Another version of the road less traveled

As much as I love to hike locally, hiking in Boulder is a “get out early or deal with crowds” type of hike. There are usually a lot of people out on the trails – and for good reason! The view is great, you can find trails of any level, and … well, it’s Colorado.

Last week I was itching to hike, but it was a last minute decision after having slept in on Saturday. The forecast predicted rain at 60% by 2pm. It was 10am. By my calculation.. it was not a good day to start hiking late. Oh well. I grabbed my rain jacket, a water bottle, my new waterproof hiking shoes, and headed out. I figured I would hike as long as I could and leave if it got too wet.

Sure enough, it started misting about a half hour in – but nothing like what the forecast predicted. It was actually nice and cooling. Thank goodness!

For the first hour I saw a good number of people. It’s summer, after all 🙂

As I got closer to the top of either the 1st or the 2nd Flatiron (still trying to figure out the difference between the two to be honest), the number of people still hiking grew fewer and fewer. The trail got a little more slippery because of the mist, but my shoes held steady. They were made for this.

My mind drifted as it does when I am alone, knowing how often the Lord uses everyday things around us to speak about spiritual truths. I thought of how many people collected around Jesus in the early days. They sought him out, they listened to his blessings, his reminder that they are salt and light, and they brought their sick to receive healing. They stayed through the challenges of their religious leaders, knowing Jesus was different. Yet, as time went on, the road got harder as a disciple. More was required….. and less and less followed.

The parallel wasn’t lost on me.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High…”

You can’t be serious Jesus. You actually expect us to forgive our oppressors and the ones in power? They are in the wrong. They are misusing it and all of us regular folks will have to pay for it.

“…because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked….”

Um.. what about all that wrath stuff that the prophets talked about! You’re supposed to deliver us and punish them!

Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” – Luke 6:35-36

Then he went on to explain just what mercy looked like for those who wanted to follow him: don’t be so quick to judge, check your heart, watch your motives, forgive if you expect to be forgiven, don’t just listen and give lip service. Be different, actions matter.

Later, John tells a story of how Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, they had to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood (John 6:53+). For good Jews who knew that God didn’t want child sacrifice and that they were not to drink blood (both condemned in Torah) – I’m sure this sounded like sacrilege. John said many left that day and couldn’t follow him any more. But to those that did, the mystery of this teaching must have caused them to search and understand what he meant.

I thought about after his resurrection, when Jesus challenge Peter to feed his sheep, Peter looked back and asked “But… what about that guy?” (meaning the disciple John). Jesus’ answer was essentially this:

What is that to you?

If that doesn’t speak to the fact that we all have our own path to follow, I’m not sure what does. And I don’t mean it in that generic attitude of “I’ll do my own thing” that we tend to have as westerners. We have to be careful not to look at others who are walking with Jesus and compare or wonder why we can’t do what they can, or how come God didn’t do that or ask that of us.

Some things, we are all “called” to. The good news, the gospel, is that God has come to invade the earth with his promise of redemption, restoration, and shalom. Tell that story. Live into that reality.

If you’ve headed down the wrong path, made wrong choices, there’s forgiveness. If you have been denied justice, He knows. That belongs to Him, because sometimes it’s not given in this world. Yet he offers His very presence as a trade. He gives real joy, life, and strength in the middle of every part of life, in a way only you will be able to explain once you experience it.

Those who choose to walk in the way of Jesus – you all have a story. You are, like the disciples, the ones who get to – even in your doubt (Thomas) and denying (Peter) and misunderstanding of what might be best (Martha) – be a living representative for the reality of God in your corner of the world, your job, your neighborhood, your life. It doesn’t have to be huge or something that is big and flashy to be real. You don’t need your social media “followers” to like it if you post about it. You know what He has done, you know how He has called you to love others and serve them. So do that.

For some…. like the fact the trail thinned out for me near the top…. You may find there are places in your life that Jesus may ask you to go, and no one else seems to be going that way. He may have put a specific burden on your heart to reach a particular people group, start something new that fills a need, or love someone that no one else wants to. He may have asked you to give up something that’s hard, or that you feel you have a “right” to because you’ve worked for it. Take that risk. Talk to trusted friends, and trust He’s in it. Stay in conversation with Him about it, and He’ll give you the wisdom you need.

