects certain types of reactions from us when we hit hard things in life. Sure, sometimes we DO feel the “expected reaction” – like if you lose someone you love, you are going to go through some serious loss and grief that only others who have been there get the depth of. Or if you are betrayed by a friend, or you lose a job or house, or you are diagnosed with an illness of some kind. Anger, denial, numbness, hopelessness, disillusionment…. you name it, any of those would be considered “normal” in cases like this, right? So you work through them. You process with people, with counselors, with God.

Eventually you start to see rays of hope, pieces of joy that seemed just a bit too far at the start. Then maybe you start to feel better – like really better!

At some point, voices will surfaces that will lend their thoughts, wanted or unwanted: people who didn’t know what was going on, social media rants or blog posts, books or articles or songs that speak to whatever hard thing you are dealing with. Now, sometimes voices can sometimes be good and help you along – challenging you with hope, kindness, patience, forgiveness….. or they might give you permission to feel something you were afraid to feel.

Then there are the times that these voices might make you question how well you are doing. You sure you are ok? You’re not just hiding/avoiding/ignoring? (Which sometimes is totally ok, don’t get me wrong!)

The reality is that when you serve a living God, whose very breath fills your lungs and spirit lives inside of you… there is something that is net different as you walk through difficult seasons.

A few weeks ago I was reading again in Isaiah and ran across this verse, which I had not read in a while:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….”. (Isa 41:10)

And I sat and thought about that for a minute. This doesn’t have a qualifier on it like “I’m with you only in the big stuff”, or “ I’m with you when you don’t know what to do”.

Iam with you, so do not fear, God says. Period.

What about God being with us should make us not afraid? The easy answer is that, well, he’s big and he’s God so … there. But the reality is that we have to dig pretty deep to be aware of that presence and let it change our experience, don’t we?

Just knowing this in our heads doesn’t necessarily crowd out the voices that tell us we should be afraid, or make us recall the past, or that what others think makes more sense, or even a zillion other things that our mind might concoct to instill fear….. because to just tell ourselves “don’t listen to that voice” is like saying don’t look at the elephant in the room. Sometimes it makes us think about it more!

We have to move beyond head knowledge alone to more of a deep knowledge in our soul, one that is born of His Spirit, reminding us of God’s actual presence and power with us to get us through.

As I have been studying the Old Testament, the very presence of God is one thing that we keep coming back to. Every battle, every hard thing – God always reminded them “I’ve got this”. It didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight or chase the enemy to keep or capture land. But God being with them was huge. His presence was the deciding factor on whether they won or lost the battle. For us today, our battles are different. Often we don’t know the outcome, and what we want isn’t always what happens – but God’s presence with us SHOULD change how we experience whatever we’re going through. It’s time to stop thinking just “yep, I know God’s with me BUT…. “

No. “God IS with ME”. Not just the world, not just everyone when they are together in church. Me. You. Personally. Right there as you walk through whatever you walk through.

Are we still going to go through seasons and have hard times? Of course. Jesus says we will have trouble, but that his peace is real for us in the midst (John 14:27) of whatever we face.

Dear ones, this active knowledge of God with us takes practice. We don’t always get it right, but we have to start somewhere. I challenge you today, to ask the Holy Spirit to make you more aware of the truth that God is with you, so that His presence changes how you experience what you are going through.

After all, if he can hold the world together, don’t you think he can hold you together too?

Monday musings in Target

Yes… Target. I promise, I’ll explain.

But first: Have you ever had that experience where you read something in the Bible, you think “yeah.. read that, heard it a million times… really would like to understand a new nugget but I got nothing?”

The classic story of Jesus temptation in Matthew chapter 4 has always been taught to me as Jesus being tempted with desires of the flesh (food because he was hungry), desire for power (putting God to the test), and the pride of life (quickly gaining the kingdoms of the world). Perhaps that is what Jesus would have been tempted with, given the road he was about to walk, where he had to be careful to do things God’s way, and not the way of man. Maybe those temptations ring true for some of you – but for others, maybe its hard to see a parallel in your own life. I think there are definitely times when we are tempted in much the same way – maybe not after a 40 day fast – but perhaps when, given circumstances, it might be easy to subtly give in, or agree with the tauntings of our adversary.

