The creativity of “calling”

Early in my years as an evangelical Christian, the idea of calling was huge. Every question, every prayer, everything it seemed was designed to make sure that we, as college students, were seeking to follow God’s “call” on our life.

It was if there was one thing and if you missed it, you were destined to live life in the shadows of faith. Of course that is totally NOT the way to see it or understand calling. Yes, sure sometimes people hear or sense God leading them in a certain direction, but that doesn’t happen to everyone.. and if you are one of the people who (like me) who never “heard” God tell them to do something specific… you didn’t miss a thing.

Now, let me state for the record: I know I am certainly not the first to write about this, nor am I going to sit and write about what calling really means or how to find it or the plethora of other approaches one could take.

Instead, I want to just ask you to sit with me in the wonder and vastness of the creativity of God, when he created people of every nation and tribe and tongue, with brilliance and intelligence that I can just not fathom. Then I want to invite you to think of what “calling” really means, in the wake of this vast, creative passion.

I work with some brilliant solution architects, data gurus and programmers. The way their minds think boggles me. I’ve worked with them for 26 years and I still cannot do the things they can.

A good friend of mine from back in Virginia is such an amazing cook, he can make a gourmet meal no matter what he has in his kitchen. He was like those apps that you enter all your ingredients and they find you a recipe… before smart phones ever existed. I’m pretty good in the kitchen given a recipe…. but its no comparison to what he can do.

Two new friends are so musically gifted that I often sit in their music studios in their houses (well, one is in our garage).. and marvel at their screens and mixing tools and ability to blend instruments and voices and produce these beautiful melodies. Where do song lyrics come from? How are they inspired to write? I could never do that.. I just enjoy the fruit of their labors.

Then there is the whole architecture thing. How in the world do architects know just how to build bridges so they will sway with wind and storms, but not break? Did you know that there are people that climb them to check them, because their climbing skills are such that they can handle it if something happened, and they aren’t afraid?

What about this. Do you ever sit in the doctors office and look at the body charts they have on the wall? I did, the other day, waiting for my yearly eye checkup. The eye is crazy detailed. The reality that someone delights in learning all that and studying it so that they can help people see, or do eye surgery? Fascinating.

When my older daughter decided she wanted to head into the medical field, we took a trip to MTSU as she was considering nursing school at the time. One of the things I will never forget was a questionnaire they gave her as a screening tool. It had a bunch of true/false questions on it like “I faint easily” and “I can handle the sight of blood” to “I am generally calm in a crisis”. Appropriate questions for any medical career.

She just laughed reading them. “I watch brain surgery videos for fun,” she commented.

All I could think of was this:

Sure.. God called some to be prophets and teachers and pastors and stuff… but others he has called to be firefighters and paramedics, doctors and nurses, brain surgeons and every other surgeon you can think of. Only some people are cut out to see all that blood and guts … and its definitely NOT me!

Then there are the quiet ones, the ones that do things no one may seem to notice but play really imporant roles too. They type 90 words a minute and transcribe legal cases, or notes from a meeting with a CEO, or they work with people who have had their houses burnt down to and do all the paperwork to rebuild, or they design buildings, or they come up with new and creative ways to help sustain entire communities in other countries.

Some run non-profits and barely scrape by, but they are changing lives by getting people out of debt, or building wells for fresh water, or making sure people have shoes.. or that they are pulled out of slavery. They knit or sew or make candles or soap, or provide micro loans so people can get back on their feet.

Then you have your moms and dads of little ones that are so creative they can build forts out of the collection of toilet paper tubes and a few sheets and make $100 last a week when they need to, teenagers that are like little kid magnets that give their parents a much needed break. Teachers. Oh Teachers, the ones that have had to learn how to do things online when they never have before, how to engage kids and try to make it interesting, whether they are 4 year olds or 17 year olds. The ones that fork over hundreds out of their own pockets to finish their classrooms and draw their own diagrams and teach history in a way that kids can relate to it.

So

many

more.

I could go on and on – and so could you, I know. The thought of how people are drawn to certain careers or things they do to make a living or to help others just blows my mind.

So calling? Its ALL of it. All of it is a calling of God to take care of the world he has given us. Its right there in Genesis chapter 1 – fill the earth, take care of it, manage it.

He knew we were going to need all types of skills to do just that. … and no one can limit the breadth and width of what they are.

I love that even in the Old Testament, trades workers were called out. Bezalel and Ohiliab were specifically named for their craftsmanship, intelligence, and knowledge (and I’d say creativity too) – read Exodus 35:30-36:2 where they are highlighted – but really chapters 36-38 explain everything they and their team built and designed.

So my friends, whatever your job is, whether you are paid or not, whether you spend hours doing it or just a few – know that you are gifted and talented to dig into that and do it WELL, because YOUR job is important.

I also want to pass along a few GREAT resources I found – check them out if you are struggling to understand why what you do matters!

