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.

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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)

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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!

Another side of worship

I’m in a class on worship now in seminary, and its reminding me of some things I just haven’t talked about much. But I found some old journal entries from about 3 years ago when I was cleaning out a closet, and after reading them I realized one fit perfectly.

I have to give you some background first. I started running my senior year of high school, actually as a psychology class assignment (maybe I can explain that another time). I found I loved it, and I ran all through college. So, needless to say, the entire time I was raising my family, I ran. Three miles turned into 5, then 7 after we moved to Ohio. It became my coping mechanism out of anger, frustration and loneliness. I wrestled with God many times on my runs there. Then it turned into 13 and I realized I like distance. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs and my goal began to be to run marathons and stay trained for half marathons in the winters. Enter the treadmill, which I hated, but was necessary due to the winters. I acquired lots of winter running gear, needless to say!

There was a distinct difference for me between a training run and a run that I was on just for fun. I liked both of course, but sometimes they felt like runs that I had to prove myself on…. and so the runs I went on just for me, just to get out and enjoy running – were always the best. Eventually I added biking to the mix, and sometimes there were just these long rides on country roads that felt the same way. I was free. It was exhilarating.

Side note: I know this might sound weird to most of you. Jon used to always say he never got it – he’d only run if he were being chased by someone with a machete! But that was my thing. I loved it. You probably have your thing too, where you love it and no one else gets it, but it makes you come alive in ways you just can’t explain. Maybe its quilting like my mom, or singing or playing the guitar, or painting or taking amazing pictures like a couple from my old home group. Maybe its fixing cars or tinkering around the house and making things with your hands. Maybe its planning and coordinating, or cooking or playing hockey… well.. you get where I’m going, right?

Don’t get me wrong – my family supported me and were always there for my races, they thought I was weird but never complained. We’d go on walks together, which I loved! But because I felt like was the only one who liked being outdoors, pushing myself and being active. I have to admit there were times where I felt lonely in it.

I remember the day when the Lord clearly spoke to me that He had made me like this, given me this love of everything outdoors and challenging. That was groundbreaking for me. The thought that God in his wisdom made me with a love of being outside and liking physical challenges??? Woah.

Have you actually every stopped and looked at that thing that you are good at, the thing that you love love love – and considered that it is both a gift to you and a way you worship God when you do it?

Romans 12:1 is always the passage that I come back to when I need to remember that our entire lives are an offering to God. I love how it’s phrased in the Message:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.”

That means everything. The things we LOVE to do, that are uniquely ours and we feel like we were made to do them, and also the day to day mundane things that just have to be done because – well – its life.

Jesus talked about how God was looking for people who would worship in “spirit and in truth”, and my friends, that has a lot more to do with our everyday life than it does with what goes on Sunday mornings. Oh, I know that what goes on Sunday is and should be worship, but we can’t mistake going to church on the weekend for the only way we worship God. You might question “yeah but how can what I do be worship?”

My friends, when you have chosen to walk this way of Jesus, when you are trying to live this life in a way that reflects the reality of God and his grace for others, his love for people around you, and a life where the Spirit of God is evident, you need to know that it is in the very act of the offering that we worship.

And that is beautiful to God.

So whatever you do today, offer it to God.

The fact you tried to get out of bed when things were hard today –

The fact you did your best on that presentation at work –

The fact you made your kids PB&J for lunch or did laundry or watched toddlers and taught them (or tried to teach them) how to share.. again.

The fact you sat at the hospital with a friend or loved one going through a hard time.

That nice thing you did for someone that no one will never know about.

Those are all ways we worship, when we offer our lives to God.

So offer. Thank God for what you have, right where you are, and offer your life.

Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

A new take on Ephesians 2

June is Pride month, for the LGBTQ/ queer community, and usually I don’t post much. Not to ignore it, but more because I can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it. This year, I have been ruminating on a few things. Specifically….I have been reading Ephesians…. and yesterday morning I was stuck on chapter 2, specifically verses 14-18:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Let me just start by saying I realize not everyone is going to track with where I am going, and that is ok. I have to be faithful to the heart God has given me for the LGBTQ community. If you are open at all, I’d encourage you just to listen. Not judge, not condemn, but listen. That’s all I ask. I’ll trust that if it’s something the Lord wants to teach you about now, he’ll do that. I’m not here to argue or debate. Just share…and plead.

I know we all see this passage in Ephesians and read it literally, that yes, we who are not Jewish by heritage now have access to the savior promised to them. We are grafted in. Having been married to a Messianic Jew for 25 years, I get that so clearly. I used to joke that I am about as gentile as they get (haha!) But I am trying to put myself in Paul’s shoes, at how revolutionary it might have been for early believers, to include the Gentiles in all the promises of God. After all, for generations the Gentiles were people who they just knew were outside of God’s favor. God didn’t love them, they were just sure of it. Heck, the honesty of Psalms shows they prayed for God to smite them and bring judgement on them. Granted, they were worshipping another god, bowing to idols, I know. But still.

I can’t help but wonder if here, even in a country full of such richness of culture and heritage, we get stuck in reading this as Jew/Gentile and we forget it has such larger implications. Could we (shouldn’t we?) begin to read this that Jesus has brought peace to us, between those who are “same sex oriented” and those who are “opposite-sex oriented”?