I realize it can feel lonely. It can make you question if you heard Him right. You might not get a ton of people to join you, or others might not seem to understand the level of commitment you have in whatever it is… but do what He has put on your heart. Do it faithfully, being fully human, but filled with his Spirit. You won’t do it perfectly because He’s the only one that is, so have grace for yourself. He’s got you!

You never know what the result might be.. the seeds sown, the lives changed. One day, you’ll find out!

Blessings, my friends – and don’t stop seeking!

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.

Me & Peter have more in common than I’d like to admit

What comes to mind for you when you think of Peter in the Bible?

His denial of Jesus after he swore he would never leave, even after Jesus predicted it?

Jesus forgiving and calling Peter to take care of and feed his sheep, after his resurrection?

His first “sermon” proclaiming God’s fulfillment to his people, and the falling of the Holy Spirit on many people, in the book of Acts?

Or maybe it’s the vision God gave him where he showed him all sorts of animals that were unclean according to Jewish law, and yet God told him it was ok to eat them (which shortly thereafter Peter understood God was showing him He was no longer calling non-Jews “unclean” and that everyone should have a chance to hear the news of Jesus, follow him, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

There’s a passage in the Bible that you might be less familiar with. It’s found later, in one of Paul’s letters to the Galatians, and its an example of how even in the early days of the church, leaders had to be called out for their fear.

You see, after his vision, Peter understood that God fully accepted non-Jews. Whereas Jewish law prohibited Jews from eating with non-Jews, Peter no longer held to that law because of what God had showed him. He fully accepted the non-Jews in fellowship and celebrated their inclusion in the community of God. Yet at some point, Jews who followed Jesus came to visit Peter in Antioch – and, fearful of their judgement, Peter began to follow that old law again, separating himself from the Gentiles. Paul confronted him publicly about it (Galatians 2:11-16), because he believed Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. People are justified by faith in Jesus, not following the law, Paul reminded him.

Ouch. How many of us would like to be called out in front of a crowd by another believer (or even a non-believer?) for not acting in a way that is consistent with the gospel?

I recently experienced that in a heart to heart conversation with my oldest the other night. Without her knowing, the Lord used the conversation to challenge me in a few things that only I would understand. I walked away convicted, finally feeling what Peter must have felt.

You see, growing up what we had modeled to her and all her friends was unconditional acceptance of anyone who identified in the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the kids’ friends who were coming out were being rejected by their families and we felt the best way to reflect the love of Jesus was to create a safe space for them and treat them no differently than before they had come out. I have never stopped doing that.

That being said, my question had shifted some as I worked through the theology side of it. My question was no longer “should we love them” (of course), but it became research on both sides of the coin regarding the question of “how does God really see LGBTQ relationships – specifically faithful monogamous ones.

I found myself in some really gray space, not because of what scripture says (yes I know the few specific scriptures used to condemn LGBTQ relationships) – but because of equally convincing evidence on both sides in the scholarly realm as well as some more recent personal experiences. Note: The scholarly discussion is too lengthy to include here, but I have listed it as a book reference at the bottom of this post.

In the gray space, I had been guarding my words carefully, yet she perceived them (and some silence on my part as well) as judgement, and thought I had moved away from a position of grace and mercy…. Just like Peter had done.

Ouch.

Now in saying all this, I know that I can’t be responsible for everyone’s perception of me. I have to make sure I am being obedient to the Lord in my actions and walking out His love and grace above all. But this was convicting, because maybe there was some truth of it. Maybe in some way I had stopped having such a graceful heart about things, and I needed that reminder. I needed to go back and read what God had already taught me, just like Peter..

There are so many layers to this whole question for those of us in the church. I don’t think any of us would deny that Jesus has called us to love and show grace to our neighbors, no matter who they are. Where I think we go next is that we know he has called us to holiness as disciples, and we know his constant challenge once he has healed someone in the gospels is to “leave your life of sin” and follow him – so there is the expectation of a changed life in response to the forgiveness and love of Jesus. I think we are guilty of thus assuming that someone who is LGBTQ should then trust God for working through their attractions to others and to submit their desires to him.

Interesting. I would tell someone who is not LGBTQ the same thing. Why do we think we know exactly whether or not Jesus wants this to be addressed in their life? How do we know its not him setting them free to know who they really are?

As you consider whether someone can identify as belonging to the LGBTQ+ crowd and also be a faithful Christian, I would offer up a few thoughts and questions, especially if your first response is “of course it’s wrong”:

1. Do you actually know any people that are gay, lesbian or trans, and have you ever tried to really get to know them and hear their story?

