Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Thanksgiving 2020

Hello all! I know its been a while since I’ve published anything. You’d think with all this time from being at home and not going to school this semester would give me a ton of time to write and think (and while it has in some ways) – I am just not really liking writing much at the moment. Strange for me. So this post might seem a bit all over the place, but its the best collection of thoughts right now. Enjoy!

As I see states issue guidelines for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll admit I’m divided: I can see the wisdom in it, yet it frustrates me and leaves me a bit skeptical. I know the threat of this is real, having had two friends who lost people close to them this past year. Yet I also know my husband’s family has had it, and recovered just fine. As I write this, my best friend in Texas and her family are going through the throws of Covid. I trust they will recover, but I’m still waiting for them to emerge healthy.

I guess you could say I am on the side of NOT seeing Covid as a death sentence. That comes partly from the reality that no matter how I ran the numbers – state wide, nationally, and internationally, its still only 3% fatal. That’s larger than I’d like sure – but I’m choosing to not fear the rise in Covid numbers. More people are getting tested so of course you will find it more.

(side note: I’m pretty healthy, and so I know this influences my view of it all. I figure the chances of me getting it are only going to increase as time goes by, but I trust it will run its course just like the flu would. Yet I am well aware that others have more compromised systems and don’t have the luxury of exposing themselves as much, because for them its more dangerous. Please do not misunderstand me: Wisdom must be used here. I am watching my parents navigate this, given my dad’s health after lung surgery last year, and they are troopers. Isolation at times, social distanced fellowship at others. They and their community are taking care of each other. I am so grateful!

I just keep trying to set it in context: 12% die each year from heart attacks (which is 4 times those dying from Covid) – yet we never have that broadcast from the media. So how much is media playing into both education as well as perpetuating fear? Leaders are, no doubt, trying to balance fear and care for their states while grappling with how to keep people safe. It’s natural that some of us will wrestle with the guidelines they issue.

I get it. Frankly, I am glad I do not have to make those decisions!

I applaud those who are front-line doing the testing, taking care of those who are admitted… suiting up in their full gear, air tanks or masks. Every day. This part hits home just as much because I have people I care about on those front lines: My daughter, a friend in BV, and a new friend in Oregon. Millions across the country in the healthcare industry. I am grateful for all you are doing to save others, and to protect yourself. Your sacrifice will NEVER be forgotten.

And although its their job, it seems to me that it takes a certain kind of fearlessness to be willing to step into the “line of fire” if you will, risking contracting Covid – for the greater purpose of caring for the humanity of others. It makes me think of Mother Theresa taking care of the dying in Calcutta, of Jesus, who went to the lepers without fear, and countless others across history that cared for the sick because of their Christian faith (there’s a great article I found about it in case you are interested – see link at bottom of the blog)

You might be wondering what the heck this has to do with Thanksgiving.

I guess I’m saying that its not going to stop me from inviting those that have nowhere to go so that they are not alone. Its what I have always done, and I don’t think this year should be any different (other than maybe not sharing drinks or forks!)

I want to press forward into the Christian calling to hospitality and care, even in this next season – even moreso since the holidays can be hard for people to begin with, and I expect that will be true in greater measure this year.

On top of that, as I have done some reading recently, its interesting that Thanksgiving as a national holiday wasn’t declared until the time of Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed it official in midst of the Civil War. He was spurned on by a woman named Sarah Joespha Hale, a writer and education advocate who had grown up celebrating it and believed that making it a national holiday might help ease tensions and help with the healing of the nation.

Interesting that at this time, in 2020, healing is the cry of many right now. Regardless of your feelings about the results of the election, isn’t a day to be thankful and gather what we need right now? Could our Thanksgiving celebration have a healing, encouraging effect on all of us if we will let it?

Now, ultimately, I know each family / person has to make their own decision – and so maybe you are on the more cautious side. No judgement here.

Regardless, as you consider your own plans for this holiday….. I’d like to encourage you to think of ways to still reach out and invite in those that might be alone this Thanksgiving. Even if the invite is just knocking on the door and leaving them a note, a child’s hand-drawn picture, a plate of dinner, or a cup of cocoa – something small to let them know they are not forgotten and not alone.

Here’s to turkey, or tofu, pumpkin or pizza, green bean casserole or collard greens… good friends and reflection time! (and football, I’m sure my husband would add! 🙂

** reference articles, in case you’d like to read more, are below. All content in the links below are owned by their respctive authors and I am not claiming any rights, just sharing! ***

https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2020/how-did-early-christians-respond-to-plagues

https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving )

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 fruit of a life

This past week I received a relatively thick envelope from a name I had not seen in years. Opening it slowly, I read the typed letter I was holding in one had, with a bundle of letters and envelopes in the other. The letter was from Dave, an old youth group leader of mine, sharing with many of those who he had mentored in the past that he was in the final stages of lung cancer. He was returning to all of us the letters we had written to him when he was deployed in Desert Storm and when he later lived in Germany, sharing how much of an encouragement they had been to him during that time.

