Getting Out the Speck

July 13th, 2016 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of a speck of dirt in the eye. The last time this happened to me, I was able to locate and remove the little black dot giving me so much irritation. But I immediately experienced more pain when I blinked. Something was under my eyelid. I pulled, twisted and lifted but couldn’t find anything. I splashed cold water into my eye. I did everything short of standing on my head to try and dislodge whatever was in there, but to no avail. I decided to wait it out and try not to blink or think about it, hoping it would work its way out. After 10 minutes, which seemed like forever, I blinked and it was gone! I spent another 10 minutes feeling thankful and relieved, marveling at how amazing it felt to blink without wincing. We do take little things like blinking for granted.

I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 7: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (verses 3-5, NLT).

When the first speck was in my eye, I had to get it out. I knew it was there, I saw it and I took care of it. I couldn’t think about or do anything else until it was gone. The second one was different. I wasn’t as disabled as I was with the first one. It only hurt when I blinked. I resigned myself to it as I had no idea when it would come out.

Even though we can never get used to a speck in the eye, we can unfortunately get used to the proverbial log, to the point we don’t even know it’s there. We can fall into bad habits of thinking or behaving, not realizing these habits may be harmful to others or ourselves, including judging, which was the point of Jesus’ comments. He wasn’t giving us a command or a prescription to remove all the sin from the lives of others or even our own. He knew we can’t do either without his help.

We know it too. How many of us have wasted money on self-help books or seminars, only to find ourselves right back where we started, minus money and time we can’t get back? And how many times have we tried to fix or correct others, only to cause hard feelings or chase friends or loved ones away?

What we can do is refrain from judging others or thinking we know better than they. We can give people the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions. And we can trust God through the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 12:2). He’s the one who does the heavy lifting of those logs. That’s what grace is all about.

Dismissed!

May 11th, 2016 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

In courtrooms, judges sometimes dismiss charges. When a trial is over, the judge dismisses the jury. In the military, personnel are dismissed. Classes are dismissed for the day or the term. Other than these settings, the word dismissed isn’t used much. But it occurs on a regular basis when we dismiss others, sometimes overtly and sometimes with a look or just a thought.

For most of human history, anyone thought to be different or inferior for any reason, from being poor to belonging to the wrong tribe or ethnicity, was rejected, passed over or cast aside with little regard for the effects on that person. It’s been done intentionally and unintentionally, but either way, being dismissed isn’t enjoyable. It makes you feel inferior, unimportant and rejected. Those doing the dismissing can be arrogant, lacking in compassion or just impatient. We’ve probably all been in both positions at various times in our lives.

Jesus experienced the biggest dismissal of all time when he was unfairly tried and sent to his death on the cross. This wasn’t your ordinary, picked-last-for-the-team dismissal or being overlooked because of a perceived lower status. No, this was dismissal taken to the highest degree – it was rejection of God himself.

Jesus knew this would happen. He gave up the glory he had with the Father and became a human being, knowing he would be “despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3, NIV). Unlike us, he was totally secure in his Father’s love, knew his purpose and even though he was human, didn’t respond to hurt feelings the way we do. When we’re rejected, we can lash out, turn inward or do harmful things to ourselves or others.

Of course Jesus felt pain. I’m sure it saddened and hurt him when his family, friends and even the disciples made harsh comments or turned away from him. His rejection by Judas and by extension, all of humanity, hurt him in a way only God can experience. We can’t begin to understand it. But we can begin to understand the great love behind the plan for the Son to give himself for us. It was the love that drove him to finish what he and the Father started and the joy that kept him on the cross when his pain-wracked body cried out for rescue.

Jesus was rejected, despised – dismissed – and so are we at times. We have his love, grace and mercy to remind us these minor rejections don’t matter. His love reminds us of his acceptance of humanity and that we should dismiss no one, as we are all under the umbrella of his grace. His mercy helps us give mercy to others.

Jesus died to make all the dismissals we give and receive disappear at the culmination of his grand plan of redemption. We will never again have to feel the sting of rejection or be summarily dismissed. We can now and forever bask in his loving acceptance.

A Resolution of Hope

February 2nd, 2016 Posted in Tammy's Letter | 1 Comment »

“Give hope, give life, give blood.” That’s the slogan of the Southern California blood bank where I volunteer as an Appreciation Ambassador, or canteen lady as my mom calls those who help blood donors have a pleasant experience. (I guess she would call the male volunteers “canteen gentlemen.”) For those who receive the gift of blood, donated by people who just want to help others, it is sometimes their only hope to regain their health and perhaps their lives.

During the Christmas celebration, I thought about this slogan relative to our Savior, who came to fulfill those words in a different manner. By giving his blood, he gave us life and thus gives hope to the whole world. Christmas is a celebration of the hope he brought us in the form of a baby, one of us but God with us at the same time, the hopes and dreams of humanity wrapped in swaddling clothes.

