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

Something New

You know how sometimes a verse just sticks in your brain and you can’t get it out, and you realize that it is then the Lord is speaking to you through that verse, even though it was a different time, a different people, spoken thousands of years ago?

For me, that started happening quite frequently about 2 1/2 years ago in a deeper way than I have ever known. The harder thing was that I couldn’t hold onto them well, or believe that they could be true…. let alone that I think we Christians are often accused of “cherry picking” verses we like and taking them way out of context, and I didn’t want to be doing that just because I liked the verse.

No, this one I came across in normal reading, I didn’t go looking for and I didn’t find in a devotional to try and hold onto. I was in a time in life where everything I knew had just crumbled, and I was trying to make sense of it all as I figured out a new way to be. It was into this place in time I stumbled across the following (well known) verse:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:18-19.

Now, most of the time I have heard this verse used to explain how Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel of the messiah to come, that is, as a pre-cursor to Christ. I’m not saying that isn’t the case in the bigger picture. Sure, it could have had two meanings. Yet to the Israelites at the time under Babylonian rule, this was actually spoken about what God was doing in their present time. The new thing God was doing then was preparing to bring Cyrus, the Persian king, to take over Babylon and their oppressive way of ruling, and to bring Israel home (see. Isaiah 45:1 and 13.. it happened in 539BC). So the new thing that Isaiah was speaking about was actually deliverance … just deliverance in a very real and tangible way.

I just kept coming back to this verse. What if I didn’t want new? What if I wanted what was? I couldn’t change things, and I knew I had to keep moving forward to find my “new normal”, and so I did. I dove into things I loved to do – I hiked mountains, I went on long trail rides, and I loved on people. I read, I studied, I pressed into God when it was hard, and I hung onto things I could scarcely believe. (Lest you think it was all roses….yes I went to counseling, and yes I got angry and had panic attacks and cried and grieved and journaled a TON.)

I did what I knew would bring me back to being whole: I reestablished my identity as a child of God alone, and I chose to be content no matter what my new normal was going to be. I couldn’t see what “new thing” God was doing yet, so holding onto the verse for me was more of a puzzling thing.

I know, Lord, I know you are doing something new in my life right now. I just don’t get it yet. I guess you will show me when I am ready.

Enter Trung… the man to whom I am now engaged.

(Love the slippers, don’t you? Just admit it)

It has been a year and a half since we first started talking. I know.. much of what has been going on since we started dating has not made it to my blog, and that is on purpose. I have been protective of this entire journey except for a few select folks, mainly because I’m not the type to share some huge monumental personal things, but also because I wanted to honor him in this process, as he is a pretty personal type of guy (he’s an 5 on the enneagram).

Yet even when he came into the picture, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this “new thing” God was doing… for me AND for him. Sometimes I still struggle to wrap my head around the depth of what it has become, and as I look out at the wedding being planned for this August, I realize I no longer have any twinge of sadness when I see folks posting about their anniversaries of many years.

I am finally – finally! Leaning into the new thing God is doing, and I cannot wait to start life with this amazing guy God has given me. August can’t come soon enough. We may be streaming it on Facebook if no one can come, but we are getting married!

Ok now back to the purpose of this blog…I really didn’t want this post to be just about me. I know I am certainly not the only one who has had to find a new normal at some point in their lives. Heck, its all everyone is talking about now with all the quarantines across our country and the world.

Finding a new normal isn’t new though.

It seems to be the way of humanity whenever big things happen, have you noticed that?

—Scripturally – Israel wanted ‘what was’ after God delivered them from slavery. Somehow things seemed better back in Egypt. After return from Babylonian captivity, Israel wanted ‘what was’ and tried to figure out how to become a nation again. When they started rebuilding the temple, many wept who had been alive and had seen the prior temple built by Solomon.

— In our current day, things have shifted and changed after every war. After 9/11. After the first school shooting. After the internet became available for everyone, after cell phones became a necessity. Some generations long for the decades when things seemed “better” – but were they really? Yes we still deal with racism in our country. Yes we still hurt each other, we fail to take care of and defend those that need it, but at least discussions are on the table. It’s out in the open. Everything doesn’t have to be hidden now that was in the past in our country, and its time for healing. I’d like to think having to suffer together as the human race makes us realize our mortality and how much we need each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religious background (or none), sexuality, education or economic status.

Moving forward, whether personally or as a society doesn’t mean we automatically stop longing for what was. It’s like we get stuck, where the past can seem to have been “better” than the present. Do we realize in saying that we overlook the flaws of what was? Massive flaws that were there before and just could never be fixed, or maybe could never be seen.

That, my friends, is the challenge of the times in which we are living. Sure, we are all learning a “new normal”.. and please hear me: I am NOT SAYING that God is the source of this virus to teach us something new. I’m just asking, are we up to the challenge of LEARNING in the midst of it?

Although this wasn’t intended to be a Covid survival post, I do think it can be a time for us to look honestly at what we are learning in this time… about being alone, about being with “stuck” with family, about helping and serving others… about how much money we spent on ourselves or on things that we really do not need, about how we handle finances, where we find our peace – and make some purposeful changes about how we do life, when things get “back to normal”.

What are you learning you will not let go of when the quarantine is over?

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!