Back up the mountain?

Somewhere along the road, we learn to cope with the things that knock us down, don’t we? We figure out how to do life again, maybe limping, but we keep going. We kind of have do, don’t we? Life doesn’t give you an option, but you can always figure out a way forward, even if its not what you expected.

I was was with a friend yesterday, someone with whom I have walked with for the past year or so, ever since she was diagnosed with a number of health issues. A group of us prayed for her, that God would bring healing; she has three young kids and they need her desperately. Dad’s unfortunately not very present. At that time, it seemed she’d be gone in a few months.

That was a year ago. Her health issues continue, she has more blood clots than anyone can imagine. Constant pain, a blood disease that renders surgery not an option, and failing lungs. Every day is hard. Yet she keeps going, she keeps leading her kids in faith, she keeps her home bakery business going to support her family. Doctors cannot explain why she is still here – and her answer is always “Well, I have a big God”. Yes, yes she does.

After I met with her, I kept thinking of a story in the book of Exodus (note: not because it described her, but because of the encouragement it could bring her) where Moses has just come down off the mountain and dropped the commandments God had given him, in anguish over the idol the Israelites had formed. This God that had delivered them from their slavemasters had just promised to be their God and lead them. He had spoken purpose over them – going from being slaves to being priests and a light to the world. They had agreed! But they so quickly went back to their old ways, not yet knowing how to trust in the God that had met with them nor how to follow his ways.

The description of them is as a “stiff-necked” or “obstinate” people, and Moses had the great task of leading them. I cannot imagine how frustrating it was for him as a leader. I can imagine if this happened today, his social media post would read something like:

COME ON, PEOPLE – GET WITH THE PROGRAM! Pay attention to what is being offered to you! Seriously. (#frustrated #leaderprobs #arewethereyet? #getmeouttahere)

I have a feeling that for those of you out there in leadership, or those serving in the body of Christ, or those helping your neighbors, or those raising teens – many of you get this, you feel the frustration Moses felt. You wonder “why me, God?” Why do I have to put up with this stubborn people, these kids, this situation? I’m trying to lead them, teach them, do my best to steer the Titanic away from disaster……

Maybe we can learn something from Moses. And friends, I do not say this lightly, because I need to hear this as much as you. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t need to be reminded of this very truth.

(I know I am skipping over a bunch in the text, but bottom line:) Moses asked God to show himself, after crying out for God to go with them into the promised land…. and God answered:

“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, Jehovah….”

Can you imagine what that would have been like?

THIS IS WHO I AM. Not just “el”, the other gods people speak of. I AM YAHWEH God, that speaks.

God first reminds Moses who He is, before he reminds him of his character:

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

My friend, I know – you have probably asked God to show up, and maybe He has, or maybe God seems silent. Or maybe you haven’t had the heart to ask.

Yet the question remains – and will always be, no matter what trial you are facing, what stubborn people you are dealing with – are you willing to go back up the mountain, and let your soul be reminded of the God you serve? Will you let the Holy Spirit, in that mysterious way He comforts and speaks to us, bring these words to life again in you? Let the character of the God we serve, embodied in these words, wash over your tired and frustrated heart, and give you courage

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

He has not left. You are not alone. And He goes with you. That is his promise to us!

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.

A Unique Song

This past Tuesday I had the chance to see Rend Collective at a church about an hour from our house. I can confidently say I have never been invited by the lead singer to join the band in an Irish jigg – but something about a guy with an Irish accent that has a lot of energy makes you want to join in! So there I was, with easily a thousand other people, arm in arm, singing and laughing and having what he called “Irish church”! It was actually kind of fun! (but don’t expect me to be seen doing that on my own, mind you….)

After countless songs full of joy and celebration, confetti cannons and a bubble machine (I’m serious), he then did something I did not expect: a song of lament. I appreciate the story that led the group to write it. Yet I appreciate even more the statement the lead singer made, which is probably more true than we realize: There are often many people who come to concerts and may enjoy the music and honestly be trying to worship, but because of the weight of things they are carrying in their season of life, the music rarely expresses the honestly of their true feelings.

I am sure many of you have felt that way in church too, at some point or another, havent you? We are taught to offer a sacrifice of praise, we are taught that to worship when things are hard is beautiful and part of the essence of faith. I would not disagree with either statement. Yet to deny the reality that sometimes we feel more like the psalmist (or Jesus) in crying out “God where are you?” is to be disengenuous, to miss part of the humanity of faith, which is well represented not only in passages of scripture but also in the rich history of our faith.