2. If they are Christian, are you able to see them as followers of Jesus, or do you only see that they are LGBTQ? If so, have you done any self inventory to figure out why that is the first thing you see?

3. Are you willing to recognize there are some things that you might not understand about their experience?

4. Are you willing to take a journey of discovery in this, and not just settle for “but there are 6 verses that say this is a sin”? To do that is to fail to consider cultural considerations when those verses were penned, as well as to potentially ignore understanding that has come over time around gender and attraction.

I have had a few experiences with folks in the LGBTQ community that I have had to take into my process in forming a view of how God might see this. They have left me saying “If I am going to say relationships are wrong…. what the heck do I do with all this evidence that God is not asking them to change?” They are like puzzle pieces and I can’t see how to fit them together. Maybe that’s not my job.

For example: I have had a lesbian friend who has been married for many years message me out of the blue on a day that was very hard for me and say “The Lord put you on my heart today in my prayer time. Everything ok?”. I have seen how the Holy Spirit has filled and begun to change a young woman AFTER she could finally be honest with herself that she is bi-sexual. The transformation from death to life over the next year was amazing to watch. I was speechless. I have had conversations with a gay couple down the street from me who, although they never felt comfortable in church, listened to church podcasts faithfully so they could grow in their walk with Jesus. I have been served communion by a gay couple and worshipped with others in the LGBTQ community, hands held high, celebrating the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus on their lives.

Yes, I have also read the very public stories of how others who were in gay or lesbian relationships have left them and found Jesus calling them to either celibacy or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. They are beautiful stories too.

Hence, for me, both sides of this only show me the mystery of some things I cannot understand. God is moving in all of their lives.

Please understand that there is so much more around this topic that can be explored, this is not near doing it justice. There are so many books and blogs and stories that add much more to the questions I am asking here. But this is what God is teaching ME. I could still be wrong about my conclusions. I realize each of us who follow Jesus must seek Him on this and come to our own conclusions… so I share to peak your curiosity, that you might also say, with Peter:

“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)T

Thanks for stopping by, and blessings my friends!

Tama

Book reference: Two views on Homesexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Zondervan publishers (Counterpoints Bible & Theology series)

Pride month gets personal

June is pride month, and I realize its been two years since I posted anything specifically on this topic. Granted, this time last year I was getting ready for my own wedding so my mind was just a BIT pre-occupied….

This year though, I’ve been a bit more thoughtful of what I wanted to post. I will start with my usual disclaimer that this might be harder for some of you to read because we have opposing views, and I can respect that. But write it must, because… my love for Jesus and how far he will go to reach people compels me. I am hoping this and the next few posts will explain.

This year, its more personal than ever before. Re-reading the posts from a few years ago that outlined some of my journey in this space

HERE and HERE

I realize I lost my way a little over the past three years. If I’m honest, it has a lot to do with my fear of what others think getting in the way. I thought I was past that… but I guess not. Time for me to fess up and deal with it, which is not easy because the track that runs in my head goes something like this:

“what-if-people-really-knew-what-I-though-and-then-they-disagree-and-reject-me-then-who-am-I-and-can-they-really-still-want-to-be-in-relationship-with-me-and-disagree-on-one-or-two-things-or-will-they-dismiss-me-completely?”

Yes, yes I know its ridiculous. Maybe some of you do this, maybe some of you don’t. But if we are honest, a lot of us have a default track that runs in our own heads, right? Maybe it comes from your childhood, maybe its your own inner critic. I’m sure your track runs differently, but if you have one, you can understand how compelling they can be – and how paralyzing sometimes. Or maybe you are one of those people like my husband who doesn’t have an “inner voice” track that plays in your head (I would really like to ask God one day why some people are blessed with that ability to NOT have one.. LOL).

I am just starting to make some really good friends here in my new life, and I am pretty dang sure that is why this is so frightening for me. I flat out do not want to be rejected. There. I said it. So, I fight the inner critic of mine (and the voice of the enemy which sounds strangely like my inner critic), and press forward.

Part of why this is so personal for me is that over the course of the past year, both of my kids have come out and identify now with the LGBTQ+ community. Although they are no longer dating, my oldest dated a woman for a year, and my youngest is now identifying as non-binary (meaning not female, not male, using they/them pronouns, has changed their name, and has begun to share some of what it’s been like for them the past few years.

