Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

Two scary words

I’ve been pondering whether or not I should write about this next subject, mainly because I am still very much in process on it myself. But I am a verbal processor, and sometimes writing about it helps me figure things out as well, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I will tell you though, before you get too far in reading, that this might be a trigger for some of you. It certainly was for me, when we started talking about it in seminary.

Discipleship. Evangelism.

Even reading those word triggers things deep down in me that make me want to run, screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!”

So when I found I had to take a class on it for seminary, I naturally went in kicking and screaming, guard up and ready to take everything with a grain of salt.

Why? Because early in my walk, like many of you who grew up in the Evangelical church world, were taught about the Great Commission, and that Jesus wanted us to tell everyone about Him and make disciples. The problem with how it was taught, implemented, or maybe just how I heard it, is that it quickly became a program. A set of beliefs to get people to subscribe to. A plan. The subtle message with it was that if I wasn’t evangelizing and converting someone, I wasn’t a “good Christian” because I wasn’t doing what Jesus said to do.

**[Insert years of feeling like a failure because that model never felt right to me] **

Oh, don’t get me wrong….“friendship evangelism” became a thing, but it basically was then try to convert your friends. If they aren’t interested, stop spending time with them and go focus on someone who will listen.

I’m not saying that is what was taught, just … that’s what I interpreted (and frankly what was modeled for me). Which is why I went into class with a bad, very bad taste in my mouth. I’m not surprised to hear that others in class felt the same way. But little by little, God is undoing this picture in my head, and I am grateful.

We spend a lot of time talking about how much sharing the message of Jesus (aka evangelism) and helping people learn what it means to follow him (aka discipleship) have been separated, when they never should have been. How “doing church” has really taken us away from the core message of Jesus, which is to proclaim that God has come to fix the world. Heck, Jesus proclaimed the good news before he ever went to the cross. Have you ever though about that? The good news is that God pays attention to those that need hope and are rejected. He cares for those who need a doctor, not those who are doing well and already get the spiritual stuff. He elevates the ones society doesn’t pay attention to.

Please hear me – I am not saying church is bad, or that we should all jump ship. I know many churches do things well, and they are doing exactly what Jesus called them to do.

It just makes me wonder what it would be like if rather than just making sure people are “introduced” to or told about Jesus, we spent time just loving the kids or teens in your neighborhood, your roommates/housemates, your local barista or laundromat buddy or waiter/waitress that you see every week at your favorite place to eat. The bartender who listens to everyone’s problems and no one listens to theirs. Getting to know them. Actually caring about them because they are interesting people, made in the Image of God. No agenda. Living our lives following Jesus and his ways. Trusting that if they are thirsty, if they are seeking, if they have questions and your relationship with them has made it safe for them to investigate and ask questions about this Jesus you follow, this God you believe in…. they will.

That asking questions and investigating should be the first part, and that often happens only in the context of relationship. That it’s not just the pastor/chaplain’s job, or the elder/deacon’s job, or your Sunday School/CCE or home group leader’s job. In fact it’s not a job at all.

How have you found God’s truth in the world around you? Where have you seen His leadership in your work life? What has God set you free from? Where have you had someone lay their life down for you, to model the way God loves us? How have you experienced forgiveness? Mercy? Go and show that to others. Go and be and model that to and for others.

“What does the Lord require of you? To live justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with your God” — Micah 6:8

Friends, this plays out so many different ways in each of our stories. My way of walking this out is NEVER going to be exactly how you walk this out. But I’d challenge you to take a hard look at where you put your time and energy. Do you know anyone that isn’t in church? Do you actually hang out with them, get to know them, invest in them – even if they don’t care about Jesus? If not, why not?

We are here to love. We are here to show that God cares about folks, even if they don’t want to hear what He has to say.

The One we claim as Savior certainly did. Let’s follow him in that. I can’t think of a better way to share the good news. If at some point they decide Jesus is someone they want to follow, then show them how. Don’t give them religion. Talk to them about what it looks and feels like to trust, and pray. What it means to forgive and be forgiven.

