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!

For the love of… what?

This is Oliver, our Maine Coon. He’s about 21 pounds, looks like a little lion when we have him trimmed, and he’s a “spiritual cat”….. Haha, just kidding – he lays pretty much on any piece of paper or book around :-). Yesterday was the day I dropped Oliver and our youngest off at CSU for her second year of school – and his first. It was hot, and because he doesn’t like traveling, he decided to poop in his crate half way to Fort Collins. Needless to say, Oliver got a bath the minute we got to school. He smells like coconut now, Maia is moved in and happy to see her friends again. All is well.

Me, I’m taking a few days to explore the northern part of the state that I always drive by on the way to and from Fort Collins. Benefits of working from home mean that you can pretty much work from anywhere – so today and tomorrow my office is a quaint Airbnb with great wifi and not too far from Estes Park and Boulder. Oh, and the house has this KILLER bookshelf with a ladder that leads to a loft!

Can you get any cooler than that?? I want one!! Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a book nerd…but if you have read any of my other posts you saw my bookshelf. This would definitely be a nice upgrade – with room for growth! (Hey, a girl can dream, right??)

So today after work I decided to head on up to Estes Park. The drive was gorgeous – although the down side is there are so many turns I couldn’t sit and just watch the scenery because, well, I was the one driving to make sure I’d get there. Side note: If you visit Colorado, do it with a friend. Or me. Or someone to drive FOR you so you can enjoy it all.

Anyway….the town is darn cute. Who knew you could fit that many taffy shops and ice cream shops in a 1/2 mile stretch? I found a great photographer’s art gallery, one that takes pictures all seasons – this guy can actually capture the purples and pinks of the sky. He’s amazing. I wanted one of his prints for my house but the $750 price tag was a bit steep. I treated myself to a small 4×6 matted one instead.

On a riverwalk behind all the shops you can just stroll and listen to the mountain spring that rushes through the town. There are benches every few hundred feet for you to sit and relax, so I chose one away from much of the crowd and closed my eyes for a bit just to be quiet. It was one of those times where I realized I had set these days apart for searching, for seeking, and my soul was definitely longing to hear from the Lord.

What I need, I don’t really know. I’m not asking a particular question, there is just this sense that I’m … waiting. Ever have those times? Those times where the something bigger in the universe, the something bigger in God calls out to the well of deep in your own soul, and just won’t leave you alone.

“Deep calls to deep….” the psalmist says (Ps 42:7)

It’s one of those moments when you know that no matter the noise in your life, no matter the chaos swirling around you, no matter the mundane things, the ridiculously bothersome things, and the unanswered questions…..your soul KNOWS it was made for more. It cries out for its creator and there is no stopping it.

I think sometimes we forget to stop and listen to that longing, even maybe unconsciously without realizing why. Yet the longer we push it aside, the more our heart starts to justify maybe it was just our imagination, or we’re just being too sensitive, or we tell ourselves why would God want to just sit with us anyway? I know, I talk about this a lot…. listening to the very voice, seeking the very presence of the One we call God. But how can I not? This is where LIFE within life is found. And when we can tune and re-tune our hearts, minds, and souls to that presence, we begin to see Him everywhere.

I love how Audrey Assad puts it, in the chorus of her song “For Love of You” (2010):

You are my deepest longing

and so I see you everywhere

It’s you I’m chasin’ after

‘Cause I am captivated by who you are

and how you move

I’ll follow you forever

So that would be my question to you tonight .. What is your heart and mind captivated by lately? Is it leading you to life, or away from it? I know there are seasons of faith, my friend, and I know that some of them can seem dull, too long, too difficult. Some of you may be ready to walk away or give up because of the pain. But God is so more faithful than you realize. Know that HE is captivated by you… so take the time and let your soul breathe!

A confession

Tonight, I struggle to write this blog. Why, I ask myself? I know a piece of it is because I have had a hard time putting it into words myself. It has taken a few weeks to even understand exactly what I have feeling … or “wrestling” with, if you will. So what do I do? I pack up my backpack and head to the newest coffee shop I found, about 20 minutes from my house. I have become a fan of lavender lattes as of late, and they make some pretty darn good ones! My hope is that somehow the atmosphere and getting out of the house will help me craft what I want to say…. so here goes.

As some of you may or may not know, I moved to Colorado just last year after having been planted in northern Illinois for almost exactly 13 years. Me and the family left a wonderful little church in Plainfield, one that will always hold a special place in my heart. I knew coming to Colorado Springs would afford us a plethora of churches to visit, and I am thankful that God helped me find the one I am at now. I have a great home group and am growing in relationship with them. I am helping with something small every week, and I am gradually getting to know people. Yet last week the very last thing the youth pastor said in his sermon on Jonah hit me harder than I wanted to admit:

What are YOU running from?

That question sat in my soul like the ones that do when you know the Holy Spirit is speaking to you oh-so-very-directly. The kind where you might want to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la-I-cant-hear-you!” — but you can, of course, because, well, it’s the Lord and He is pretty gentle but persistent when there is something He wants you to pay attention to.

Sigh.

Yes Lord, I’m listening. What AM I running from?

The more I sit and think, the more I become very aware of the fact that I am running from diving in and getting more connected, and I hate that recognition. I know that here, the best way is to join one of their book studies, and that is the LAST thing I want to do. I frankly have no desire to open up and share my entire life with strangers right now. The 8 friends I have made are keeping me connected just fine, thank you.

Yet the sense that is no longer sufficient for me is relentless. I know I am in a phase where I have a lot to learn, and my argument that school starts in the fall so of course I won’t have time – seems petty. Somehow I realize that sitting on the sidelines is no longer going to be an option for me if I am to dive in and find the life here that I want….

