Geekspeak and the Cosmic Battle

As I sat in church this morning, I have to admit I checked out a little. Given that we are in the Lenten season, the church I am attending is focusing on different aspects of the cross from now until Easter. Today’s message was on the power of the cross to free us from the chains of sin.

Its not that I don’t agree. It’s not that I don’t get it. But I sat there the entire time looking around and wondering…. for how many is this going over their head? It’s all theologically right. It’s all biblically sound. I could see heads nodding for those that believe, those that were following what the pastor was saying. She had lots of good analogies too, in the “light vs dark” battle: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and sundry action movies. I mean, after all, it’s always what things come down to, right? Evil and darkness seem to be stronger and then the good guys come in and fight. They might look like they are losing but they win in the end.

As I sat there listening, three things came to mind:

1. The Christian faith has a ton of its own lingo that, unless you have been in church for a while, it sounds like an entirely different language, one that you can walk away and go “well that sure sounds nice but what does it MEAN?”

2. The job that I had for over 16 years an an analyst, and one that I still do from time to time, is essentially one that requires me to translate “geekspeak” to everyday language so that the business owner will know what they are getting

3. God always uses what we do (aka our jobs) in life to translate spiritual realities into everyday, understandable truth

We’re studying the whole cosmic battle stuff in my Torah class now in seminary, and it’s really actually pretty cool. We’ve been looking at all these other Ancient Near East texts and seeing how the ANE people really saw their world. They told stories of how gods and godesses built the world and fought for the right to create and give destinies. They weren’t trying to describe material creation, rather, they were trying to make sense of how the world came to be. It sets the context of Genesis and how truly *revolutionary* it must have been to hear how and why people were created in a whole new light. Yet reading these stories with 21st century ears, it’s all very mythical and easy to think “wow, how could they believe that stuff?”

I can’t help but wonder if that is sometimes how the message of the cross sounds to people today.

I know Paul addresses that in Corinthians when he says:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness [moria, also means absurdity] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18

But I am not satisfied with just quoting that verse or resting in that truth and not trying to translate it. Nor should you. For those of us who have experienced forgiveness, who know what God has done to set us free from the things that have kept us captive — whether or not you are still in church or have given up on the body of Christ — this is the work we are called to:

Translation.

Yes, sometimes the message of the cross may sound absurd to people. What I find interesting though, is the word Paul uses that is translated “perishing” in the verse above also means to render useless. Think about that for a second. How often do the struggles of life, or words spoken by others, kill hopes and dreams, and make people think they are useless in the world? It doesn’t make logical sense that a cross would undo that, which is why Paul says it sounds like foolishness, absurdity. Yet it does, and once you have experienced it, you know how to explain it: The message of LOVE on the cross, the One that is light that breaks through darkness absolutely has the power to overcome!

You see, I think the translation stuff often happens only in smaller settings. When someone can honestly stay, to someone they have relationship with “I don’t get it. What exactly do I need to be set free from? What battle is being waged over my life? What if I really am doing the best I can to live a good life, where does sin fit in? What did God forgive me of? Does it really matter? How do I join God in fixing the world?”

The whole cosmic battle idea – that we have been purchased from darkness and brought into life – I believe, don’t get me wrong. I know there is a war against my soul, your soul, against my kids, against goodness in the world, against belief that there even is a God. If modern day slavery and human trafficking and racism and abuse don’t prove that to you, then I don’t know what will. The world is not as it should be for many people’s lives, both here and abroad. And I think that this side of the cosmic battle – that justice and mercy and goodness should reign in our communities and in the world – is much easier to grasp as a starting point than something that sounds like a cosmic battle being fought over our lives individually.

The cross is powerful when you take the time to look at what it really means for your life. I have been humbled to realize that in many more ways over this past year. In communicating God’s message of love and forgiveness, let us not forget that those who do not yet believe will need to hear about the message of the cross in language that makes sense to them. I’ll be honest….. in this day and age, I can’t help but wonder if communicating that Jesus suffering at the hands of people who had a political game to play makes more sense. He gets it.

