Saved From What – or Whom?

August 14th, 2017 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

Are you saved? To a lot of Christians, this seems to be their primary concern and the biggest, most important question to ask friends or strangers. If the answer is yes, they breathe a sigh of relief and go their merry way. If the answer is no, then they might go on an all-out campaign to ensure their salvation.

I began thinking about this after reading a devotional on a popular Bible reading app. The author believes we will only be granted entry into God’s new earth, a flawless new Garden of Eden, if we live a life pleasing to God. If we don’t please him, we will end up in hell. This bothered me for several days as it dawned on me that this author, and many others, must on some level (consciously or not), believe the one they need saving from is an angry God.

But let’s think about this belief and all it implies about who God is. Let’s say God really is upset about how we humans have misbehaved all these centuries, so mad that he could blow his top at any moment. But he must have had a soft spot for us in spite of our sins and rebellion because he sent his own son to die for us, to appease his wrath if you will. Apparently this was the only way to calm him down from his rage. If that’s how it happened, it would mean God sent himself to save us from himself! Can you imagine the conversation the Father, Son and Holy Spirit might have had?

Father: I’m so mad at those people I could just spit. Maybe I should kill them all.

Son: Aw, don’t be mad at them, they’re just weak. They can’t help themselves. After all, they’re only human. Let me go down and take care of everything.

Father: OK, but you’ll have to die for them. That’s the only thing that will satisfy my anger.

Son: Well, if that’s the only way.

Father: Yes, son, I’m afraid it is. You’d better make it quick. I’m not sure how long I can control myself.

Holy Spirit: I’ll help. I’ll make sure he gets through it. I know, we’ll stage a resurrection!

Yes, I know, I’m being silly, but that’s how the whole idea strikes me – silly. God didn’t send himself to save us from himself. Father, Son and Holy Spirit together sent the Son to lay down his life for his friends – us – to save us from ourselves. Jesus saved us from sin and death and all the ugly consequences of going our own way and turning our backs on his love.

What a wonderful day when everyone will understand how much God loves us and how his love is what sent Jesus to the cross, not his anger.

My Commencement Address

July 18th, 2017 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

During the months of May and June, celebrities and politicians grace the stages of many graduation ceremonies. They impart their version of wit, wisdom and advice for the newly matriculated. These commencement addresses are somewhat entertaining but often seem only moderately helpful.

I’ve not ever given a commencement address, but if I were to share some advice, my speech would be short and sweet. I’d probably be booed off the stage as I wouldn’t be able to keep from mentioning God, which seems to be a no-no these days.

My points would be based on two most important truths I’ve learned as I’ve made my way through a legalism-to-grace maze over the last 20-something years:

  1. God is bigger than we can imagine and cannot be put in a box.
  2. I don’t know everything. Correction, I don’t know much at all.

The first is something I discovered after believing for many years I (and my church) had God all figured out. We knew how he thought, what he thought and how he was going to work everything out. But after going through our huge doctrinal changes, we realized we didn’t know what we were talking about.

These two verses in Isaiah took on even more meaning: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV). It’s good to read these verses every day and even memorize them. I never want to think I come anywhere close to understanding the magnificent mystery of God.

The second is also something to remind ourselves of every day. When you think you know more than you do, more than others and even more than God, you’re in trouble. We see through a glass darkly or as the New Living Translation puts it, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I remember an inscription on the side of a building at college with the words, “The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.” It’s from Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (NIV). The dictionary definition of fear of God is reverential awe or respect, reverence and veneration.

This verse seems like a good commencement to anything in life. To always be in awe of him and to continually remind ourselves of the dark, fuzzy reality we live in is to start every day on the right foot, ready to be led and taught by the one who really does know it all.

He Cared for Them

June 21st, 2017 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

Most of us have been reading the Bible for a long time, years and years in fact. It’s comforting to read familiar verses, to wrap up in them as if they were a warm blanket. At the same time, our familiarity can cause us to miss things. Reading with fresh eyes and a new perspective from the Holy Spirit can help us see more or maybe just remember what we forgot.