BOOK: Work Matters, by Tom Nelson

WEBSITE: http://www.theologyofwork.org

Another version of the road less traveled

As much as I love to hike locally, hiking in Boulder is a “get out early or deal with crowds” type of hike. There are usually a lot of people out on the trails – and for good reason! The view is great, you can find trails of any level, and … well, it’s Colorado.

Last week I was itching to hike, but it was a last minute decision after having slept in on Saturday. The forecast predicted rain at 60% by 2pm. It was 10am. By my calculation.. it was not a good day to start hiking late. Oh well. I grabbed my rain jacket, a water bottle, my new waterproof hiking shoes, and headed out. I figured I would hike as long as I could and leave if it got too wet.

Sure enough, it started misting about a half hour in – but nothing like what the forecast predicted. It was actually nice and cooling. Thank goodness!

For the first hour I saw a good number of people. It’s summer, after all 🙂

As I got closer to the top of either the 1st or the 2nd Flatiron (still trying to figure out the difference between the two to be honest), the number of people still hiking grew fewer and fewer. The trail got a little more slippery because of the mist, but my shoes held steady. They were made for this.

My mind drifted as it does when I am alone, knowing how often the Lord uses everyday things around us to speak about spiritual truths. I thought of how many people collected around Jesus in the early days. They sought him out, they listened to his blessings, his reminder that they are salt and light, and they brought their sick to receive healing. They stayed through the challenges of their religious leaders, knowing Jesus was different. Yet, as time went on, the road got harder as a disciple. More was required….. and less and less followed.

The parallel wasn’t lost on me.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High…”

You can’t be serious Jesus. You actually expect us to forgive our oppressors and the ones in power? They are in the wrong. They are misusing it and all of us regular folks will have to pay for it.

“…because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked….”

Um.. what about all that wrath stuff that the prophets talked about! You’re supposed to deliver us and punish them!

Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” – Luke 6:35-36

Then he went on to explain just what mercy looked like for those who wanted to follow him: don’t be so quick to judge, check your heart, watch your motives, forgive if you expect to be forgiven, don’t just listen and give lip service. Be different, actions matter.

Later, John tells a story of how Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, they had to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood (John 6:53+). For good Jews who knew that God didn’t want child sacrifice and that they were not to drink blood (both condemned in Torah) – I’m sure this sounded like sacrilege. John said many left that day and couldn’t follow him any more. But to those that did, the mystery of this teaching must have caused them to search and understand what he meant.

I thought about after his resurrection, when Jesus challenge Peter to feed his sheep, Peter looked back and asked “But… what about that guy?” (meaning the disciple John). Jesus’ answer was essentially this:

What is that to you?

If that doesn’t speak to the fact that we all have our own path to follow, I’m not sure what does. And I don’t mean it in that generic attitude of “I’ll do my own thing” that we tend to have as westerners. We have to be careful not to look at others who are walking with Jesus and compare or wonder why we can’t do what they can, or how come God didn’t do that or ask that of us.

Some things, we are all “called” to. The good news, the gospel, is that God has come to invade the earth with his promise of redemption, restoration, and shalom. Tell that story. Live into that reality.

If you’ve headed down the wrong path, made wrong choices, there’s forgiveness. If you have been denied justice, He knows. That belongs to Him, because sometimes it’s not given in this world. Yet he offers His very presence as a trade. He gives real joy, life, and strength in the middle of every part of life, in a way only you will be able to explain once you experience it.

Those who choose to walk in the way of Jesus – you all have a story. You are, like the disciples, the ones who get to – even in your doubt (Thomas) and denying (Peter) and misunderstanding of what might be best (Martha) – be a living representative for the reality of God in your corner of the world, your job, your neighborhood, your life. It doesn’t have to be huge or something that is big and flashy to be real. You don’t need your social media “followers” to like it if you post about it. You know what He has done, you know how He has called you to love others and serve them. So do that.

For some…. like the fact the trail thinned out for me near the top…. You may find there are places in your life that Jesus may ask you to go, and no one else seems to be going that way. He may have put a specific burden on your heart to reach a particular people group, start something new that fills a need, or love someone that no one else wants to. He may have asked you to give up something that’s hard, or that you feel you have a “right” to because you’ve worked for it. Take that risk. Talk to trusted friends, and trust He’s in it. Stay in conversation with Him about it, and He’ll give you the wisdom you need.

I realize it can feel lonely. It can make you question if you heard Him right. You might not get a ton of people to join you, or others might not seem to understand the level of commitment you have in whatever it is… but do what He has put on your heart. Do it faithfully, being fully human, but filled with his Spirit. You won’t do it perfectly because He’s the only one that is, so have grace for yourself. He’s got you!

You never know what the result might be.. the seeds sown, the lives changed. One day, you’ll find out!

Blessings, my friends – and don’t stop seeking!

Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

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.