But you know what?

God is fully able to show people what they need to see about Him. Chains look one way to an addict, and another to a prisoner… and another to a mom or dad in suburbia just trying to raise their kids and protect them and teach them how to grow up, a person struggling with an eating disorder or someone trying to hide their sexual orientation. Missing the mark looks one way to a wife or husband who just yelled at their spouse and immediately regrets it, to the politician who compromised on something they hold dear, to the teen who struggles with the pressures their peers place on them. Fear has all sorts of faces too, for the soldier at war, the daughter or son in an abusive or demanding home, the person who has to hold it all together because what would happen if they didn’t?

We all need to be rescued from something. Only you know what that is. Only your neighbor or co-worker does for their lives. So whether the “cosmic battle” story makes more sense to people on a big scale or small one, it never ceases to amaze me how much difference it makes when we invite God into our own stories and places. If you believe, you have done that at some point in your life.

Don’t get stuck in the language of the Christian world. Find a way to communicate the truth of what you have had to learn, of what the cross has done for you, of what battle has been fought in your life, and won. Then… share THAT. Because THAT is what people will understand first, before they ever read about it in the pages of scripture.

Just a little discontent

So I’m going to be honest about something. There are days when I look back on my faith even a few years ago, and I wonder if I had a polly-anna view of life? I have always been someone who can see the bright side of things, have hope when all seems lost, and find joy in hidden places. I have struggled to understand why people walk away from God and faith when things get hard, or when prayers go unanswered.

It’s not that life has been easy for me. I have dealt with hard things, just like anyone: two miscarriages, lots of church hurt, moving and losing friends, feeling alone and hopeless. I have navigated life with an ex and a daughter with mental illness. Seasonal depression of my own. Loss of dreams and starting over. Sure, my stuff might not compare to yours or someone else’s, but we all have our own journey, right? Yet in all this, somehow I still never understood why people questioned God’s faithfulness or love. I just didn’t get it.

Now I do.

I put the house on the market three months ago. I figured it was the best way to be a good steward of my finances, seeing as how I didn’t need a huge house just for me. Maddie had moved out, Maia was up at school, and it was a chance to slim down and save money. I prayed, I trusted God would provide a buyer. My parents had finished their basement, so I had a small apartment I could move into until I figured out the next step. That never happened.

I had all sorts of conversations with God about how I needed Him to provide – not just in this but in other areas as well. Nothing. No offer… even after reducing the price. Oh – its not that the house isn’t beautiful. I got GREAT reviews. Then folks either decided to build their own (I should get commission for that from the builders I think.. LOL) – or had complaints about the parking or yard. Ugh. So, needless to say, the house is off the market now and I figure God must have something else planned.

But it was in this process that I began to understand why people question God when things don’t go the way they prayed, or how they wanted them to go. Mind you, I have heard a ton of sermons on this over the course of my life. How sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes the answer is NOT YET. God always knows best.

None of this brought me any peace or change in my perspective. I know it should have, and I should have graciously said in faith “ok God I trust you, do whatever you want”. Don’t get me wrong: I could acknowledge this externally. I knew in my head this was true. It was my soul that wasn’t quite letting go, and I couldn’t figure out why. My guy (yes.. I know I haven’t told you much about him yet. Keep waiting) kept asking me if I was patient. I kept saying yes. Obviously all my verbal process/fretting/questioning betrayed that!

I finally realized it wasn’t an issue of patience for me.. it was that I had stopped being content with the way things were playing out.

Yes, yes …. I know the verse in Philippians where Paul says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”. But I couldn’t just throw that verse at my life and then say “see Tama, you should be content”. I am a planner. I am a logical person. I am the kind of person that organizes for vacation. I schedule fun. Weeks out. (Yes I am a type “A”… go ahead and proceed with the mocking.. I can take it. … ). So when what seemed to be a really good plan wasn’t working, I struggled to understand why. All the praying in faith that the Lord taught me about years ago just felt like I was trying to manipulate God now. I finally had to just stop asking and pay attention to the reality, and accept that maybe MY plan wasn’t exactly what HE had in mind.