What it means to live justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Lessons from a frozen lake

The first winter we were in the Chicago suburbs, I decided to take the girls downtown to see Navy Pier. Why I did that in February, I will never know, as February can often be bitter cold (which I didn’t know at the time) – but it happened to be one of those rare not-below-zero-no-wind-days – so we lucked out. I’ll never forget the view from the ferris wheel overlooking Lake Michigan. It was stunning. Having never seen anything but lakes in Virginia until then, I expected it to be dark and muddy. What I found staring back at me instead was an aqua colored lake, frozen from the winter temps. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The ice near the shore had started to crack and split apart, and so you could see the water beneath. Gorgeous. Not quite the aqua of the ocean near Mexico, but it was pretty darn close.

I was reminded of this memory on a run around a lake near Boulder recently, probably because when I ran around it less than a month ago, it was completely frozen solid except for a small hole around which all the local ducks had gathered. This time, in the near 70- degree temps, you could tell the sun of Colorado had done it’s work: the ice was melted, the darker waters rippled, and the ducks squawked, as if they too were celebrating the start of spring.

It got me to thinking.

It’s easy to understand why a smaller lake (maybe one of 2 square miles at most) would freeze over. Yet even a lake as large as Lake Michigan (it has a surface area of over 22,000 square miles) freezes over due to the cold temperatures. The surface ice is thick. Once frozen, it takes some serious continued warming of the sun to create even small fissures that will break through and allow the water to peek out.

But that water was always flowing, even under the frozen surface of ice.

It reminded me of how sometimes, our hearts can get to be like Lake Michigan: beautiful but frozen, the living water that Jesus said would flow out of our hearts is still there, just …. covered. I’m sure its not something we know is happening, just like a lake that big can’t freeze overnight. It’s gradual.

It’s not the weeds that Jesus spoke of that make people walk away from faith because they are not grounded. It’s not a heart of stone that we might have had once in our lives. It’s just a place where that living water seems so hard to find, to feel flowing. It’s a place where we may continue to walk in faith, knowing God is real, but the deep stuff we once could drink from and hunger for seems unresponsive and hard to find.

My friends, if this is your spiritual walk right now, if this is where you are and you question if that living water matters any more, or maybe you are wondering if you can just skate on top of it for a while…

Hold on.

Ice forms little by little in the coldest weather. Isn’t that what life can do to us? Little by little. We may dance a bit, knowing we haven’t given up yet, and so the idea of living water still is something we resonate with. But just like the gray skies and freezing temperatures can cause a lake as large as Michigan to freeze over, who are we to think that we are any different?

We cannot create our own living water.

Yes, faith is the essence, the substance of things we cannot see. In my mind, this is a head thing. We can logically wrap our heads around this part. We can say we are not giving up on what we believe. But wouldn’t simply holding onto a belief and not fighting to know the living water that comes with that belief be a little like trying to skate on a frozen lake?

How can you let the light of God into your life right now and start to thaw places that have iced over, even if you never meant it to happen? I know we want things quick. Sometimes God does that. More often, it seems He doesn’t and it takes continued exposure, just like it takes days of sunlight and warmer weather to break through thick ice.

The living water is there, my friends, because the source hasn’t gone anywhere.

With the spring coming in our part of the world… why don’t you take time to join all of creation and let God thaw you out as well? 🙂

Geekspeak and the Cosmic Battle

As I sat in church this morning, I have to admit I checked out a little. Given that we are in the Lenten season, the church I am attending is focusing on different aspects of the cross from now until Easter. Today’s message was on the power of the cross to free us from the chains of sin.