Tonight, I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t looking at the city, or faced with some situation where it would have been tempting to ask God to do something for me that served my purposes. Tonight I was just shopping. For me, the verse was “as you have judged so shall you be judged”. It happened in Target of all places, as I was grabbing a few groceries after catching a movie by myself. Out of nowhere, that verse ran through my head, followed by the thought “wow… my life is a bit pointless now. All I have to fill my time is movies and grocery shopping???” (which is SO not true, I just had finished all my grad school homework and it happened to be a night where I had nothing going on).

Then just as quickly – I recalled how I have sometimes thought, ‘wow, glad I am not retired yet. That must leave a whole lot of time and all you have to fill your time is go see movies and buy groceries’. Talk about a slap in the face! Nope, it happens when you are an empty nester too.. you have to learn a whole new cadence to life!

I also will be honest that isn’t the first time I find myself in a situation that makes me reflect back on past attitudes. It is always humbling when the Holy Spirit reminds me that I had a particular opinion on things before and… well.. as we all know – once you walk in someone else’s shoes, your thought about their situation changes, doesn’t it? So, I did what I have learned to do in situations where I realize my lack of understanding is at hand: I quickly repented, asked for forgiveness for not understanding, and tried to brush it out of my head.

The problem for me came when the thoughts didn’t stop. The judgement kept coming. Over and over.

Then I remembered having read the passage in Matthew chapter 4 the other day, and how I was praying for a new understanding. It took a while.. but after going up and down a few aisles I started to piece it together: for whatever reason, the accuser was using God’s written word against me tonight.

Whisper in my head: “It is written “Judge not, lest you be judged” (and even after acknowledging and repenting, I still felt condemned”

Me: “Yes, but it is also written “He has loved [me] with an everlasting love” and “my guilt has been taken away”.

Get behind me, accuser of the sons and daughters of God.

I realize this wasn’t really a moment of temptation the way you might think about it, so perhaps my analogy fails. Obviously, there are times when verses or passages we read do and should bring conviction. Yet when that written word is bringing discouragement or condemnation and not repentance and freedom, I think we need to ask ourselves whose voice is speaking at that moment. It is the voice of our past, the voice we have created ourselves and the tape we run in our own head? Or is it the accuser trying to taunt us in an attempt to make us doubt who we are and where we’ve grown?

This is the stuff of maturing faith, folks. This is where the rubber meets the road, and where you stake your claim, not just on your identity but also to your place in the kingdom and your value. Sometimes it takes work to pay attention to what is going on in your head…. but its a necessary thing if we want to strip away the voice of the One who you belong to from the other voices in your life. I’d like to tell you this is an easy thing to master but – alas – so far, I’ve faced it at every stage of my life.

One final note: Unfortunately, I know the enemy uses the written words of God in more ways than this to fight against the purposes of God. When in doubt, remember Jesus new command – to love each other, and to forgive as He has forgiven us. Those two truths, my friend, have more power than you realize!

Blessings –

Tama

The Undoing

Today at church the pastor spoke of one of the (seemingly) smaller pieces of what happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and before his resurrection. It’s a passage of scripture that can easily be brushed over in any given reading, if you do not stop to understand the reason why it’s in the text:

[Matthew 27:51] “…at that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…”

It is not lost on me that this year, I have been reading about the instructions God gave Moses in building the temple… the ones that put the curtain up in the first place.

I have been swimming in the cultural context, if you will, of the time in which the story of the Exodus takes place. People who spent years in slavery, with a promise of land from a god that spoke to their ancestor Abraham. I am sure they re-told stories, but by the time Moses came to deliver them, they must have wondered where this god was. They spent generations watching people around them worship many different gods, and it’s highly possible that they also were not monotheistic at the time (think about the golden calf incident). The idea that a god would not just lead people out of slavery but then would make a covenant with them AND come to visit them? Who was this God?

Holy and dangerous – is how God came across to them at Sinai. They feared him when he spoke and begged him not to speak any more. “Speak through Moses” – they pleaded. We will listen to him. But God was insistent on finding a way to be in the very midst of his people, even though they were stubborn and repeatedly failed to trust Him on the journey in the wilderness. Hence – instructions God gave Moses on having a “tent of meeting”, or a mobile tabernacle. God continually met with Moses and Aaron in this sacred place, and when He did, people noticed. As this recently-delivered community of slaves questioned and argued and challenged Moses, God still came, in a cloud, to lead and help give direction. Yet in the tent of meeting, a curtain was there to protect the people from His presence, and no one was allowed in except Aaron and the priests. In fact, when the cloud moved, the text tell us that Aaron and his sons had to very carefully place the curtain over the ark of the covenant, then cover it with leather and more cloth, before it could be carried. If anyone touched it other than the priests, they would die. God’s presence good to have in their midst – yes – but it was also very dangerous for them. (Num 4:5-6, 15)

I know it’s hard for us to understand this kind of holiness. I certainly struggle with it, but that is probably because I’ve only ever been presented with the openness of relationship with God that is represented in Jesus and his work on the cross. Don’t get me wrong – God is still holy, but the fear of being in relationship with Him has been settled long ago, and I’ve come to trust that bigger truth.