Wow. Imagine that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been at this place before.

I am also sure some of you are laughing or chuckling at this very moment.

But I get it now. Why, when for our best laid plans, sometimes people walk away from faith. God, you didn’t provide. God, you ignored my cries. God, you didn’t rescue me or save my child or my relationships or my job. God where are you? So we walk away out of our misunderstanding and frustration.

Do we realize we are not the only people in the world who have those questions? We are not the only generation that has asked that. Look at the Psalms. Look at stories of people whose countries are at war, who are in hiding for their lives because of their faith. We have it easy here folks. Our world is broken, we are weak in keeping promises and being faithful and we do a really good job of trying to make things go our way even when we don’t realize we do.

But GOD’s character never changes. He is good, He is faithful, He is near, even when we miss him, don’t get it, or are blind. Jesus gets it. Heck, look at how often his own disciples didn’t get what he was doing, didn’t understand God’s plan, and struggles to make sense of what was going on in life.

Is your faith strong enough to hold on? Can you remind others who are struggling, and help be their anchor when they can’t any more?

Around Christmas, I had blogged a bit about not seeing what God is doing until we look at our lives AND the lives of others around us, and only then sometimes it makes sense. I have a feeling that is what is going on here for me, and I’m finally starting to be curious about what that might look like.

Don’t give up friends, your faith is worth more than gold. There is so much more to know about our God, and your life has just begun!

Burned on like a Tattoo

Songs. Specifically worship songs. I know we all go to different types of churches, and there are such different styles of music we like or don’t like. For some of you, hymns are familiar and remind you of the faith in which you walk. For others, you resonate more with the upbeat style. Either way, it always amazes me how much music can move our soul.

I love worship songs.. especially those that are not simply repetitive, because they tend to capture the nuances of the soul and really give you something to sing that you believe. Know what I mean? Yet sometimes, I have a hard time connecting with a song and singing it like I mean it.

Anyone with me?

Not everyone feels like being all happy and joyful the minute they walk into church or turn on the radio. Life toughens us up, we all run a million ways, and it’s hard to switch gears and so sometimes we just “go through the motions” and sing songs because they are in the hymnal or on the screen. Yet like tenderizer to steak, or lime juice in a marinade, worship has a way of softening us, if we will let it. At least, that has been my experience. It has a way of wooing my soul to be willing to let down its guard and just BE. It helps me be willing to hear what God wants to speak, or what I need to learn. I didn’t know that at the start of my journey, but I know it now.

Then there are these times where I sing songs and I don’t resonate with them, but I know they are truth and so I sing them with as much conviction as I can at the time. I remember doing this with one song called “The Desert Song” that a friend would play at my church in Illinois. The lyrics are strong: they declare believe in a God who provides when everything is dry, a God who refines our lives in suffering or pain, a God who brings triumph when the battle is still underway. I remember singing that, thinking of smaller battles in my life God brought victory over, dry times I had experienced thus far.

The bridge is probably the most declarative of all:

“…All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship…”

But singing it on one side of life doesn’t compare to when you sing it on the other side.

I don’t know how to say it any other way. I remember singing this before things got really hard with my younger daughter’s depression, in the middle when my older one was struggling, and I remember singing it after, when I had stood in faith for both of their lives and believed God had more for their stories. The words were sung first in faith, in the middle as clinging to a promise, and on the other side, in triumph.

It’s like those lyrics were burned into my soul as a tattoo, a choice I was making to worship no matter what.

I realize making a choice like this is not always easy. It defies everything the world tells you. It’s nuts to anyone. They think you are just avoiding dealing with reality, or they think you are trying to pretend what is going on is not real. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Making this kind of declaration in worship, or in prayer, or in your car singing to the radio, or in talking to a friend and finally saying what has been rolling around in your soul for a while – it makes a difference.