NOTE: All of this is public knowledge as they posted it themselves on social media, so I am not violating their privacy in sharing.

Even with my heart for the LGBTQ+ community and how I have tried to advocate for them quietly in my corner of the world, I have to be honest that this was MUCH harder than I expected. You would think I would celebrate them coming into their own identities. Instead, all it did was push to the front that maybe I had some unanswered questions and concerns of my own. It put me back into a huge gray space theologically, ground that I thought I’d covered. I hate admitting that – and will cover more of that in the next post.

As a mom, I remained committed to LOVE my kids no matter what, no matter how much internally I might have struggled. It has been a “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” kind of thing before God for me. I’m grateful that some close friends have been really gracious and been loving both me and my kids, getting to know both of them for who they are. I am not sure I could do this without them.

That being said, I have a lot to say and its going to take a few posts this year, so consider this Part 1.

I am by NO MEANS a scholar on this, but I’d like to share some of the scriptures that have been guiding scriptures for me in this journey.

Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”. Pretty sure I don’t have to explain that one

Romans 12:9 “Love must be sincere”. To me, to show love and then harbor internal judgement on how someone is living their life isn’t sincere

1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love bears all, believes all, hopes, and endures all”. To me, this has meant I have to bear the burden of working through the theology I need to work through, because the relationship with my kids depended on it. It wasn’t something I could lightly explain publicly and then feel differently at home.

Psalm 33:15 “He who forms the hearts of all, who understand, has insight to all they do”

Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” -these challenged me both that maybe God was thinking differently about all this than I was. (I realize the verse in Isaiah is taken out of context, but it has still been something the Holy Spirit has used to speak to me so … I have to let it speak to me about this.)

All that being said, I’m not here just because of my kids. Or my relationship with my ex-husband. I am not here because of being convinced by some “fine sounding arguments saying what I want to hear” that Timothy warned about, or because I have ignored scripture. In fact, over the past year I have delved deeper into study of the text, reading from accredited biblical scholars on both sides of the discussion, and have spent much time in prayer knowing very specifically what the Lord wants me to walk out.

I am still at the place knowing that the LGBTQ+ community is welcome at the table of Jesus, they are loved by God and are worthy of the grace of Jesus, and that to exclude them means we are missing part of the body of Christ. And I’m facing the fear of saying that publicly.

So I guess I want to ask: Are you willing to recognize there might be some mystery to this that we do not understand?

My next few posts will delve into some questions I think we all could be asking, if we are willing to listen. The next generation and their willingness to hear the gospel may very well depend on it.

Blessings my friends!

Tama

When figurative language fails

A section of the Arkansas river in Buena Vista, CO

Any time I am near a river, the verse that John wrote in his gospel where Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38) comes to mind. How can it not? It’s an easy visual: If I seek Jesus, my heart should look like this stream. Right? Full of faith, confidence, joy in God. I am sure for all of us there are days where this might be easier to grasp, and others where it seems near impossible given all that is going on around you.

I wonder if this is even something people think about today.

Are we “thirsty” for something other than what’s trending on the social media platforms, the news feeds, political debates, or any other of the many, many things we can feast on when we are bored, tired, or trying to find something to fill our minds? Even as believers its easy to think that if we can feast on enough of these things, know how to prove ourselves “right” in a debate, or if we ingest enough instagram or blog “tidbits” of scripture that we have drunken living water and had our fill. My tendency is to read, read, bike, read (and snack) and read and bike some more (and snack more). I have to remind myself that even if I am reading books about God, this is not drinking living water either.

Those in Jesus day had heard of God as being “living water” from the prophet Jeremiah. They had heard that one day, living water would flow out from Jerusalem from Zechariah. They had been challenged by Isaiah to come to the waters of God to satisfy their soul. For an agrarian people who desperately needed rain to survive, the reality that God was the one that provided that the water that allowed them to live, I can only imagine this figurative language made sense to them.

What is interesting to me is that this statement is only made in the book of John. No other gospel records this, but let me reassure you: its not because Jesus didn’t really say it, or because the other gospel writers didn’t think it was important. The author of the gospel of John had a completely different core message than the other three (who focused on kingdom, repentance, and God’s fulfillment of his promise). Not that John’s gospel doesn’t address those things, but based on the stories and teachings of Jesus he included, his purpose was more to show the person of Jesus and his existence before time, as well as how he was the same YAHWEH who had been speaking to them all along.