Following the Israelites across the pages of the Old Testament, we find that this ark of the covenant eventually came to rest in a physical temple. The building grew bigger, and so did the curtain. More and more layers. More and more distance between the everyday person and the very presence of God.

Yet God’s heart, His desire to dwell with his people, never changed….even though they continued to be stubborn (as do we sometimes, right?)

After Jesus died on the cross, the curtain tearing in the temple was thus the great undoing of years of separation. God forever declaring He would no longer be contained in a physical place, that instead access to his presence would forever be open to whoever might come and seek Him.

Pretty beautiful, isn’t it? In some ways, this is the side of Easter that takes some meditating on to really let its truth sink into your soul.

My friends, I don’t know your church background, and I don’t know what you have been taught about God either. You may struggle with belief in an ancient story, or may question the absurdity of the claims that God can dwell with us here in this broken world. You may doubt that you really can go straight to God, that He would ever really want to hear from you. Oh, let me promise you – He does, and he made a way for you to get there. But all of these things are real, honest, and matters you will have to wrestle with, for they are the stuff of faith.

In this week leading up to Easter, I encourage you to sit for a moment and let there be some “undoing” in the space between you and God too. He’s there, and I promise He’s patient.

Blessings!

An early Easter observation

(Quilt photo taken from the Houston Quilt show 2016)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I have never really been one for walking through the church calendar years and observing all the days. I get why they are there. I understand the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and there have been years where I have really tried to enter into the season more than others. In a world that seems so void of hope and so very broken, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side of things, it’s difficult to let myself”enter in” to the depth of the my sin and the sin of the world, and lament. It’s much easier to focus on the breakthrough of Resurrection Sunday and the hope it brings – not in a happy-clappy sort of way though. I’d like to think I have learned (and am still learning) how to experience the full depth of life it brings.

That being said, I still make a point to read through the stories of Jesus being arrested, interrogated, flogged, and crucified. Why? Certainly not because I forget. I think each year I search for some new aspect that brings insight into what He experienced, how He walked it out, and what I can learn. This year is no different.

All my life I have heard stories of people who have been hurt by “the church”. The reasons are many: They didn’t feel cared for enough, they were shunned or judged for not being “holy enough”, they asked questions and doubted, they challenged church teachings that didn’t seem right, they were gossipped about or made decisions that others didn’t agree with. Some are stories of the church bringing shame or fear where it should bring freedom. There are worse things too, stories of spiritual abuse and calling evil good that I can’t even write about here. You know, because some of you have lived through them, or know people who have.

They are people who have been hurt who stop feeling that God, or his people are safe at all. People who have fled to take hold of the hope of Jesus, only to have Him get lost in the church machine to the point where it seems like business – not the life Jesus came to bring. People that have been hurt by ones they trusted.

My heart breaks every time I hear another story of someone giving up. Not because they can’t find God outside of church, but because too often they walk away from the richness that is theirs by right. Yes, we are imperfect at carrying the very life Jesus came to bring … but sometimes that imperfection is more hurtful than we realize.

This year, what I notice in the Easter story is that Jesus too, was the victim of “spiritual abuse”. Lies were told about him. No one wanted to hear his side of the story (not that he put up a fight, but his life said it all). All He ever wanted to do was show people what God was really like. Some got him. Most didn’t, and he paid for it. Every one of you reading has probably heard that Jesus’ death was in part, to show solidarity with the suffering. I don’t disagree. But this year my heart goes out to those who have been shunned, let down, deeply hurt, and even abandoned by the church.

I am so, so sorry. And because I, too, have gone through two very hurtful, spiritual abuse scenarios in my past, times when I was about to give up on church, I know in part where you have been. Sometimes it’s hell trying to recover, and you wonder if you can claw your way back to faith, or even if you want to. I get it.