The reality of this hit me again today in church, when we sang the song “Who can compare?” By Jesus Culture. I remember hearing this song for the first time when things were rough last year as Jon and I started the divorce process. The words were like water for my soul, declaring just what I needed at that moment:

“… You take my hand, and You guide me on. You show me the way to life. And You lift my head, and You give me hope. You show me the way to life…”

That is EXACTLY what the Lord proceeded to do, and the next months were so healing I can’t even begin to put them into words. So when we sang it again today, over a year later… this time it was a sweet reminder of how faithful our God is. Because I am healed. I am full of hope at what He has next for me…. and I know my life still has a ton of fruit to bear in this next season.

So why do I share these two stories? Because I know in faith there are times we walk without proof or assurance that God is really with us, that He is going to do what he said he would do. It’s hard. It can be frustrating. It can take forever and we can lose hope. We will question his goodness, His faithfulness, His purpose…. we will even question His people.

But when you hold onto the truth of who He has said He is, when you defy logic and reason and negative or condemning voices, declaring you will trust Him no matter what….. on the other side of the trial – your faith is refined, and the words you once sang not quite being sure of BECOME YOUR TRUTH.

So.. next time you go to church, or hear a song on the radio.. pay attention to the lyrics. Pay attention to what you sing. What you proclaim. Determine to make it yours. Because when you do…

You will be unshakeable.

The Communion Feast

At the church I attend, they do something kind of unique after they pass the bread and juice (its a huge church so we pass trays…). Every week, they explain it so that newcomers won’t be surprised, and also as a reminder to the rest of us of WHY we do it. You see, after everyone has eaten their wafer and sipped the little cup of juice, you hear this massive sound as everyone shatters the little plastic cups. It is meant to symbolize that what Jesus has done on the cross is finished. The accusation against our lives (in all forms) is shattered. It might sound weird, but it’s pretty cool. I think I even wrote about it in a previous blog a while back.

I love when the body of Christ celebrates communion, as Jesus commanded us to, to remember what he did and the new covenant he ushered in. Yet there is still admittedly something else I always want to ask:

What about the rest? Does everyone forget what else He said?

No, they probably don’t, but its something that is rarely mentioned, which is why I love it and why I always tend to smile when I add this in my head after the communion liturgy is over:

“I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (Matt 26:29, NIV)

Why do I love this so much? Because its a promise. That one day, we will get to sit down and have a glass of wine with the One who has called us by name, the One who has walked with us every step of our lives. We will get to process with him one day. Laugh. Cry. And all will be well… for good.

It reminds me of a passage we read in my Old Testament class last semester, where Moses is up on Mt Sinai with the Lord, after the people told God that he could be their God and they would be his people. Exodus 24:9 tells us that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Ahibu and the 70 elders climbed the mountain and had a feast with God. They ate and drank with him, having a covenant meal.

That just blows my mind.

Now, you can think this sounds nuts, that it didn’t happen, or you can wonder if it really did. But what I love about this is that it reflects SO WELL the hospitality of the ancient near eastern world. Covenants involved meals. Celebrating what was going on. And in this case? God there, celebrating with the people he was calling his own.

We do this too, don’t we? We have meals to celebrate birthdays and graduations, engagements and weddings. We have family meals to get to know our kids friends, backyard barbeques to get to know our neighbors, holiday meals where we invite in folks who have nowhere to go. Meals are bonding…. and there are sometimes I will just sit back, look around, and realize that there is something beautiful and holy about what is going on. I hope you have experienced this at some point too, because I think it represents the best of how our God longs to relate to us.

So yeah, Jesus statement at his last seder to me is something I can’t keep out of my celebration of communion. It makes me think back to the first covenant meal in Exodus, where God called out to a people as his own, one day to be a nation known as Israel….

…. because its a picture of God, here again in the town of Jerusalem, having another covenant meal with his people, this time inagurating a new covenant that depended only on HIS ability to meet it.

Do you get the richness of this???