What is even MORE interesting to me is that this claim was made on the last day of the festival of Sukkot, often titled as the “Feast of Tabernacles” in our bibles. The significance of this is crazy. This feast was held in fall after the harvest, and it was one of great celebration that lasted a full week. People came from all over to Jerusalem and built temporary huts to live in, as commanded in Leviticus 23:33-43. They celebrated God’s goodness to them, and sought His blessing on next year’s harvest.

Every day people would come and offer gifts to the Lord, then go back to sleep in their hut. On the last day, traditionally the priest would take a pitcher, march from the temple to the Pool of Siloam (which was fed from the Spring of Gihon), get some fresh water, and then return to the temple. He would stand near the altar and pour out the water as the people would cry and chant “Oh Lord, save us!” Symbolically, it was a cry for deliverance and saving by His provision in the next year of another good harvest.

Imagine for a moment having travelled with your entire family for a few days to get to Jerusalem. You are standing in a crowd of thousands, as you have since your childhood, celebrating the harvest that was harder than usual to reap this year. Yet you come to thank God and honor Him. You join with others, praying for rain for the next years crop and crying out for God to save you as a people, since you were living under an oppressive regime. Imagine watching this water being poured out…. and then a man you do not know stands up and says these words:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”

I wonder if I would have been curious as to what he meant, or brushed it over and ignored it? It helps sometimes to listen to how the original language draws a picture for us.

_____________________________________________________________________________

In Greek, the word for thirst, when used figuratively means “those who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened”

Likewise, the word for drink, when used figuratively, means “to receive into the soul what serves to refresh, strengthen, nourish it unto life” (Blueletterbible.org)

_____________________________________________________________________________

In other words, what Jesus was saying is this: Those who need support and strength. Those who long for life giving stuff in their innermost being (often translated ‘heart’)… come and get it. I am the one that can deliver what you are looking for.

This is text we have to wrestle with today, my friends, because it’s just as applicable for us as it was the day it was spoken.

Do we recognize the thirst in our own lives, so that we can see the thirst of others? Are we letting OUR thirst be quenched by the very Spirit of God that was promised, or are we letting ourselves be dulled by the things of life that distract, or perhaps things in our past that tell us this water isn’t enough, it’s too low, it’s unpredictable, it’s unsafe?

I suspect that many of you who have been believers for a while have a complicated relationship with an understanding of the Holy Spirit, perhaps due to church stuff. But when we look back at scripture, it is this very Spirit that is to breathe on us, into us, just like the disciples, to BE the people of God. We need this living water just as much as people did when Jesus first spoke those words.

It is the Spirit that enables us to press on in loving our kids and families and neighbors …. that wound us, reject us, misunderstand us.

It is the Spirit that enables us to believe that God exists and moreover, He hasn’t stopped pursuing the broken people of this world…..including us.

It is the Spirit that will continue to lead us into truth – about ourselves, our world, and the church. It is the Spirit that will show us how to move forward so that we are aligned to Jesus and His mission, not ours – regardless of the political landscape.

It is the Spirit that will expose our motives, our weaknesses, our obsession with self, until we understand that only in being broken and poured out is the life of Christ revealed in us to a world that needs to know there is hope for them as well.

So as the summer starts and (hopefully) we can all get outside more and do the things we have been missing for a while – don’t forget to take time to drink in the Spirit of God and let Him refresh you… so that rivers of living water will pour out of YOU.

Blessing, my friends!

When it’s -6 outside

This morning I woke up early, as usual even though I have the day off. Sun peeking through the curtains so I know its at least 7 am. I figure it’s cold out since a frigid snap has decided to blow through the western and midwest part of the country. Still, there is still something so delightful about the early morning when no one is out and snow is on the ground that I cannot let go of. It beckons, that is the only way to say it.

Not wanting to wake my husband, I make a mental note of everything I need: base layers, flannel lined jeans, wool socks, a sweater. Grab my phone, sneak out of the room and head to the kitchen to check the temperature on the weather app:

-6. Yup. Pretty dang cold.

Well at least its not -11 like in the Springs. (because another 5 degrees below zero makes a ton of difference (can you hear my sarcasm?)… Frankly once it drops below zero I am not sure I can tell the difference but mentally it just seems that much colder). Anyway.