Call me heretical, but what if we could, in grace and mercy, read Paul’s words to us like this instead:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united queer and straight into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us….Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Isn’t that what this passage really means? In Christ, people who were at opposite ends were brought together to reflect the goodness and richness of the glory of God. In times of election, I could say the same for Democrats and Republicans, frankly. At the cross, we are supposed to be equals. Yet somehow…. this seems a bigger bite to chew.

Back in Paul’s time, I’m sure some Jews thought “but those Gentiles are not holy! They do things/think things we aren’t supposed to as Jews”.

Hm. I thought Jesus made us holy and that settled the score. Holiness, sanctification, being made whole and complete into who we were created to be, to reflect God’s glory in all its fullness, to a world that thinks there is no hope – isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t that what happens to all of us when we submit our lives to Jesus and walk out his principles? More than than that, sure it feels risky but we have Peter right there in Acts arguing for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises of God in our sacred text. What if this became us, arguing for the inclusion of those who are LGBTQ in our own churches?

Too often we shut the door at even considering and asking questions. We tout verses “The Bible says THIS”! I know what it says. I have done the research on original language, original usage, passage context, and read things on both sides of the argument. But do we ever enter into conversation to see their humanity, ask their story, see that they too bear the image of the one we claim? Or do we stay away because we don’t know how to start? All it takes is an invite to lunch and a humble heart willing to learn.

If they are seeking Jesus, they are part of the body of Christ – just a part too afraid to bring their whole selves to church because they fear how everyone will react. If you have reached a place of trust with someone so they actually TELL you this is part of their story – LOVE THEM. They have not “changed” who they are. You are just now seeing a part of them they don’t show too many people. Defend them. Include them. Have them to dinner. Help them grow in the gifts God has given them. Pray for them. Then help others get to a place of compassion and understanding too.

The larger LGBTQ community needs the life of God just like the larger straight community, people. We all need Jesus. We all have massive glaring inadequacies, we have all failed, we all want better for our kids, our communities, our families and the world. Can we make it more about that than their sexuality? They are SO MUCH DEEPER than that. We all are.

Lessons from a frozen lake

The first winter we were in the Chicago suburbs, I decided to take the girls downtown to see Navy Pier. Why I did that in February, I will never know, as February can often be bitter cold (which I didn’t know at the time) – but it happened to be one of those rare not-below-zero-no-wind-days – so we lucked out. I’ll never forget the view from the ferris wheel overlooking Lake Michigan. It was stunning. Having never seen anything but lakes in Virginia until then, I expected it to be dark and muddy. What I found staring back at me instead was an aqua colored lake, frozen from the winter temps. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The ice near the shore had started to crack and split apart, and so you could see the water beneath. Gorgeous. Not quite the aqua of the ocean near Mexico, but it was pretty darn close.

I was reminded of this memory on a run around a lake near Boulder recently, probably because when I ran around it less than a month ago, it was completely frozen solid except for a small hole around which all the local ducks had gathered. This time, in the near 70- degree temps, you could tell the sun of Colorado had done it’s work: the ice was melted, the darker waters rippled, and the ducks squawked, as if they too were celebrating the start of spring.

It got me to thinking.

It’s easy to understand why a smaller lake (maybe one of 2 square miles at most) would freeze over. Yet even a lake as large as Lake Michigan (it has a surface area of over 22,000 square miles) freezes over due to the cold temperatures. The surface ice is thick. Once frozen, it takes some serious continued warming of the sun to create even small fissures that will break through and allow the water to peek out.

But that water was always flowing, even under the frozen surface of ice.

It reminded me of how sometimes, our hearts can get to be like Lake Michigan: beautiful but frozen, the living water that Jesus said would flow out of our hearts is still there, just …. covered. I’m sure its not something we know is happening, just like a lake that big can’t freeze overnight. It’s gradual.

It’s not the weeds that Jesus spoke of that make people walk away from faith because they are not grounded. It’s not a heart of stone that we might have had once in our lives. It’s just a place where that living water seems so hard to find, to feel flowing. It’s a place where we may continue to walk in faith, knowing God is real, but the deep stuff we once could drink from and hunger for seems unresponsive and hard to find.

My friends, if this is your spiritual walk right now, if this is where you are and you question if that living water matters any more, or maybe you are wondering if you can just skate on top of it for a while…

Hold on.

Ice forms little by little in the coldest weather. Isn’t that what life can do to us? Little by little. We may dance a bit, knowing we haven’t given up yet, and so the idea of living water still is something we resonate with. But just like the gray skies and freezing temperatures can cause a lake as large as Michigan to freeze over, who are we to think that we are any different?

We cannot create our own living water.

Yes, faith is the essence, the substance of things we cannot see. In my mind, this is a head thing. We can logically wrap our heads around this part. We can say we are not giving up on what we believe. But wouldn’t simply holding onto a belief and not fighting to know the living water that comes with that belief be a little like trying to skate on a frozen lake?

How can you let the light of God into your life right now and start to thaw places that have iced over, even if you never meant it to happen? I know we want things quick. Sometimes God does that. More often, it seems He doesn’t and it takes continued exposure, just like it takes days of sunlight and warmer weather to break through thick ice.

The living water is there, my friends, because the source hasn’t gone anywhere.

With the spring coming in our part of the world… why don’t you take time to join all of creation and let God thaw you out as well? 🙂