One day, my friends…. we will join him … and I have a feeling there will be a lot more at the banquet table than we realize. So I challenge you – make room for that in your life today. Open your table to the hurting, the lonely, the outcast, the ones that need to know the richness of His love. Goodness knows Jesus certainly did 🙂

Why are you silent?

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the recent Facebook post some of you have texted me about. At all. I have had this crafted for a while and just didn’t know how to finish it…and at the end you will know why I chose to post this finally.

The silence of God is something that is hard to navigate. I remember early in my walk with the Lord I had gone to a conference with a friend, and they talked about God’s silence in one of the sessions. It was a new concept for me, one that I had never heard of – that sometimes the God of the universe would be silent for a season, and he would seem to be far off, but that we should never be afraid of it because it is for our growth. He never leaves, but he might not answer us, and he might feel distant.

I had been taught that God always wants to speak to us, that he is just waiting for us to start listening… so I spent every waking moment as a young 20-something trying to hear God so I didn’t miss him. Needless to say, I didn’t quite know what to do with that teaching.

That was before I ever experienced a season where I felt he was silent.

For two whole years.

It was crushing. My kids were young, my husband at the time was dealing with some deep depression, and we had just moved far from all family and friends.

And this was before social media (2002) – so staying in touch required writing or calling. Yes people, it was lonely of a different kind.

I started using my runs to vent my anger, my frustration at God. Until that time, I had only ever run maybe three miles. Then 3 became 5, and 5 became 7. (And then my neighbor said if I could do 7 I could do 13 and that’s how I started distance running… )

I digress.

My runs typically were full of anger the first three miles. Then I pushed myself through miles 4 and 5, wrestling with and facing what I was really feeling. By then I was usually exhausted – but for me, it was the only way to come to the end of myself where I could find a center, and remind myself of what Hebrews 11 tells us, that faith is evidence of what we do not see. For me in that season, it meant I had to cling tightly to truth in the midst of not having community to reinforce it:

That nothing could separate me from His love

That His silence didn’t mean I had disappointed him

That I was not under his judgement

That I had the wisdom I needed as a young mom

That somehow, my struggle to continue to pursue God mattered to him, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

For someone who really cared what people though of them (because I hadn’t started even unpacking that yet) – and God seemed distant? It messed with my faith in ways you can’t even imagine.

Yet I am pretty sure some of you have been here too, wondering where God is?

• If he is there, why won’t He answer.

• I have prayed. Why won’t He change my circumstances?

• “Your will be done”, we say, is the Godly response, it is the right heart attitude to have.

But what if what is going on is something we are pretty sure is NOT the will of God? Goodness knows we see this every day on the news. Injustice is all around, and all I can think is …. there is no way that injustice is the will of God.

What if what is going on can only bring pain? Sometimes hard things in life happen and there is only the option to GO THROUGH IT. You don’t have a choice.

What if not hearing from God makes it seem like you are being ignored and that He doesn’t care? We reason, because if God really cared about me, He wouldn’t [insert whatever is bothering you] — let this happen, let me suffer, make it this hard…do I need to go on with how we complete this sentence?

My friend… this is when faith can feel like a jungle, one that demands you fight to see your way through. Sometimes its just .. hard. I’d encourage you to take a step back a moment though, and think about the big picture.

You are not the only one who has walked in these steps.

You are not the only one who has had to struggle and fight to keep your faith and belief in a God that is there, let alone good.

Sometimes the answer that we live in a world that is fallen just doesn’t seem to answer our deep sense of injustice, that things are not right.

BUT GOD IS THERE

Be like Jacob, and wrestle with him. Be like the writers of many of the Psalms and cry out. Then walk in ruthless trust in what he promises, that he says he will never abandon you. Hold onto that even when you aren’t sure you believe it. Proclaim you TRUST him. That can be hard, but when you have known him, HE is your lifeline.

HE HOLDS YOU… even when you cannot hold onto him yourself.