I finish layering up and creep outside, heading to the lake nearby to take a lap. I was right. It’s just me. I love it. (although I am sure everyone sitting inside looking at me through their windows thinks I’m nuts. It’s ok. I am .. a little.)

The air is so still, for which I am grateful. I’m not sure I could handle wind on top of the cold, that I know. The lake is frozen over again and strangely the geese are nowhere to be found. I wonder.

Then I hear this sound, even above three layers on my head: birds are singing. Really? I look around to see where they are.. but see nothing. I can hear them though, they are here somewhere. Eventually as I make my way around the lake as I look in the tops of the trees I see a cluster of red winged blackbirds up in the trees, basking in the sun as its rays pour out over the tops of the houses. Then towards the back of the lake the song is even louder, echoing out over a sanctuary area nestled in a spot I had never seen before. Tons of birds, like a chorus.

I have to pause for a minute here and just explain something about myself. I normally do not pay much attention to birds. When I lived in the Chicago suburbs and was out running, they were always a reminder to me that spring was around the corner, but other than that – they are just nice background noise (please forgive me if that sounds callous, all you bird lovers. I know they are exquisite, they are just not my thing. God bless you if they are your thing. You help me appreciate them).

I stopped to pay attention to these birds because I wanted to purposely listen.

You see, I used to feel the world was alive and “enchanted” some might say, every living thing beckoning me to admire it, to worship, to see its beauty and connect with the One that made it…. And somewhere along the way even though I still am thankful for the beauty of creation, its beauty has somehow crept up into my cerebral realm and been relegated to “just fact”. Meaning, the wonder of it takes longer to get to sometimes. Sometimes the wonder feels… absent. I am not sure I like living like that, because it makes me wonder if I will miss something the Spirit wants to show me.

Ever been there?

When the year started, I asked the Lord what I needed to learn, or re-learn this year.

Wonder, the Spirit seemed to whisper. Wonder.

And so that was why I stopped to listen to those birds, to see what I could hear from them and learn, to wonder what lesson Jesus might teach from them if he were here today. NOTE: This is not easy for me as a logical thinker, even if I can have long deep talks about the meaning of life… LOL

So, here goes:

  1. It is below freezing. They are still singing just like they would in spring. Why? Because that is what birds do, that is their song, their unique song given to their unique breed by their creator.  And it made me ask this:  Can we do the same? When our world is cold outside, or when its cold in our inner world, do we still know the song we were created to sing? Do we know what it sounds like, or have we forgotten the chorus somewhere along the way? If you have, how do you find it again?

    Jesus spoke about his kingdom being something that a little child understands, but we as adults often miss it. Or lose it… So I wonder….is this a work to undertake, to find the song that you have forgotten to sing to yourself, to your creator, to the people around you?

    Is your song one of music or writing, is it building or creating, is it protecting and providing? Is it service, giving of yourself or your time, is it creating beauty or stability for others to rest in?

    Because just like these birds, even when I couldn’t see them, I could hear them. When you can sing your song, it’s like living hope. People will see it, they may choose to join in, or they may not, but they will find hope and healing by being around you. And isn’t that what the prophet Malachi  spoke of, when he said that the “sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” – speaking of Jesus? And we who know Him, therefore carry that healing to others. How we do it, how we sing our song or speak of healing will differ based on each of our life stories….but it needs to be sung.

    2. The location of these birds differs from the location of the geese. What do they gain by their location?  The red feathered blackbirdsare at the tops of the trees, basking where they can see the sun. The geese however, were all gathered on the other side of the lake around the one spot that hasn’t frozen over, sitting with their beaks curled back and tucked into their feathers. They are quiet. Of course they all started squawking when I got there, but they never moved – it was if they just wanted to acknowledge I had disturbed their peaceful view or something. I know their location has everything to do with the type of bird (because I’ve never seen geese in a tree) – but still. Hang with me here a sec.

    I thought about the necessity of the two things this time of year: the (bare) warmth of the sun, and a place you can get water and find food, and it made me think of seasons of the soul and of life we go through.

    Sometimes, we feel like all is well and we can easily see each day bringing something new. We know that even if the sun is hidden by clouds, it’s still there. We can still walk with hope, joy, and purpose because we know the One that created us and we know who we are. 

    Sometimes, we are in seasons where all we want to do is sit and huddle down, making sure we have sustenance, but we tuck our beak in our feathers and just take care of self.