This Easter, I hope in some quiet way you can see that Jesus gets it too. He knows. He feels your pain and knows the heartbreak of being misunderstood and treated wrongly. Somehow, in the mystery of God, my hope is that this Easter brings you to a place of resurrection in your own life. Not to the church (because for some of you it may feel like an abuser), but to the God who loves you, the Jesus who authors life and brings soul-healing in ways words cannot describe. My prayer is that you can step aside and take a moment to create some space where you can be whoever and however you need to be with Jesus, and let him help you carry that pain and disappointment, and exchange it for hope and something new.

Let him come find you, because you’re worth it! If I were with you right now, I’d sit and listen and cry with you, and then we’d somehow find our way back to life together.

Standing on the mountain

Don’t you just love it when you read a story in the bible that you have read over and over and you know by heart, yet when you look at it again, there is something you missed? I love when that happens. It always seems to bring new insight, and, most likely, speaks to where you are in life at that very moment, doesn’t it?

There is a story in Exodus I re-read recently, the one where the Israelites have crossed into the promise land, and they are about to go into battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17). Moses tells Joshua to gather his fighting men and then the next day, he would stand on the mountain holding up his staff. So, Moses does just that, and the story tells us that whenever his hands were up, the Israelites were successful, and when they were down, they started losing.

If you have ever heard this story – you know that at some point, Aaron and Hur come up and sit Moses on a rock and hold his hands up, thereby securing the victory for Israel. I have always heard this preached about how important it is to have people that can hold up your hands in a battle, or stand with you when you go through difficult times. I belive that to be true. We can all probably look back on times in our lives when we are walking through something that we never could have without people by our side.

Yet this time — this time I saw something I have never seen before.

It occurred to me that God didn’t tell Moses to go stand on the mountain. Countless other times, God tells people go here or there and I will speak, or do this and that and you will win the battle. That is NOT what we see here. God did not tell Moses that night that his battle plan was for Moses to go up on the mountain and hold the staff . Granted, yes back in Exodus 4 God gave Moses the staff and told him he would use it to perform signs – but there wasn’t any particular guideline that told Moses the Israelites would succeed just because he held up the staff.

In the face of impending battle, with their livelihood and their future at stake, Moses did something we can all learn from:

He stood on the mountain, arms raised….and waited to see what God would do. He trusted in God’s power and in His promise to them.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But we fret and worry, we spin our wheels trying to figure things out or try and understand all the possible outcomes or choices, because we know that to sit still feels like doing nothing. Sometimes its not even a battle we are fighting, it’s just life circumstances that are too overwhelming or we can’t see a way out.

God might not give a battle plan. He might not lay out the next steps.

Our act of faith is to go stand on the mountain and know our God is there… and then watch and see how He moves.

You might be surprised at what you find.

The Three Trees

I have a bit of a funny story to share. Earlier in December as we were decorating for Christmas, I was talking with Maddie about Christmas traditions and how we should start some new ones now that we are here. Out of curiosity, I asked which of the traditions we had that she remembered the most (or something like that).

“What do you mean? We dont’ HAVE any Christmas traditions.”

You could have hit me over the head with a 2×4. We have a ton! Small traditions, sure, but still there are things we do every year. Like “Ornament Day”, coined by Maia, the day after Thanksgiving when the tree goes up and at least the lights go on, if not decorations too. Christmas baking. Advent calendars to count down in December. Dances with Jon to our favorite Amy Grant Christmas songs. Tacky light tours (although out here in Colorado the lights and decorations really are not that tacky so… that one might have to die). Then there are my cousin’s famous caramel rolls Christmas morning, and the new tradition we started last year: Chinese food on Christmas day, in honor of Jon’s traditions growing up Jewish (since those were the two ethnic groups that didn’t celebrate Christmas in his town).

And we can’t forget the reading of the book “The Three Trees”, a traditional folktale retold by Angela Ellwell Hunt.

Although I always misplace it, and have probably purchased a few copies over the years as a result, at some point we all gather around the Christmas tree and get comfy and one of us reads the story. The story is about three trees that sit together on a hilltop. They talk and dream about one day what they will do when they are grown up. One of them dreams about being a treasure chest to hold great treasure, the other, a mighty sailing vessel for a king. The third tree says he never wants to leave the hill, but instead stay there so that he can poing people to God.