At the top of this blog there is a picture of a Torah scroll. I know it doesn’t seem to match this post… but let me try and explain. I was a bit undone when I saw that in the Denver Seminary library last week. I had to just stand and stare at it a bit, speechless.

What came alive for me was the passage in Luke 4:17-21, where Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61, then promptly says “I’m here, fulfilling what I just read”.

… and here is why I can finally finish this blog. You see, the faith I have, the faith you have…. really is timeless. It comes from a long tradition of people who have trusted God, people who have failed him, people and nations who have struggled to wonder where He was in the course of history — all of it. But God still came to them and loved them and said… I’m here.

You, my friend, have an irreplaceable role to play in the larger story of God and His movement on this earth. Don’t settle for the paltry “everything happens for a reason”. Believe that your God is strong, He will redeem and restore whatever it is you are going through. History testifies to this, in the midst of all the hell our world has been through. God is using you and me to bring his truth, his justice, if we will just step out and let him use us.

Fan, or… something else?

As I sit and think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I am struck by the reality that sometimes I have no clue how it really happens. I can look back over my life and I realize that one day I was introduced to the person of Jesus, and then nearly three decades later it’s like I blinked ….and I see that my life has been full of watching people and walking beside people that know Jesus, and that is part of how I learned. They have walked through the ups and downs of life with me all these years (and I have with them as well). As a result, I can honestly say I have fallen in love with who Jesus is, his purposes to show such ridiculous grace to this entire world, and his kingdom values where the poor are lifted up, the broken and lost find hope and healing, and everyone gets to play.

But see, I don’t think we can get a full picture of who Jesus is just by being around his people. Because, if you ask them, they probably learned much of what they know from studying Jesus himself, by reading their bible and diving in, and by leaning on the character of God when life didn’t measure up. But why is this hard nowadays?

Whether you have been in church for some time, whether you are new to it all, or somewhere in between — I think sometimes what we have a tendency treat the actual stories of Jesus as if they were on our Instagram feed.

We scroll through the pages of scripture, convenient with subtitles and/or red-lettering, and we go “that’s a cool story” (double tap HEART)… not sure about that one… and, just like on Instagram, we love and comment on the bite-size stories that present themselves.

Its like having a window into someone else’s life, much like we see on social media.

But we stop there.

If Jesus parables and stories are intended to be a window into the kingdom he came to bring, then shouldn’t we put a bit more study into it than just slighly remembering the story? Instagram pix might be great for catching up, showing something you are proud of or you think is beautiful, maybe its for selling a product or any number of other things… but Jesus came to transform us….. and it takes more than just liking a parable to transform.

I know sometimes we wrestle with seeing how very different Jesus and his ways were in his day and culture, and how shocking what he said might have been to his hearers, and maybe that makes it difficult for us to tranlate to our own day and age. But if we are to really be a disciple of Jesus, we must look. We must question. We must let it transform us.

Its the difference between being a “fan” … and someone who is falling in love with the God who loves them.

It’s interesting for me too, as I start writing my first exegetical paper for one of my seminary classes. See, I have chosen a passage from Hebrews (5:12-14) where the author is challenging his audience and their spiritual maturity. The writer is an intellectual of sorts, familiar with Greek reasoning and ways of dialogue, and he is trying to challenge things that are distracting the church body from maturing in their faith…. and they are distracted precisely because they have stayed at only being content to know the basics of faith: repentance, baptism, resurrection, etc.

N.T Wright leverages a challenge in his commentary on this passage, that we who profess faith should always be aware if our answer to grasping the more difficult things of the faith is “I don’t get it, that’s too difficult to understand”.

That doesn’t mean that we get it all right away though, so please don’t think I am saying that. What I am saying is that we need to remain teachable, always learners to how God is at work in the world around us, how the words of Jesus need to transform us from the inside out – and how we need to be willing to wrestle with the difficult things our world presents us today.

God is not absent from this world, my friends. We may not always be able to see it, but if you really seek to follow Jesus.. I can guarantee you will get it one day. Be willing to be like Jacob and wrestle, or like Thomas and ask for proof. Just don’t close your eyes and stop looking!