I stared at the letters and cards I had written him my senior year of high school and first year of college, 1989-1990. I could hardly believe my eyes.

For one thing, no one else I have ever known has saved letters I have written, even though I have saved many other have written to me over the years. The other thing was I noticed (quite humorously) that my handwriting was still the same!

I looked at the weathered and tattered pages and re-read them all, for they documented for me some of the earliest years of my faith. I skimmed them some, recalling things I shared about living in Germany, tough classes I was taking, and how I tried to encourage someone who was also investing in me and my young faith. What struck me the most was a line from a letter dated January 1990:

“…I am no longer befuddled at the thought of living every single moment for Christ…”

I was still 17 when I wrote that, but the statement came nearly three years after my good friend Jill swooped in and latched onto me, a quiet 14 year old that had just left a small school in Germany and got plopped into a high school of 5000 students. I found myself surrounded by people who loved God and just invited others in, along with a few very Godly men and women who simply spoke of their love for Jesus and all they had found in him. They didn’t try to “convert” me – they just loved me, encouraged me where I was, and talked about what it was like to surrender your whole life to him.

I honestly do not know where I would be had they not invested in me. Oh, I was a good kid and so I am sure I would have done well, but I don’t know that I would be someone whose greatest joy is in helping others know Jesus.. the same thing they did for me.

I think that’s a lot of what Jesus meant when he talked about “bearing fruit”. It’s probably similar to what the world would say when they talk about leaving a legacy for people to remember you by. What works were done in your name, what stories will be told about you…

Not that any of that is bad, but the reality is unless you make some huge contribution to the world, you’re probably not going to go down in a history book, right?

Yet fruit. The reality is that Dave and others walked and talked and showed me Jesus, even when I wasn’t necessarily asking to figure him out early on. I was just there. But his life had an indellible impact on mine, as did the other youth leaders that were part of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Big or small, it had an impact.

As I am watching the young women in a bible study I lead surrender their lives to Jesus more and more, it leaves me dumbfounded – primarily because I know I didn’t pray for all that God is doing. Imagine that.. He has his own plans for others we know nothing about, no matter how we pray. I sit back in awe of all GOD is doing in their lives, blatently aware that it is all Him doing things. Just him. I often feel like I’m just sitting on the sidelines.

In the big scheme of things, I have to smile. That commission of Jesus in Matthew 28 where he tells his disciples to “go and make disciples” – this is exactly what that looks like, and what it’s supposed to look like (note: sometimes this verse gets a bad rap.. I wrote about it in another post a few months back). One generation helping the next to wrestle with their questions and walk along side of them to understand what it is to be in relationship with a living God, what it is to surrender and let go and trust someone you cannot see.

  • It makes me question if, in struggling with that Matthew 28 verse, we have forgotten how to pursue people? Or perhaps we either do not really trust the power of just what Jesus does when someone really seeks him and finds him, or we never really understood what the Holy Spirit does to open eyes to reveal Jesus and help people wrestle with their own stuff in the first place.
  • I’m not talking about reaching people with the “they need Jesus” attitude that people can smell a mile away, but one that just walks alongside them in the stuff of life, patiently waiting for the hunger and emptiness of life to cause them to want something real. Waiting to see where they might trust you have no agenda but to love them. Waiting for God to show you the when and how to speak spiritual truths to ears ready to hear them.
  • Sure, an inspiring sermon or blog might get people thinking, and I know God can speak through any medium He wants to. But we can’t underestimate vision casting for people what it is to really BE in Christ, to follow him and surrender and be transformed by him. When we share how he is our strength in the mess, how we struggle to trust when the trials come, but how our souls are finding rest in the journey – the Holy Spirit really does work to transform others to draw them near.

    Do we believe that any more? I hope so. But for some of you, its going to mean risking getting over your fear of knowing exactly what to say. Not everyone is afraid of talking about spiritual things – the conversations just look different now. NOTE: If you’d like to read a refreshing take on making disciples in today’s world, I’d recommend “I once was lost” by Don Everts.

  • Walking beside others to show them what it is to follow Christ isn’t just for your pastor, your bible study leader, or those with “theological training”. Its for every one of us. And good news! You are fully equipped, whether you realize it or not, to invite others into a life of faith. Giving people room to ask questions goes a long way. Think with them, wonder with them, struggle with them in their questions… and know that in all of that searching God’s right there.
  • Today I leave you with a quote I found recently online, for I think it says it perfectly. As we go, what we say, what we do, good or bad, gets woven into the lives of others. So go be an image bearer, and let your legacy be that people wanted to know Jesus because they saw Him in you.