Its not that I don’t agree. It’s not that I don’t get it. But I sat there the entire time looking around and wondering…. for how many is this going over their head? It’s all theologically right. It’s all biblically sound. I could see heads nodding for those that believe, those that were following what the pastor was saying. She had lots of good analogies too, in the “light vs dark” battle: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and sundry action movies. I mean, after all, it’s always what things come down to, right? Evil and darkness seem to be stronger and then the good guys come in and fight. They might look like they are losing but they win in the end.

As I sat there listening, three things came to mind:

1. The Christian faith has a ton of its own lingo that, unless you have been in church for a while, it sounds like an entirely different language, one that you can walk away and go “well that sure sounds nice but what does it MEAN?”

2. The job that I had for over 16 years an an analyst, and one that I still do from time to time, is essentially one that requires me to translate “geekspeak” to everyday language so that the business owner will know what they are getting

3. God always uses what we do (aka our jobs) in life to translate spiritual realities into everyday, understandable truth

We’re studying the whole cosmic battle stuff in my Torah class now in seminary, and it’s really actually pretty cool. We’ve been looking at all these other Ancient Near East texts and seeing how the ANE people really saw their world. They told stories of how gods and godesses built the world and fought for the right to create and give destinies. They weren’t trying to describe material creation, rather, they were trying to make sense of how the world came to be. It sets the context of Genesis and how truly *revolutionary* it must have been to hear how and why people were created in a whole new light. Yet reading these stories with 21st century ears, it’s all very mythical and easy to think “wow, how could they believe that stuff?”

I can’t help but wonder if that is sometimes how the message of the cross sounds to people today.

I know Paul addresses that in Corinthians when he says:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness [moria, also means absurdity] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18

But I am not satisfied with just quoting that verse or resting in that truth and not trying to translate it. Nor should you. For those of us who have experienced forgiveness, who know what God has done to set us free from the things that have kept us captive — whether or not you are still in church or have given up on the body of Christ — this is the work we are called to:

Translation.

Yes, sometimes the message of the cross may sound absurd to people. What I find interesting though, is the word Paul uses that is translated “perishing” in the verse above also means to render useless. Think about that for a second. How often do the struggles of life, or words spoken by others, kill hopes and dreams, and make people think they are useless in the world? It doesn’t make logical sense that a cross would undo that, which is why Paul says it sounds like foolishness, absurdity. Yet it does, and once you have experienced it, you know how to explain it: The message of LOVE on the cross, the One that is light that breaks through darkness absolutely has the power to overcome!

You see, I think the translation stuff often happens only in smaller settings. When someone can honestly stay, to someone they have relationship with “I don’t get it. What exactly do I need to be set free from? What battle is being waged over my life? What if I really am doing the best I can to live a good life, where does sin fit in? What did God forgive me of? Does it really matter? How do I join God in fixing the world?”

The whole cosmic battle idea – that we have been purchased from darkness and brought into life – I believe, don’t get me wrong. I know there is a war against my soul, your soul, against my kids, against goodness in the world, against belief that there even is a God. If modern day slavery and human trafficking and racism and abuse don’t prove that to you, then I don’t know what will. The world is not as it should be for many people’s lives, both here and abroad. And I think that this side of the cosmic battle – that justice and mercy and goodness should reign in our communities and in the world – is much easier to grasp as a starting point than something that sounds like a cosmic battle being fought over our lives individually.

The cross is powerful when you take the time to look at what it really means for your life. I have been humbled to realize that in many more ways over this past year. In communicating God’s message of love and forgiveness, let us not forget that those who do not yet believe will need to hear about the message of the cross in language that makes sense to them. I’ll be honest….. in this day and age, I can’t help but wonder if communicating that Jesus suffering at the hands of people who had a political game to play makes more sense. He gets it.

But you know what?

God is fully able to show people what they need to see about Him. Chains look one way to an addict, and another to a prisoner… and another to a mom or dad in suburbia just trying to raise their kids and protect them and teach them how to grow up, a person struggling with an eating disorder or someone trying to hide their sexual orientation. Missing the mark looks one way to a wife or husband who just yelled at their spouse and immediately regrets it, to the politician who compromised on something they hold dear, to the teen who struggles with the pressures their peers place on them. Fear has all sorts of faces too, for the soldier at war, the daughter or son in an abusive or demanding home, the person who has to hold it all together because what would happen if they didn’t?