Labels & Percentages

Labels and Percentages

I met an old friend for breakfast the other day, one that I hadn’t seen in person for over 25 years. We had followed each other on social media some, so we knew in general how each of us were doing, but man… was it good to catch up!

Seems that both of our lives have taken some unexpected and similar turns recently. The details – vastly different. But who we are finding God to be for us in the midst? Very similar. It’s amazingly crazy and yet so very… normal, when you think about who our God is.

One of the things that we both talked a little about was how we and our kids were now percentages. Statistics…… ones we never intended to be part of. It reminded me how much I had to face that reality at the end of last year, that I would now be labeled as a “divorced woman” and my kids from a “divorced” family. Internally, I was determined to fight to NOT wear that label for myself. I refuse to let it define me. Sure, that means my marital status will be single for quite a while, but it was the whole broken-home-and-I-couldn’t-fix-it definition I had to fight internally.

The reality is, we have all at one time or another worn labels in our own heads, or had a label slapped on us by someone else, haven’t we? As a kid they are ones like teacher’s pet, jock, stoner, geek, beauty queen, wall flower.. or maybe closer to home like good-for-nothing, idiot, worthless, ugly, invisible, unwanted, weakling – or any other plethora of things said to us or put on us by others. We ingested them, we may have fought them, or we may have leaned into them.

As adults sometimes more labels get tacked on, don’t they? Like being from a broken home, having a messed-up childhood, being an addict, having bipolar/OCD/depression/ODD (or any other diagnosable mental illness) or have an anxiety disorder. Then there are of course mom or dad or abandonment issues. Someone could be a workaholic, an absentee parent, a divorcee, widow, or single parent. Oh – and of course there are good labels too, but we wear them much less often.

Why do I bring this up? This is not news. We all know this. There are songs about it, pastors preach on it, magazine articles and blogsites are full of discussion about this reality, all the time.

Because we need to be reminded. Because so many of those labels do nothing but bring shame into our lives, and they say NOTHING about where our identity should come from, and we so often think that is the ground we have to build on. Yet our God is a God of redemption, one that enters the broken places in our world and our lives, and longs to bring something different to our understanding of our lives. You may have become something, or you may have coping skills because of your ‘label’…. but you are so much MORE. There is ground to still be staked in your life to take you out of shame, out of hurt, out of broken places. It can take a lifetime, but it’s worth fighting for.

Isaiah 51:1 has always been a favorite verse for me:

“Listen to me, you who pursue justice and rightness, and you who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn”

You were made from the stuff of eternity, the stuff of love, the stuff of beauty and goodness and what is right and just.

Do you get that?

You are not your label or statistic

Sure, it may have changed how you see and operate in the world. Yes, it probably gave you scars. Yes you may have to take medication to deal with it, and you may need others to help you through the crap it left you with. But your label doesn’t define you, and it certainly doesn’t define how much good your life can have in it or what you can become.

This is what our God-in-the-flesh came to do – as Isaiah 61 speaks about:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve….

Please don’t just gloss over the truth of this. I know we hear it all too often. Stop reading this as just as captivity and darkness = sin.

We are captive to our labels, we are prisoners to our addictions and the things we do to hide our hearts. Can you see that? Can you hear how determined our God is in this passage?

Isaiah says he came to crown us, trade our mourning and despair into joy and LIFE.

In verse 7 he says “instead of shame, to receive a double portion… instead of despair you will have an inheritance” . Think of areas in your life where you have felt shame or despair. Can you hear the heart of God, that this is not the way it will always be for you?

Part of the work of redemption in our lives is the vengeance of God on all the stuff this world has brought against us to cause pain and hurt in our lives that has tried to, and continues to try to rip away the image of his goodness in us.

Dear one.. I hope that when you are in a season of challenge, or when the past comes calling, you can remember this:

God is FOR YOU. You are not your label, you have a greater defender than you realize, and you are made of the stuff of eternity.

Start carrying THAT label in your heart!