Psalm 139 meditations

Life is shifting in big ways for me this summer. This morning, I sit surrounded by boxes, house all packed except for a few things here and there. Movers come tomorrow to take all my things to the home that will become OURS, and the wedding is just over 3 weeks away. Although I never wanted to be a bride that is consumed with wedding details, alas.. that has happened. The next three weeks all my spare time will be spent finalizing plans and making signs for social distancing and mask wearing at our gathering 🙂 But yes its exciting!!!

Needless to say, the whole reality that I am picking up and moving to a new town to start all over again comes in waves. I have made some good friends up where Trung lives, but there still isn’t history beyond a weekend here and there for the past two years. So, this morning I read Psalm 139 again. It had been a while, and I needed to be reminded of the truth of being known. So of course the text today was encouraging, reminding me that as I navigate a huge life change and move into a new community, I am still known by Him.. and that is enough.

Interestingly enough, what struck me the most this morning was NOT the first part of the text. It was the part that I usually skip over.

The psalmist goes from this poetic sense of how much the Lord knows him, and how precious Gods thoughts are to him, and then he launches into “If only you would slay the wicked!… do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?… I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies! (v19-22)

Then the closing passage, one we quote often: “Search me God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (v 23-24)

What the……

I used to skip over verses 19-22 thinking oh, that isn’t how we are to think about people now, since Jesus tells us to love everyone – even our enemies – so I can just ignore that part.

Today I read this differently. Today it dawns on me again just how radical it must have sounded for Jesus to say “you’ve heard it said… but I say Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”…

But here’s the kicker: The psalmist didn’t even realize that his poetic calling out of how God knows him, knows his thoughts and everything about him — and the closing “and if there is still anything offensive in me still — fix that too” – is like this wonderful, beautiful poem that is sandwiched around a very big piece of ugliness. He couldn’t even see it.

Now, I’m drawing a very wide brushstroke in saying this, but you have to realize that there was a bit of nationalism and pride in being an Israelite back in the day. They had the One True God. They had a way of living, according to Torah, that would invite God’s favor if they walked in his way. They knew that some of the ways the nations around them lived was actually abhorrent to the Lord (think child sacrifice, worshipping other gods or created things instead of God, rampant sexual practices like orgies and temple prostitutes, horrendous war tactics…. etc ). They were told to hate what is evil and love what is good, and so there was this natural tendency to stand a bit taller and hate what their God hates… which they translated into hating the people.

I’m not sure that’s always what God had in mind, yet its easy to read the text and think that God approved of everything that they thought.

Hm. You know, this was not intended to be a political post but you know… the social commentary on that thought.. um… I’m just going to let that sit for a bit.

Hence verse 24.

This verse points out two things that are obvious to me, that we as followers of Jesus must wrestle with:

1. We may really love God with everything in us, and we can ask him to reveal offensive ways, but we may not even recognize them because they are so deeply ingrained in us. We need to be willing to face them no matter how hard they might be to own up to. These could be thoughts or attitudes towards certain ethnicities, countries, people groups… or it could be how we feel about certain generations, family members…. spouses… neighbors…leaders.. the list could go on and on. I think you get where I’m going here

2. We have to be careful to separate hatred of evil from hatred of the people AND/OR systems who cause it. I know, this seems nearly impossible – but if we do not try to separate the two, we will never be able to see the people for the potential for which they were created. We will be tempted or lulled into thinking they will always be that way, they can never get out of their evil patterns.

Isn’t that the point of redemption? Isn’t that why Jesus came, to vanquish sin forever` (Romans 5) so that we COULD be given a new heart in place of our heart of stone (Ezek 36:26). Isn’t that the point of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to choose what is good in the first place?

Keep in mind that this isn’t just at a personal level. It applies to larger systems in towns and cities, in states and our nation as well. The redemption Jesus brought was not just to change us and our hearts, but to redeem all of creation and the systems of the world. So if we fail to separate people from their actions, we will never be able to call out laws and systems as things that may very well have evil origins.

I know this is hard work folks. To see the state of our nation today and lament that things are not the way they should be… but God is not done. His purposes to create one humanity, one kingdom, redeemed and reflecting his full mercy and grace? That is still happening.

We must be willing to let the psalmists cry be our own, letting the light of the holy spirit illuminate that things we cannot see. Only then can they be brought to the cross, traded for new eyes that can help us push through the ugliness we rightly call evil, yet do it with grace and forgiveness that remind other image bearers there is a better way to live.