We’re now well into 2016, and on the first day of the new year, many of us looked forward to a fresh start – the chance to get rid of bad habits or start new ones, to make changes to improve our lives. Any resolutions made on January first have probably already been abandoned. As we all know, resolutions don’t work. Most of us don’t even make them anymore, including me, but the thought of a blank slate and the opportunity to begin again still goes through our minds. I think this happens for one reason: hope. We keep hoping the sad, bad, difficult or painful parts of our lives will get better or even go away if we just do something. Sadly, turning the page on the calendar doesn’t have much effect on these situations.

Resolutions and new calendars give us the illusion of hope but the only real hope we have is in Jesus. “His name will be the hope of all the world” (Matthew 12:21, NLT). Only he can turn our tears into smiles, our mourning into gladness and our sorrow into joy (Jeremiah 31:13). Unlike a lot of the short-term, quick fixes we try to incorporate into our routines, the hope we have in Jesus is long term, permanent and solid as a rock. And also unlike the determination we often have at the start of a new year, the hope Jesus gives us doesn’t wax and wane with the calendar. It is steady, constant and reliable.

Rather than becoming discouraged because we make and break promises to ourselves or simply abandon the whole struggle to make changes in our lives, let’s do one simple thing: fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). By focusing on him and depending on the Holy Spirit who is our true and only agent of change, we can keep hope alive, stay attached to the Vine and look forward to growing in his love and grace.

Don’t Be Afraid – I’m Here

April 2nd, 2014 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

When I was a little girl, our family went to a large department store to do some shopping. I saw an intriguing display and stopped to look. After satisfying my curiosity, I looked up and realized I was all alone. My parents and my sister were nowhere in sight.

Somehow I had the presence of mind to go to the front of the store and tell someone I was lost. I remember hearing my name over the loudspeaker and a person asking my parents to come and get me. What a relief when they showed up! My panic and fear immediately disappeared.

When the fishermen-turned-disciples left Jesus to his praying and went out on their boat to cross the lake, the once friendly water turned ominous as a violent storm struck. From years of experience, they were comfortable on that lake but they also knew how dangerous it could be in a squall. They were worried and afraid and even more so when they saw what appeared to be a ghost walking on the water toward them.

As the seeming apparition got closer, they saw it was Jesus and when he said, don’t be afraid, I’m here, their fears disappeared. But Jesus wasn’t just the friendly face with the reassuring words that they weren’t alone. His presence meant much more than the sense of safety and security I felt when my parents showed up at the store. In the Greek he said, “Don’t be afraid, I AM” (Matthew 14:27). He revealed himself as God, the one who could and would save them, not only from the storm, but for eternity.

Maybe they got it and maybe they didn’t, but to the disciples (and to most people today) God seemed distant for the most part. He made “guest appearances” but lived someplace else. In the beginning Jesus was God and was with God (John 1). By becoming human, the great I AM is now with us on a more intimate level, living in the hearts of believers. He didn’t come only to bring forgiveness, grace and mercy—he came to give us himself.

This means so much more than simply having a sense of his presence. Instead of imagining he’s in the room beside us or hoping he will show up to calm the storm or wondering if he’s going to answer our prayers, we have the rock solid assurance Jesus is here and he’s real and he is. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We can hold on to him because as the I AM, he is bigger than us, bigger than our fears, worries, hopes and dreams.

Sometimes life feels like being all alone in a big, frightening, unfriendly place, with strangers everywhere and danger lurking in the dark corners. But just as all it took was the friendly faces and smiles of my mom and dad to make me feel safe and out of harm’s way, all we need to know in life is that Jesus is here and he is the I AM.

Jesus Went With Him

March 7th, 2014 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” This quotation by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe captured my imagination during my inward-looking, emotion-laden teen years. I had friends and a loving family but I often felt no one understood me, not deep down inside. I didn’t even understand myself at that point, but most teenagers don’t, and it doesn’t always change as we become adults.

The desire to know someone who is close to us in spirit is a universal one. We all want to be known, understood, accepted and loved just as we are, no strings attached. But this world can be a lonely place. Most of us feel alienated at one time or another, either from friends, family or the world in general. Even with lots of loving support, which is vital to our well-being, we have to do many things on our own ‒ job interviews, driving tests, surgery. No one can help or even hold our hands.

I imagine Jairus was feeling quite alone as he faced the pending death of his daughter (Mark 5). The family was no doubt gathered around to share the burden, but ultimately the pain of losing a loved one takes place in each individual mind and heart. Jairus carried that pain with him as he approached Jesus in the midst of the crowd. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him to come and heal his daughter (verse 23). Then something amazing happened – Jesus went with him (verse 24).