One day, the three trees are chopped down. The first two are made into a feeding trough and a plain sailing boat. The third is left in the woodpile. Yet each in turn are used to do the very thing they dreamed about doing, just in ways they never expected: a feeding trough ends up holding the treasure of God come to earth. A plain sailing boat holds Jesus and his disciples as they are on rough waters, yet realizes he holds a King when Jesus calms the storm. The third… well, he becomes part of the cross.

The reason I love this story so much is because it’s the story of our lives in many ways, isn’t it? We may have great dreams when we are young, ones that may never turn out the way we expected. We may feel ordinary, plain, or left over in the woodpile. Yet that isn’t how God sees us.

You life, my life – we are like those trees.

Everyday ordinary people, yet carrying a great treasure in our lives. We all have hope to give, light to shine into the darkness of other peoples lives. We all can sit in the woodpile and speak to those who are not doing well, reminding them this is not all they were made for.

The hard part of the story that we adults get, and kids don’t, is that after the trees were cut down, they were chipped away at, bent, cut more, nailed together, and smoothed over…. which in some ways is what life does to us, doesn’t it? Yet this story is a reminder that not only in spite of but because of those things, the treasure of God we have found sometimes is more visible, more touchable.

More real.

Whether this Christmas season is a difficult one for you, or if it’s filled with joy and laughter – remember you are NEVER without purpose. You, my friend, are crafted and a beautiful piece of woodwork being carved. Your faith is not in vain, you carry the light of the world in you, even though you may not be aware.

“For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this power is not from us”.. 2 Cor 4:7

Let that truth be born in YOU this Christmas!

Blessings,

Tama

What is freedom?

My new routine in the morning has me up, pets fed and out, by about 5:15 in the morning. Still dark, and pretty cold in the lower level of the house, I then like to curl up in a really fuzzy blanket, hop on the couch, and pray for a bit to start my day. Now granted, not every morning starts like this (especially NOT the ones where I forget I have a 6am meeting and have decided to “sleep in” til 5:30. Those are a bit more rushed!)

Anyway.. this morning I grabbed my daughter’s old bible and flipped to Corinthians. The verse they had circled and highlighted to focus on was one that brought to mind an old worship song:

2 Cor 3:17 “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”

I thought… yes… how true I have found that to be.

But my next though was how I could say that only because I had experienced it in my own life. How would someone who had never experienced the freedom of God read this? Yet I know we do this sometimes, don’t we? Its easy to read a verse you have read before and maybe mentally acknowledge it, yet never really GET it.

Kind of like the treasure in the field that Jesus talked about. You have to dig. You have to want it and set out to find it, and when you do, its fully your choice to find yourself back at that place.

So what was Paul talking about when he said there is freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is? Freedom from what? I’m not sure he was talking about strictly salvation.

In this same passage Paul is talking about how people can often have veils over their eyes or their hearts to understand the message that God wants to share with them. He is specifically speaking about the Jews hearing the message of Jesus, but think about this in your own life: haven’t there been times when you have just felt blind to spiritual truths or things about God that you didn’t get, and then something happened or you went through an experience and all of a sudden you feel like your eyes were opened to understand something new?

So think about the idea of freedom in this context. Whether its a veil over our understanding of God, or a wall we put up holding him at arms length – it’s to this place I think what Paul said made the most sense:

When you are in a place where God’s Spirit is, there is freedom:

– freedom to admit you don’t have it all together, and let Him hold you and bring His peace

– freedom to let go of an image you feel you have to uphold for other people

– freedom to ask questions you are too afraid to put into words

– freedom to set down burdens and guilt you have been carrying, and receive His mercy

– freedom to not have to be the one in charge any more, and breathe in His strength

– freedom to be who you were called to be, without any competing voices

– freedom to laugh and find joy in the face of circumstances that shout “you can’t have that now!”

– freedom to climb up into the arms of One who loves you no matter how big your daddy/mommy/abandonment/identity issues are, and no matter who thinks you are nuts for still believing in a God that is able to love this deeply

The most beautiful truth about this? God’s spirit is ever present. Yes, there are times when it might be more evident, like in a time of worship or silent reverence, but its also found in those deep conversations between friends. Or in places of natural beauty that iPhones and cameras strain to capture.

This time of year, as all sorts of voices shout at you for all sorts of reasons, I hope that you take time to remember it was a pretty dark and ugly world that Jesus stepped into… kind of like ours today. I also hope you can believe that part of His purpose was to bring your heart and your soul out of the darkness that it might find itself in from time to time.

So let his light shine for you today, and welcome His Spirit, as much as you can grasp, that you might be able to find some places of freedom this season!