As we do this, kingdoms of this world and its evil systems are torn down.

I know, its not happening fast enough. I think those that have gone before us would echo the same sentiment. But don’t give up. What you do, how you live makes a difference. Figure out how to do that in your corner of the kingdom, and keep your heart close to the One that will lead you

My book recommendation today:

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Persistent Widow

I have sat on this a while, not quite knowing how to write what I want to say, but I’m going to take a stab at it and hope it comes out ok. We are living in historical times, not only because of the pandemic, but because an even deeper seated issue that has its roots deep in our country’s history has rightfully stolen the show. It’s not that it wasn’t always going on, its just that for the most part many of us (speaking to white people here) may have thought that because of the Civil Rights movement, everything was really equitable and racism wasn’t a thing.

What is obvious is that the events that have happened while we have all been sequestered at home are finally waking us up. It’s not that things like this haven’t happened before – they have. But we hear about them in spurts, we get upset, cry for justice, we lament as common humanity, and then… nothing changes.

Sounds a bit like the persistent widow Jesus talked about doesn’t it?

If I’m honest, that parable has always been a bit hard for me. I know that Jesus shared this story to make the point that God is NOT like a harsh judge that ignores our cries. Luke even said it was to show that we should pray and not give up, because God hears our prayers…. but early in my walk I will admit that just made me feel as if God was like the judge and if we bother him enough, maybe he will move.

Yet Jesus says in this parable that God hears the cries of unjust ways and sees that they get justice quickly.

What exactly does he mean by quickly?

Nothing seems to happen quickly. Especially when it comes to societal change.

The truth is, a large part of those that call America home – and even a large part of the body of Christ – has been crying out for years. I suspect they wonder where God is, and why has He not showed up to change things? The place in time in which we find ourselves now has me (as well as I am sure everyone right now) doing a lot of thinking.

Have we been asleep all this time, forgetting that we are the ones God uses to help justice come to pass? Have we thought, in error, its “not my issue?”

By justice I am not just talking about conviction for officers (or civilians) that take black lives. I know there are many officers out there that take their job seriously and do not treat people differently because of the color of their skin. I also know not everyone cries “help” when they see a black man. But the fact that some do reflects something very, very wrong, and it also reflects a much bigger problem. I am talking about seeing that we, as a nation, have for far too long used unequal scales. We probably have not been aware that there are policies and laws that may never have intended to be divisive (or maybe they were) – but have not ever been reviewed to see if they knowingly or unknowingly facilitated racist views or actions. We have not paid attention or taught our children that history was largely written by white people, and that although there are months decidated to people of color (Black, Asian, Hispanic), their voice and experience in history is largely silent.

I readily admit I spent many years not even knowing what white privilege was. I would hear stories of how hard others lives were and think “wow… that’s hard..” and never go beyond that to enter into their pain, or ask what it was like to walk in their shoes, or even to ask myself about my own hidden biases. I am spending a lot of time doing that now. Frankly I hope a lot of us are. It’s time.. heck its been time for a LOOOOONG time.

I also admit I didn’t get why people were protesting so much. I know that sounds horrible. Lest you think I am heartless or blind, I absolutely know it was because of the events around the deaths of George, Brianna, and Ahmed. But I think in logical ways and so I was trying to wrap my head around why people protested in cities where none of this happened? Solidarity, yes. That I get. But why so long?

Then I remembered the parable of the persistent widow. I got it, finally. People standing arm in arm crying out for their states to bring justice locally. Review your laws. Review your police training, your state policies. See if they are really just. If not – change! (Colorado legislators making some huge changes in how they train their police force is a great example). We collectively must be the persistent widow, crying for justice and working towards it however we can, until things change…. for everyone. But let’s just be honest. If you are white, you most likely have not sufferred and do not have to walk in the same amount of caution the way our black brothers and sisters feel they must. Therefore, the focus IS on equality for black lives right now. I am not saying others do not matter. They do…. but we are not the ones suffering from unequal treament. They need our voices, not our attempts to jump in and say “we matter too!”