Many must have wanted his attention that day, including the sick woman who touched his robe. The crowd was full of people with diseases and problems, some perhaps as severe as Jairus’ daughter’s illness. But Jesus, without any discussion or excuses, simply went with him. That act alone must have given Jairus encouragement and strength to face what he would find at home, especially when messengers came to tell him his daughter had already died. Jesus didn’t desert him at the news, but continued to walk with him to the house.

Jesus has not changed. He still has his Father’s loving heart, which is always turned toward our hearts, thinking and feeling with us, knowing and understanding our suffering. He goes with us into those situations we must face alone and doesn’t turn back when the going gets tough.

During those times when you feel most alone, remember Jesus is with you. He walks with you down the lonely, difficult paths, even the steep, rocky ones with no flowers or trees to brighten the way. He is close to us in the Spirit and he is the one who makes the earth an inhabited garden for us.

The Right Premise

February 3rd, 2014 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

An old saying tells us if we don’t know where we’re going, we won’t get there. It’s also true if we don’t look where we’re going, we’ll go where we look. I guess that’s why many of us see January as a good time to either make new goals or renew our commitment to accomplish goals we let slip from previous years. Goals help us know where we want to go and help us stay focused in the right direction.

We all need to set goals and stick to habits and routines that help us live good, productive lives. Otherwise we can let life distract us. This is one of the reasons people get to the end of their lives and wonder why they didn’t accomplish as much as they wanted to when they were young and idealistic.

Goals are only as good as the premise from which we operate. If someone lives from the premise that wealth is the only important objective, the steps taken to reach that goal may land him or her in jail, or stuck in a lonely, frustrating life. The right premise produces good goals and the success that leads to contentment and joy.

So what is the best premise from which to live? Opinions about this are many and varied, depending on the age, gender, culture or religion of the one you’re asking. Even Christians, who all read the same Bible, offer differing viewpoints. Some operate from the premise that the body is evil so everything they do is geared toward punishing and keeping the body in submission. Others believe in predestination, which colors how they live, either as one of the chosen, one of the damned or one who doesn’t know and can’t do anything about it, so let’s eat, drink and be merry. Some are preoccupied with bringing others to Christ and some live as monks, with any and everything in between.

The Bible does give an answer and it’s found in 1 John 4:8: God is love. This is the starting place for learning who God is. If we don’t start there, reading the Bible can be confusing and lead us down wrong paths about his nature and his intentions toward humanity. Without this basic premise about God, life doesn’t make sense. Difficult circumstances and crushing trials can turn us against him and others. If we don’t believe he loves us, what’s the point? Life can seem futile.

God is love is also the best starting point for daily life. Waking up each morning knowing we are loved and that he is always for us changes our whole outlook on what’s ahead in the day. We see everyone else as loved by God too, which changes how we treat them. With God’s love as the basic premise of life, any goal we set will be for our own good and the good of others.

Make God is love your starting point for the new year – for each new day – and watch what happens to your goals, your relationships and your life. It’s the right and best premise and the only way to live.

He Knows My Name

May 2nd, 2013 Posted in Tammy's Letter | 2 Comments »

The population of the world is about seven billion. According to an article on wikipedia, about one fifth of all the humans who have existed in the last 6,000 years are alive today. That’s a lot of people. But how many of them can you name? A hundred? Five hundred?

How many names of all the billions of people ever born on this earth are remembered today? All those names, faded on headstones (if they were on headstones), are now forgotten. Only the names of the famous and the infamous can be recalled, and only some of those.

How sad to think of all the lives over the centuries lost to the mists of history. How sad personally, to think no one will remember our names or the names of the ones we love. The reality is, not too long from now, our names will be forgotten. But there’s One who can remember every name of every person ever born. God knows and remembers each name of each human, and not only their names, but everything about them.

The song “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker reminds us we won’t be forgotten to history. God knows our names, even our middle ones. He knows our every thought, sees each tear and hears us when we call.

It seems to be a basic need – we want to hear our own names and we want others to remember them. Anyone who works with the public will tell you to learn and say a person’s name when speaking with him or her. It adds a personal touch to a sales pitch. Hearing his or her name from a doctor helps a patient feel cared for. We don’t want to think others don’t care enough to remember who we are. Of course, as we get older, it does become harder to remember names! I often have to ask, even if I know the person. And then at times I can’t remember my kids’ or my own!

This world seems impersonal at times. It can be a sad and lonely place. Some days we all feel like we’re just a number, obscure and unimportant. We wonder if anyone really cares. But every time a tear falls from my eyes, God sees it. He understands and even cries with me. If no one else in the world cares, he does. Knowing God knows my name and will never forget who I am is a comforting thought.

Is life getting you down? Feeling a little sad, lonely, unappreciated? God knows and he cares. He knows your name and knows your pain. He has your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) and his heart is for you. He has even written your name in his book of life (Luke 10:20).