We all need to be rescued from something. Only you know what that is. Only your neighbor or co-worker does for their lives. So whether the “cosmic battle” story makes more sense to people on a big scale or small one, it never ceases to amaze me how much difference it makes when we invite God into our own stories and places. If you believe, you have done that at some point in your life.

Don’t get stuck in the language of the Christian world. Find a way to communicate the truth of what you have had to learn, of what the cross has done for you, of what battle has been fought in your life, and won. Then… share THAT. Because THAT is what people will understand first, before they ever read about it in the pages of scripture.

Burned on like a Tattoo

Songs. Specifically worship songs. I know we all go to different types of churches, and there are such different styles of music we like or don’t like. For some of you, hymns are familiar and remind you of the faith in which you walk. For others, you resonate more with the upbeat style. Either way, it always amazes me how much music can move our soul.

I love worship songs.. especially those that are not simply repetitive, because they tend to capture the nuances of the soul and really give you something to sing that you believe. Know what I mean? Yet sometimes, I have a hard time connecting with a song and singing it like I mean it.

Anyone with me?

Not everyone feels like being all happy and joyful the minute they walk into church or turn on the radio. Life toughens us up, we all run a million ways, and it’s hard to switch gears and so sometimes we just “go through the motions” and sing songs because they are in the hymnal or on the screen. Yet like tenderizer to steak, or lime juice in a marinade, worship has a way of softening us, if we will let it. At least, that has been my experience. It has a way of wooing my soul to be willing to let down its guard and just BE. It helps me be willing to hear what God wants to speak, or what I need to learn. I didn’t know that at the start of my journey, but I know it now.

Then there are these times where I sing songs and I don’t resonate with them, but I know they are truth and so I sing them with as much conviction as I can at the time. I remember doing this with one song called “The Desert Song” that a friend would play at my church in Illinois. The lyrics are strong: they declare believe in a God who provides when everything is dry, a God who refines our lives in suffering or pain, a God who brings triumph when the battle is still underway. I remember singing that, thinking of smaller battles in my life God brought victory over, dry times I had experienced thus far.

The bridge is probably the most declarative of all:

“…All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship…”

But singing it on one side of life doesn’t compare to when you sing it on the other side.

I don’t know how to say it any other way. I remember singing this before things got really hard with my younger daughter’s depression, in the middle when my older one was struggling, and I remember singing it after, when I had stood in faith for both of their lives and believed God had more for their stories. The words were sung first in faith, in the middle as clinging to a promise, and on the other side, in triumph.

It’s like those lyrics were burned into my soul as a tattoo, a choice I was making to worship no matter what.

I realize making a choice like this is not always easy. It defies everything the world tells you. It’s nuts to anyone. They think you are just avoiding dealing with reality, or they think you are trying to pretend what is going on is not real. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Making this kind of declaration in worship, or in prayer, or in your car singing to the radio, or in talking to a friend and finally saying what has been rolling around in your soul for a while – it makes a difference.

The reality of this hit me again today in church, when we sang the song “Who can compare?” By Jesus Culture. I remember hearing this song for the first time when things were rough last year as Jon and I started the divorce process. The words were like water for my soul, declaring just what I needed at that moment:

“… You take my hand, and You guide me on. You show me the way to life. And You lift my head, and You give me hope. You show me the way to life…”

That is EXACTLY what the Lord proceeded to do, and the next months were so healing I can’t even begin to put them into words. So when we sang it again today, over a year later… this time it was a sweet reminder of how faithful our God is. Because I am healed. I am full of hope at what He has next for me…. and I know my life still has a ton of fruit to bear in this next season.