As I read through the book of Acts again, I came across chapter 13, verse 18, which is a verse I’m sure many of us have read and perhaps glossed over: “for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness” (NIV). The New Living Translation says God “put up with them” and others say he endured or suffered.

This is how always I remembered reading it – and hearing about it – that God put up with the whining, complaining Israelites, as if they were a burden to him. But then I read the cross-referenced verse in Deuteronomy 1:31 (NIV): “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” The New Living Translation says God cared for them.

A light bulb went on. Of course he cared for them – they had food, water and shoes that never wore out. Even though I knew God didn’t let them starve, it never dawned on me how closely and intimately he was involved in their lives. It was encouraging to read about God carrying his people as a father carries his son. Now that’s something I don’t remember reading!

Sometimes we can feel as though God only puts up with us or gets tired of us and our constant problems. Our prayers seem repetitive and our sins recurring. Even though we sometimes gripe and act like ungrateful Israelites, God always cares for us, no matter how much whining we do, although I’m sure he’d rather we say thank you than complain.

Christians, both in ministry and out (although all Christians are called to be in ministry of some sort) can get tired and burned out. We can begin to see our brothers and sisters as insufferable Israelites, giving rise to the temptation to put up with them or suffer through their “annoying” problems. To put up with something means to tolerate what you don’t like or accept something that is bad. But God doesn’t see us that way.

All of us are God’s children, deserving of respectful, compassionate and loving care. With God’s love flowing through us, we can love our neighbors rather than merely put up with them. If necessary, we will even be able to carry someone if he or she falters along the way. Remember God not only cared for his people in the desert but carried them in his loving arms. He continues to carry us, loving and caring for us even when we complain and forget to be thankful.

The View from the Cross

April 5th, 2017 Posted in Tammy's Letter | No Comments »

During the weeks leading up to Easter, Christians tend to focus on what happened while Jesus hung on the cross, in particular the pain and humiliation he endured. Some books and devotionals urge us to let our thoughts linger on the agony he suffered and even go so far as to suggest literal participation. Self-flagellation used to figure prominently in some sects, though it’s not practiced much today. But some still practice self-inflicted figurative suffering, dwelling on the gruesome details of crucifixion in an effort to get inside the pain Jesus experienced.

Most often, we might picture ourselves there, as one of the onlookers, crying with sadness and disbelief that the Son of God had to go through such an ordeal. Perhaps we feel guilt too, as we realize our sin put him there. While it’s good to understand and appreciate the gravity of the sacrifice, both on the part of the Father and the Son, I would like to look at it from a different perspective, that of Jesus, as he experienced it.

The subject is too extensive to cover everything, but a few things stand out: first, he and his Father had planned it from the beginning. He knew what was going to happen and told his disciples about the suffering he would endure. As some have said, this was not plan B, but always the way to our salvation and redemption.

Second, many focus on Psalm 22, which he quoted: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:1, NLT), but they stop there, wrongly assuming the Father turned his back on Jesus because he became sin. In Psalm 18, we discover that God heard his cries for help and rushed to his side: “He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me…. He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me” (verses 16-19, NLT).

Jesus was never in doubt that his Father loved him and would move heaven and earth (Psalm 18:7-15) to bring him to the “wide-open field” (MSG) or “a spacious place” (NIV) of his resurrected life, at the Father’s right hand (vs. 19).

And last, the cross wasn’t child abuse, as some declare with cries of revulsion, vowing never to believe or trust in a God who would do that to his son. Rather, it was the ultimate expression of love, as Jesus willingly laid down his life for us. The amazing love of the Triune God took him there, kept him there and brought him to the exalted place of Savior and King. The same God who moved heaven and earth to rescue his son from death and in so doing, conquered death for us, moved heaven and earth to save us,  because he delights in us. He will one day bring us to that spacious place of eternal life in his presence – all for love.

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.