    Which one are you at the moment? Or are you a mix of both?

    With all that has changed for you this past year, whether or not your life has been affected a lot or a little by COVID, don’t forget that your own life, your own faith, goes through seasons too. God and his faithfulness has not changed, but it’s important to recognize the season you are in, and learn the lessons you can from it, because you will not stay there. 

After all, if you have been around geese and watched them for a season or two… you know very well they get up from their winter perch on the ice and spread their wings and fly. And squawk. And fiercely defend their young.

Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com

Your life – all of it, with however many years you are given – can and will display the glory of the One that created you, cleansed you, gave you hope, and brought you back to life over and over… because that is why He came to live and dwell among us. That is the beauty I see in Romans 8:18 right now: where the future glory of all that God has planned in a world remade starts to break into our lives now. His hope, rising like the morning sun. Our lives a song, calling out like the birds back to Him in response to His love. Sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly.

Find your song. And know that no matter how it sounds to you, its always beautiful to Him!

Blessings,


Tama

Lessons from Mark’s crucifixion story

Up here in the Boulder area, just like everywhere else, churches are largely still online. There are one or two smaller ones that are meeting in person, but not many. Today we decided to visit one of them, primarily because we know the young lady that is the worship leader.

The congregation must have been doing a full study on the book of Mark, and today we happened in on the story of the crucifixion. I’ll admit that it was hard to sit through a sermon that only seemed to talk about the horror of my sin and how Jesus paid the price. I know he did all that! But it was a bit of a throwback to earlier days when that was all that sermons seemed to be about. Grace, Jesus. You do so much more than save from sin. Grace. So I listened, determine to have an open heart for what I needed to be reminded of.

Two things struck me about the story this time. Chapter 15 tells of Simon, a simple passer by that got pulled into the fray. He wasn’t there for the show – the text tells us he was “passing by on his way in from the country”. Maybe minding his own business, maybe pausing to see who was next being crucified. Yet here he was, being commandeered to carry the cross of Jesus, someone he didn’t even know.

This part of the story gave me pause. Why? Because it forces the question:

Do we ever stop to recognize people that are walking right beside us in our own life-crucifying situations?

I hope we do.

Who those people are might surprise you. You might think it *should* be someone who is spiritually mature, or older, or who has the same life experience. But, like Simon, there is the distinct possibility that the person (or people) God brings to walk along side you might be the person (or people) you least expected. It certainly was for me – but what a blessing it turned out to be in time! Be open to that.

I can think of a thousand reasons why Jesus might have wanted one of the disciples to help carry the cross, perhaps so they would learn how to bear a cross with him, but that is not how the story plays out. When we walk a long road bearing a weight of something so hard… we are changed, even when its not our own burden.

The second thing that got me to thinking was the portion where, after being beaten, they put a robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns and “falling on their knees, they worshipped him” (v19)

One can hardly call that worship. It was outright mockery, and it saddened me, but the reason why was because of the richness of what I now carry having spent 2 1/5 years studying the old testament. Over and over, Israel made a mockery of God. They thought they worshipped, but their lives betrayed the words they said and sacrifices they brought. So we all know the story – God decided to step in and fix a system that no human could ever get right.

In Ezekiel, God says he will rescue his flock, he will search after them and look for them (Ezekiel 34:10-11)… and that is exactly what God did through Jesus. He should have received worship, rightful worship.. and yet they did what they had always done, even when their God showed up in the flesh. When he did not bow to their political ideals, their ideas of power and kingship, they took matters into their own hands and did what the world would have done with someone that opposed their ideas: They ended the threat (or so they thought)

So I ask this of myself even as I type it:

Do I ever try and make Jesus bow to my political ideas, my own ideas of power and the way the world should work? (ouch, yes I know, I have to think deeply about this too). The world is not the way it should be, I think we all know that and long for it to change. I HAVE to remember the kingdom he is building is one that is uniquely his, and one that the world will NOT understand. It is won not by political parties or the right people in office, but one by one, in hearts and minds and by mercy and kindness and grace. It will not make sense at times. It will include people that think opposite me, and that is ok.

Let us be people who walk with the sobering knowledge of the crucified Christ – yes. But because of the reality of his resurrection, let us also be people who seek to love those we consider enemies, to walk beside others bearing burdens, and to hold out the hope that the light HAS shone in darkness, and it will NOT overcome.

Blessings, my friends!

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!

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!