So why do I share these two stories? Because I know in faith there are times we walk without proof or assurance that God is really with us, that He is going to do what he said he would do. It’s hard. It can be frustrating. It can take forever and we can lose hope. We will question his goodness, His faithfulness, His purpose…. we will even question His people.

But when you hold onto the truth of who He has said He is, when you defy logic and reason and negative or condemning voices, declaring you will trust Him no matter what….. on the other side of the trial – your faith is refined, and the words you once sang not quite being sure of BECOME YOUR TRUTH.

So.. next time you go to church, or hear a song on the radio.. pay attention to the lyrics. Pay attention to what you sing. What you proclaim. Determine to make it yours. Because when you do…

You will be unshakeable.

Me and Advent

I have been doing a lot of thinking this time of year, specifically paying attention to sermons on Advent. Admittedly, I have never really been one to focus on the meaning of Advent before… yet this year is different. This year, the lessons of Advent are speaking to me more than I have ever heard them before.

Maybe its because this year, I am constantly comparing to December last year.

Last year this time, I was dreading conversations. I was carrying secret shame, shame that my marriage was over. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, it seemed, and relief was nowhere in sight. I was carrying the weight of the pain we would cause our girls, the fractured family that we would become, fearful of what my life was going to look like and yet throwing my hope onto the One that said He was our anchor beyond the veil. Crying out to Jesus in a way I never had before. Last year, advent wasn’t even mentioned. But it was not lost on me that for the first time in my life, I understood the story of Mary with a whole new set of eyes.

This year… this year I am choosing joy, and I am living my life out honestly. I can look back at all the Lord has done to bring healing in my life, and I can see the new things He is starting to do that I cannot yet see in their fullness. This year, I am paying attention to Advent because I must, because in some way, I know the Lord is teaching me something new… and it’s good.

The first week of Advent I heard about waiting. Now, I know officially the first week represents hope, but that’s not what Brian Zahnd focused out in his message the first week. Maybe he took it in a different direction because hope is ultimately about waiting for something, right? In the case of Israel, it meant waiting for the Messiah. In our case, he pointed out, it means waiting for God to move. Not waiting on an event or occurrence, which is often what we really are waiting for (if this or that happens, THEN I will ….). No. Waiting on God. Because, as Brian pointed out, when God comes, something is going to happen. We may not know what, but something will happen, and it will be good. This year, there are a few things I am waiting on – one of which I clearly have known God has to move, the other I realize I was looking for an outcome. The first week of Advent has reminded me to shift my gaze, and to not give up waiting. I needed to hear that more than I know.

The second week of Advent is about Love. Yet at a church I visited last Sunday, the pastor spoke of both hope and joy. Hope of the Messiah, a story that Elizabeth and Mary both became a part of because God was moving in His time, in His way. Yet joy – because although neither of them quite understood what God was doing, they were willing to walk out the change in direction of their lives and circumstance. When they saw the grace of what God was doing in each other’s lives, THEN their story made sense. THEN they could see some of what God was doing – but it only made sense when the pieces were put together. As the pastor said…when they both saw the grace over each other’s lives, it made them ask “what IS God doing????” This year, I can honestly stand back and ask the same. I am keenly aware that his ways are not mine, that his thoughts are not mine, and that there is greater mystery than ever in following him. For someone who likes to know what is going on and for whom planning is a default… this requires constant trust. Trust that something is going on, something I cannot see and cannot touch… and something that may still take years to unfold.

So as we stand here, just a few days away from Christmas, I invite you to take a step back and ask yourself: Where in my own life do I need to wait on God, not wait on circumstances to change? Where can I shift my focus so that I am not anxious about how things will play out, but I look with eager anticipation to seeing how God moves on my behalf? And where can you step back and look at things and wonder… what is going on? How is what I see now going to result in greater things in the future?

Merry Christmas, my friends! May the light Jesus came to bring brighten your world this year, and may His peace, peace that says we WILL be ok in His hands, give you hope.

Tama