I am reminded of when my friend Marnie spoke of lament a few years back at our women’s retreat. Lament, she said, was a lost element and something misunderstood. To lament is to mourn before the Lord over all the things that are not right in the world, to be honest about the pain they bring…. yet to thrust our hope on His ultimate promise that one day, He will make things right. When that hardship and pain become more personal and stretch into longsuffering, that promise can seem too far off, and we have the choice to either walk away or turn to God in a way that may take more than we think we have to give. Yet talk to anyone who has clung to Jesus in those times, and you will hear their faith grew in ways they never could have expected until they were there.

“Lord will you weep with me? I don’t need answers, all I need is to know that you care for me. Hear my plea. Are you even listening? Lord I will wrestle with your heart but I won’t let you go” ( lyrics copyright Rend Collective, “Weep with Me”)

Part of honest faith is to own up to these moments in our lives, and to wrestle with them until we find ourselves remembering that He is there, that He is for us, and to rest in the arms of our brothers and sisters when we need their strength. It’s easy to understand how we can be the fragrance of Christ when we are full of joy, or full of faith and positivity, but I know that in those moments when things are their hardest, when we can still cling to the One we know loves us deeply, that fragrance is still there.

So, my friend, if you are facing hard things right now, I would encourage you to find a way to put words to your lament. God is big enough to handle it, I promise.

If you know someone facing hard things….. Yes, pray, and bring them before the God who loves them and is walking beside them even if they cannot believe it. But know that your faithfulness to them will often speak louder than any bible verses sometimes, so don’t feel like you have know just the “right” thing to say. One of the best things you can do is just be there for them!

The best is yet to come?

I read a verse a while ago where the Lord told Israel “I will only ever want good for you”. Of course now I cannot find it underlined anywhere in the 5 different bibles I have laying scattered around…but I know I wrote it down somewhere..

Anyway.

In reading that verse it struck me, that no one has ever run across that before, or, if they did, they ran past it and didn’t pay much attention. At this place in my life, and with so many people struggling with the idea that God is good, I wonder why this particular “word from God” is never mentioned?

I have been reading a lot of the old testament lately, and what stands out to me is that in spite of how unfaithful Israel was to the Lord, he constantly has a voice of justice, of love, and of defense of who they are. He always draws them to life, always challenges them to better, always points them to something in the future. On this side of things, we know that one of those “better” things was Jesus, the One that would forever change our fear of what God thinks of us.

When things are going well for us in life, it’s easy to say that we are blessed and that we are confident in God’s love for us and that He is good and wants good for us. Yet I am keenly aware it’s not like that for everyone. It hasn’t always been like that for me either. So the challenge in the walk of faith is to hold on to the belief that it’s true, that God actually DOES want good for us — even in spite of hard things.

What about when you lose someone you love, or a family member ends up in the hospital and your world turns upside down scheduling life around their care? What about when you lose your job, your kids make choices that leave you wondering, or the marriage you thought would last forever seems it might not? What about when you feel alone? Or when the dreams you had don’t come to pass, or life hits in a zillion other ways, and you are not in control of the outcome?

Does God still want good for you in that?

I know that for some of us, believing that God can bring good out of hard things seems impossible.

Sometimes life leaves us picking up our crown, dusting it off, and declaring to whoever will listen: I AM NOT DONE YET!

You see, for me, this goes way deeper than the verse everyone tosses around – well meaning, of course: “God is able to use all things for the good of those who love him”. Why? Because in the midst of the struggle and pain of life, its hard to see that there is good to come, that life AFTER the loss or life AFTER the pieces are picked up could ever be better than what we had.

But what if we could hold onto that hope? That the best YOU, the best [whatever your challenge is], the best understanding of how God walks with you through it all, is YET to come? It seems impossible, I know.

Yet I can firmly say I have two living breathing daughters as proof.

Saying the best is yet to come for YOUR life, I believe, is casting hope and trust onto the very arms of Jesus and acknowledge that HE is the better treasure, and that whatever you are going through might not seem like part of “the best” right now….. but that what He sees of your life is beautiful, and in His eyes it will only grow to be even MORE beautiful.

That’s glory