    “What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

    Blessings!

    Tama

    Don’t get stuck this season

    I am reading through Matthew this Christmas season, and although I don’t mean to skip over the genealogies, I am just not finished with what I want to write about them yet. I know a part of me needs to find the mystery again. Today is of the story of the wise men visiting Jesus when he was a toddler, and Herod’s attempt to destroy this young boy – yet God, always ahead of the power curve – tells Joseph to go to Egypt.

    I have to think about that a bit. It reveals a few key things:

    1. There are definite power structures that oppose the things that God is doing in the world

    2. God is not ignorant of these things, nor is he ignorant of the people through which they come

    3. God is going to protect that which is important for his plan and purpose, so that things happen on his timeline

    4. Nothing can stop the really important things, which is in this case, protecting Jesus

    Now, what we never do in the Christmas story is focus on all the collateral that comes with Herod’s decision. The camera’s lens, the author’s focus, is on the hero of the story, this little child who wise men from the east travel to see. Already, under the age of two, just the mere knowledge of his presence is causing panic in the heart of kings. Already, they are threatened and reverting to what their ancestors have done all through history: kill off the challenge to the throne. Don’t seek the Lord to see what he is doing, just protect your own interests.

    In our 21st century mindset when anything that takes innocent lives or brings destruction to those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes the subject of our outrage and cry for justice. Yet here, we barely make mention of the many young boys that were killed nearly two years after Jesus was born, in Herod’s thirst to protect his throne:

    Matt 2:16 “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under…”

    In our 21st century mindset, we would look at this and ask “how could a god save one baby and let all these other die? How could that god be good?”

    And we would get stuck here, just like we get stuck look at all the injustice in the world today with child abuse and slavery and the mistreatment of refugees. Please do not hear me wrong on this: those are things that we should fight to make right. We should cry out for leaders to do things differently, for what is important to take precedence. We should expect them to not ignore the vulnerable for the sake of their own gain. That is not my point today though.

    I guess I wonder why we never ask this question of the Christmas story? Oh sure, we paint King Herod as the bad guy, but today I have a different thought. Today I question why we never get frustrated at the chief priests and teachers of the law who told Herod that the Messiah was to born in Bethlehem. Why did they not counsel him to let things be? Why did they not paint a picture of how good this was to be, God being faithful to his promise for Israel? Were they afraid, fearful too? I’m pretty sure by that time they were “in bed” so to speak with not only Herod but also the Romans. Blind and deaf to the things God was really doing.

    And because of that, many families lost their little boys that year, and I am sure the heart of God wept right there with them, because that wasn’t supposed to happen either.

    It all happened at the hands of a powerful king who could only think about his own skin, his own rule and power, and the rule of his son in the days to come. We need to remember that what we see happening today, around the world in our nation and others as well, has been going on since the beginning of time. We are foolish to think it can ever really stop fully, at least in this age.

    What God is doing might seem to have “left the country” – but just like Joseph and Mary returning to the land with Jesus years later, in all reality it was just waiting for the right time. The plans of God will keep growing, keep developing, right along side the power structures and people that think its harmless because they cannot see it.

    There will probably still be collateral damage, my friends.

    My challenge to you is to not get stuck focusing there, asking “why did God allow that??”. Now, I’m not going to give you some platitude that “everything happens for a reason” — because those of us who have lived through hell and back know that in the midst of it, whatever bigger reason seems paltry and fake and downright cruel. That collateral damage is way often due to corrupt power structures, greedy people, or our own human selfishness and ignorance. Bad decisions, made out of our own hurt. There’s no excuse but its the way it is. It sucks.

    The reality is that whatever it is – it won’t stop the mystery of what and how God moves to reveal himself to the world. It didn’t, nearly 2000 years ago, and it won’t now.

    Take courage, my friends – the purposes of God to redeem a world from its own pain and corrupt ways WILL NOT STOP. I know this probably doesn’t answer the “why” for the pain in your own life, the hardships you have gone through, but I hope that in midst of it you can take a step back to see the mystery and hold onto the hope that He is still working.

    May the mystery of it all be your delight this Christmas.

    Blessings!

    Tama

    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!

    Parties in heaven?

    The other night we watched a movie that, to many, may have not seemed that engaging. It took a while for some of the plot to develop and get the back story of the characters, but it was endearing enough for me to keep watching. The title? Gifted. It’s a story about a young man named Frank, who, due to tragic circumstances, ended up raising his niece Mary. It depicts the struggle in which he finds himself when the tiny town in Florida in which they live figures out that, at the tender age of six, Mary is already a brilliant mathematician.