(on a side note, if you don’t know what I mean by what I just said, I’d encourage you to google some podcasts or some check out some books or movies that might expose you to an experience outside of yours. They have been extremely helpful for me. Resources are belo.w)

You may feel like you can’t make a difference because you are not a politician, a lawmaker, a police officer, a reporter, or a textbook author. Those are all the visible and prominent roles we see. But what you ARE is someone who should work towards reconciliation in your own place in the world. Especially because we serve a God that invites us -or should I say EXPECTS us – to be ministers of reconciliation, because in Christ there is not supposed to be racism or ethnic judgement. In Christ we are to see each person, with their background and ethnicity, as image bearers with the full capacity to bear his image well. We are to defend them. When there is oppression, we are to call it out and work to make it right. Whether that is in our leaders, at the polls, in our voting actions, or in our protests, it must also be done in our churches, in our ways of being with our neighbors, in our ways of working in our communities.

It might be eay to focus on this now because of course its what everyone is talking about. But it is a long hard work to STAY the course and keep learning, keep educating, and not let the things that are being questioned get shoved under the rug any longer. We must continue to have the difficult conversations, and be humble enough to recognize where we need to change our minds, our hearts, our judgements, and LOVE by walking justly.

I know I have a lot to learn. I hope you will join me and be willing to let God teach you new things in this journey as well!

Resource list: (but note – there are so many others available as well, this is just a start of resources, some I have read/watched and some are on my list for this summer)

White Fragility: Why its so hard for White people to talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison,, Daniel Hill, Jennie Allen

Race in America – video by Phil Vischer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY

Podcasts by Erwin McManus (Mosaic Church) – June 1, June 8, June 15, all on conversations about Race, Justice, personal stories by black leaders in his church

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (book or movie) by Bryan Stevenson

13th – a documentary on Netflix

Oceans reflection

Today I ran out at lunch to get a few things for dinner tonight, my mind spinning as to how I would get everything done in time. Yet, I chose to see those few minutes as time to fill the space with worship and really pay attention to the lyrics on the radio. The song “Oceans” came on, a song I haven’t heard in a while, and it took me back to the last time I sang it in a worship service. I was at the last women’s retreat I led at my church back in Illinois. I knew at that time I was going to be moving (even though I hadn’t told anyone yet but my best friend and the elders at church)… and the words were pregnant with truth for me. I knew I was headed somewhere I didn’t know, that God was calling me out on deeper waters with Him… the great unknown where my feet certainly could fail.

I knew I would find Him in the mystery of change. I had no doubt my faith would stand. After all, What could go wrong?

Ah. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while know what I’m talking about.

I had no idea just how much I would have to trust Him. How much life would prove that He would never fail me. I look back at that song now with different eyes, and see how far He has brought me, how much I have had to hold to the truth that I am His, and He is mine.

Things are so different now, yet so very, very good. I can confidently say I never thought I’d be doing the things I’m doing, walking the paths I’m walking, and loving the people I am loving.

This time, though, it was the chorus that got to me:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

Do we really know what we are asking for when we sing that song, pray that prayer?

Do we really long for whatever will strengthen our faith to come to pass? I’d venture to say that sometimes we may not realize what life will bring that draws us closer to Jesus.

What does it mean, really, to have trust without borders? (Wow, even as I write that, I know its a loaded statement, given the current crisis at the border of our own country….)

For me, I see this playing out in some of the people the Lord has brought into my life. I am now friends with and mentoring a handful of young women in their 20’s and early 30’s. Every single one of them stretches me to have grace in ways I never imagined possible. A club dancer, a young girl that has just come out as bi, one living with her boyfriend, one getting divorced and amazingly alive after a stroke and a ton of blood clots in her lungs…. and one that is married and happens to also be the one that cuts my hair 🙂

I know after reading a journal entry from my 20’s I prayed for this. There isn’t much of a script I have to go by, and I question nearly every day if I am really doing enough to love them and help them to know God better…. but it has given me a front row seat to seeing God transform their lives and I am literally blown away every time I talk to them. One is growing in her prophetic gifting. One is growing in leadership and her passion for reading the bible, one is seeing so many ways Jesus is setting her free from the things of her past. One talking to God but not sure she wants to really be in relationship with him yet. It leaves me realizing just how much I may have trusted how transforming God’s word is for me, but I have somehow listened to a cynical mindset too much and forgotten how transforming it is for others.

How I have doubted

The work He longs to do in us is real, he starts wherever we are and calls us forward. All of us.

So my question to you is this: who is in your life that God may be asking you to come along side of – not to worry about how far away they seem, but to believe that God wants to reveal His goodness, His freedom of soul to them, no matter whether their life looks like you think it should or not?

Can you risk going where your trust in God is without borders, and let Him show you just how big His grace really is?