And suddenly I realize I have to face something I have not wanted to face. Maybe you’ll get this, if you’ve been there, or you know someone who has:

Because of other peoples’ hurt and pain over the church, I fear what they will think when I dive in again. How can I go back to the church (big C) when she sometimes gets it wrong, when she has hurt and caused pain and brokenness in so many lives, lives I have had front-row seats to watch?

I certainly have been the recipient of some of those wounds. I have had to keep secrets and hold my tongue for the sake of showing respect (or out of fear); I have seen hurts be perpetuated and felt helpless to make a difference. I hear the voice of the critics and those who have walked away … and sometimes all I can say is… I know.. I hear you.. and I am so, so sorry… how I wish I could take away your pain…

With so many of her flaws, why could I ever go back?

I know that is probably a question some of you have asked as well.

For me – my answer is this, no matter how much it might not make sense to some:

How can I not?

Because I still think the Church is beautiful when she gets it right. I can’t give up on her. God is doing new things in her, every day, and yes it takes a long time to move mountains but I can’t let go because the deep love of Jesus is so much more than we have ever understood. I want to be part of what helps fix the wrongs and mends the wounds, if that is even possible.

Because I know this thing of faith is still a treasure in a field that is worth selling all I have. This kingdom where everyone has a place – old and young, Republican and Democrat, black and white, native and immigrant, rich and poor, gay and straight – they all belong.

Because this project God started is still a good one and the world still needs to be transformed by radical acts of love and mercy. The poor still need Justice, the forgotten and ignored still need to be lifted up and told they are beautiful and made in the image of and amazing God who loves without limits. Because we still need to learn how to look someone we don’t understand in the eye and give them the respect they deserve, and I firmly believe it is the work of God in someone’s life that can make that kind of lasting change if we will submit to it.

That is the kingdom work, my friends, and our world is crying out for it.

So wherever you are – if you are in church, if your relationship with church is tenuous at best, or if you have given up – know that the treasure you once found is still in that field. Push past the fights over land rights and ownership crap, close your eyes to everyone picketing around the piece of land that say its not for sale and you can’t buy it because you aren’t worthy or because its not going to matter anyway.

The treasure is still worth holding onto, and your Jesus is still there waiting, just for you. I’m pretty sure he is hurting for what you have had to put up with too.

A little disagreement with Paul

Alright – today ya’ll I am going to be a bit more theological, I hope you don’t mind.

Our Passage: Galatians 4:25 through 31

I’m reading though Galatians this week, and as I come to this section, I am having an issue with what Paul is doing with it. I can clearly see he is talking to the people of the city, and, based on the previous chapters, trying to remind them that in Christ, they have freedom – so stop trying to earn God’s favor and covenant relationship by adhering to the law. He is speaking to a first century audience, one that has been walking in freedom in Christ yet is now being challenged to be more stringent by those who obey the law.

What bothers me is the Hagar and Sarah story usage. I get where he is going, I can see the analogy he’s making about how the Jews in the earthly Jerusalem are in slavery as they were unwilling to accept what God had done through Jesus, yet those who believed in Jesus and accepted his forgiveness were now citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem”. Yet after finishing my Old Testament course, I see this passage with completely new eyes.

I do not deny that the apostle Paul was inspired by the Lord to write this for his Galatian audience. I do not deny that those who cling to Jesus are children of promise. However, his analogy with the slave and free woman, I have to beg to differ.

The way I see it, Paul actually took a piece of scripture out of context to make his point.

In verse 30 he says:

“But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son’. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Again, I get the analogy he is making, and I won’t deny the point of us focusing on the freedom we have in Christ being the one who justifies us, rather than adherence to a set of religious rules.

But have you gone back to read the passage Paul is referencing (Genesis 21:10)? That’s not something God said, it’s what Sarah told Abraham once Isaac had been born.

Hagar and Ishmael had been around for 13 years until Isaac was born. A big feast held when Isaac had been weaned (could have been his 2nd or 3rd year)… and the text tells us that Ishmael was mocking them.

So Sarah did what any mother might naturally do when you see a teenager mocking your toddler. GET OUT OF HERE! Leave him alone. Let’s not spiritualize this too much: Her momma bear came out. I wouldn’t doubt if in the back of her head she was also thinking “he doesn’t matter anyway, MY SON is the one God promised.” (I know, some of you are probably cringing that I would assign a very selfish thought to Sarah here. But she was… human…)

Abraham was actually concerned at what Sarah was asking. Keep in mind, Ishmael was the only son he had known for 13 years until Isaac was born. He loved Ishmael. So he asked the Lord what to do. God’s response was still full of promise. Yes, he said Abraham could acquiesce and send Hagar and Ishmael away, but he promised that Ishmael would also become a great nation because he was Abraham’s seed as well.

Then what we see the text showing us is that God took care of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:15-20). He didn’t abandon them whatsoever… He saw her need, and He provided for her.

This passage in Genesis, rather than condemning Hagar and her son, actually shows us God’s heart of compassion for those who are rejected and outcast. We also have to recognize that, once she left Sarah’s company, Hagar wasn’t a slave any more… she was free, and was a mother of someone that would father a nation on his own.

How’s that for throwing a wrench into Paul’s analogy?

I’m not saying his analogy didn’t work for the Galatians. I can see pieces of it now, and recognize what he is saying. Yet for me, everything in me now cries out to see this a little differently. Paul used pieces of the Old Testament to make his point, but he made an analogy and point that the original text wasn’t actually trying to make.

Man. That is a lot to think about at 7:45am. Come to think of it, I better run – it’s Saturday and I have places to go!

Hope you have a refreshing and restful weekend, whatever your plans!