    Soon a court case ensues, spurred on by her grandmother – much to the uncle’s dismay. The grandmother (and exacting woman who seems to have no confidence in her own son and his ability to care for the child), insists that she has greater wealth and influence in her New England hometown, both of which could be used to help her granddaughter achieve greatness.

    As part of the court case, the grandmother’s lawyer digs up the girls biological father – who conveniently names her as the legal guardian. Frank’s attorney quickly dismisses the father as one who has no right to make that kind of call. Although Mary is nowhere to be seen during this part of the movie, Frank at some point decides to tell her that her father testified.

    The news is crushing. She locks herself in the bathroom, hunkers down on the floor, sobbing. Her uncle and a neighbor friend Roberta try to talk to her (well, Roberta actually chides Frank for even saying anything)… but the words the girl speaks are haunting: “My real dad is in town and he didn’t even want anything to do with me?”

    Oh…..how movies can bring reality to life.

    I can’t say I understand what she was feeling. My dad has always been in my life, and I have always known he loves me. Yet I know that is not the same for all of you. I know that some of you had absent fathers, abusive fathers, fathers that may have been in the picture but didn’t care about entering into your world. I cannot even begin to imagine what its like, yet my heart broke watching that scene because what cried out from that little actresses heart was a question every one of us has had, at some point (and some of you more than others):

    Am I really wanted?

    What Frank does next takes a while to follow, as he gives no hints what he’s doing as they get in the car (even to Roberta, who he drags along for the ride). All you see next is that they are in a hospital, and that they sit there….. for a very, very long time.

    Initially I wondered if Mary’s biological father might work at the hospital, and Frank was waiting til he got off shift so Mary could meet him.

    Nope. Frank had something much more important in mind.

    You see, Frank could have coaxed Mary out of the bathroom, or waited til she came out on her own. He could have sat her down and explained to her that her dad didn’t even know about her, or that people are flawed and don’t often think about others. He could have sat with her in her hurt and simply acknowledged that sometimes people make dumb choices and this was one of them. All of those may have been decent ways of handling Mary’s grief… but none of them would have replaced those feelings of unworthiness with reality – and Frank knew Mary needed the truth.

    The camera starts to follow the reaction of a family sitting near to them in the waiting room. The older man sits up straighter in his chair, and the women turn and look at each other, but it is silent so you have no real idea what is going on.

    Frank taps Mary to wake her up, having fallen asleep since it was now the middle of the night. She scowls at him, confused.

    All of a sudden, a young man comes out through the two doors of the hallway and shouts “It’s a boy!!” — at which point of course everyone goes wild and jumps up and down with excitement, hugging each other, eyes full of tears for the joy of this tiny life entering the world.

    It reminded me of Luke 15:10 when Jesus talks about the angels celebrating over even one person who turns to God.

    Mary sits up and looks at her uncle, who at that point leans over and whispers to her “THAT’S what it was like when you were born,” he says. In that moment, Frank communicates so much more than Mary realized she needed to understand:

    You were loved from the moment you entered the world.

    You were celebrated.

    You still are, even if people who should care for you don’t…. Or never did.

    You are worth fighting over

    My friend, this is what you need to hear the Father in heaven speak over your life!

    It doesn’t matter what your story is, or was. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done well or how much you’ve blown it. This is the joy God felt over you the day you were born, and even moreso the day you realized He loved you like this. He longs for you to find freedom from every lie you’ve been told, from every hurt that has kept you caged, from every wound that has left you broken.

    What Mary does next is even more amazing. “Can we stay for another?” She asks her uncle….so they stay and watch until another family gets the happy news of the birth of their daughter. Mary practically jumps out of her chair with excitement, goes over to the family and joins them in the celebration, smiling and clapping for them. I’m sure they didn’t quite understand why it she joined them, but they welcomed her in and let her celebrate too.

    This is the work of the kingdom, my friends. To know the joy the Father has over YOU, and then to join Him and rejoice when others find the same grace, love, and mercy for their lives. There really is nothing more beautiful and pure than watching the recognition of how much someone is loved by God wash over their lives, and to see His healing making them whole. Whether it happens in a moment or over time… it’s just flat out beautiful, no matter what their age.

    So go be part of the kingdom: Find the joy God has over you. Bask in it, if you never have. Let Jesus bind up those wounds and show you how to trade truth for a lie. Then go share it with others and watch as God uses you to awaken them to His love. Its a lifetime work, my friends… but it’s worth it.

    Here’s to more parties in heaven 🙂