Next time you feel like a number, like no one cares or remembers who you are, think of the One who saves your tears, has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7) and takes care of your every need (Matthew 6:30). He knows your name and hears you when you call.

Praying Psalm 63

March 19th, 2013 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.

Free in Christ

January 4th, 2013 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

Freedom is precious. Most cultures protect the freedoms of their people, but sadly, some allow other priorities to get in the way and don’t allow as much freedom as they should. Those of us in countries where it is protected and defended often take it for granted until it’s encroached upon.

Governments can take away any or all of our freedoms but not our freedom in Christ. It comes with a guarantee more ironclad than any constitution. With his blood, he bought us back from the slavery of sin and death. Nothing can reverse the redemption we have in him. He has freed us from other shackles as well: fear, guilt, addictions, selfishness and worries about the future.

We are free, but what has he freed us for? What are we to do with our precious freedom? We certainly ought to cherish and appreciate it as it was purchased with so dear a price. God wants us to be thankful to be out from under sin and death, but he also wants us to use our freedom in positive and constructive ways.

We are free to live under grace, which means we are able to accept God’s gift with gratitude and joy. This allows us to live gracefully by turning around and freely extending his grace to others.

We are free to be the unique individuals we are. We can enjoy and appreciate the gifts God has given us and use them for his glory, without worrying we or our gifts might not be good enough. This opens up opportunities to serve God and our neighbors in ways we wouldn’t dare if we were still shackled by the need to conform or measure up to impossible standards set by others.

We are free to love and be loved. One of the sad consequences of legalism is that it often convinces us we aren’t good enough to love or be loved. It makes us feel we’re letting everyone down, God, family and friends. The grace of God lifts us up and tells us we are worth loving and we don’t need to measure up. Jesus measured up for us. Freedom in Christ means no more wondering if God really loves us. We have the freedom to accept his love, enjoy it and never worry it will be taken away. His love is ours to keep forever.

We are free to have our significance in God, rather than anything this world has to offer. The search for significance sidelines many from what’s really important in life and bogs us down in a mire of self-centered anxiety. Knowing God values us because we are his allows us to get our focus off ourselves and on loving God and our neighbors.

We are free to share in the fellowship of the Father and the Son through the Spirit, which is the biggest blessing of grace and is why we were created. Participating in the secure, loving relationship of Father, Son and Spirit gives us the foundation we need to follow Jesus and help others to a relationship with him.

Our freedom in Christ makes it possible to live confidently, be loved and loving, secure in our worth to God and free to have full, rich lives, doing all to his glory. We are free to be the best we can be and grow into the kind of human being Jesus was.

Season’s Greedy

December 4th, 2012 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

No kidding – I really did see this on store window! The message is no longer subtle or unstated – ‘tis the season to be greedy. Retailers begin the advertising barrage earlier every year, inundating us with catalogs, email and commercials. More and more people buy gifts for themselves while they’re out shopping for others. It seems all that matters is we buy as much as possible, whether we need it or not. I want to shut it all out but it’s everywhere.

No one likes the commercialism of Christmas but it seems not many do much about it. Is the craziness unavoidable – the frenzied shopping, decorating, parties, cooking, company and all the stress?

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. I love the line “the world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.” The phrase solemn stillness makes me think of a universe-wide pause of all activity, everything and everyone holding their breath, as Jesus is born and the angels announce his birth with their amazing song.

While I shop, cook and have company during the Christmas month, a big part of my celebration is stillness. I love to sit and look at my nativity set while listening to Josh Groban sing this song as well as my all-time favorite, O Holy Night. I enjoy the silent glow of lights from my tree and fireplace mantle. As I take time for solemn stillness and holy silence I feel a sense of expectation, of waiting with the whole creation for the coming of the Messiah.

The world waited for thousands of years for the One who would change the course of human history and usher in New Covenant grace. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think a hush came over the angelic world as that moment drew near. It was a birth like no other and nothing has been the same since.

The world is full of noise and clamor. It seems to me our Christmas celebrations would be much more meaningful if we celebrated with less noise and activity, rather than trying to cram in more. Get the shopping done early, decorate only a little, scale down the activities and spend the rest of your time in solemn stillness. Then when it’s over, instead of being exhausted, you’ll start the new year with a sense of wonder at what happened two thousand years ago.

The Christmas message isn’t one of stress, exhaustion and frenzied activity. It’s a message of expectation and change – of an event so momentous the whole universe might indeed have held its breath as the Christ child made his appearance.

The last verse of the original lyrics of the hymn also looks forward to a future time,

“when peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.”

As we drink in the marvel of the incarnation, let’s take time for some solemn stillness and then give back the angel’s song in joyous celebration.