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Posts Tagged ‘torah observance’

For many months when I have tried to begin to write these things I have been at a loss to know where to start, or claimed I do not have the time.  But when the heaviness gets to be too much, it just has to be written, with full knowledge that my words are offensive to people I love.  I have held back for literally years from speaking my heart in honesty, for fear of what people may think.  I can now no longer look at myself in the mirror as the fearful person I have been, but speak as I have been burdened to speak.

Early this morning I had a dream I was driving an old, junky car (with a passenger, but don’t know who it was) and came to an intersection in a small town business district that looked as any in America might look, with old brick buildings and cars parked along the street.  As I pulled up, a jihad-style army marched toward us from the opposite direction.  They wore all  black and carried banners with symbols on them.  Their machine guns pointed straight at us.  They stopped at the intersection as well,  keeping their weapons held up, ready to fire.  I felt terrified at first, and unable to move.  But then suddenly the fear disappeared and I decided to turn the car around and go the other direction, whatever the outcome may be.  I realized they might shoot, but it seemed better than sitting there waiting and wondering.  As I turned the car around, behind me was a procession coming from the other way – almost like a parade.  Women were in the front dressed in beautiful Arab clothing as if for a wedding or some special occasion.  Suddenly we heard people shouting at us from all directions to get out of the way, but I was blocked in and couldn’t get out.  I realized at that moment we had driven onto a movie set and ruined an entire scene someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to create.

I don’t claim to understand or interpret dreams, and I’m sure there is a great deal here that I have missed, and possibly just a dream reflecting how I deeply feel.  But it occurred to me when I woke up that all these world events are like a stage – and people have been appointed their parts to play.  Anyone who would interject that this isn’t our true reality, and decide not to be ruled by fear, will be seen as an extreme nuisance for botching the “picture” everyone has dedicated themselves to playing out.

In this world you can find an opinion in every direction from any source.  You can find  someone who has converted to any religion from any other religion – with convincing testimonies.  My husband recently ran across a zealous evangelist for Islam who was raised a fundamental Baptist.  Every human being seeks a group to express and define identity, whether that ideology is religious, political, or simply a lifestyle.

Doris Lessing in her book, Prisons we Choose to Live Inside, astutely observes,

“The fact is that we all live our lives in groups – the family, work groups, social, religious and political groups.  Very few people indeed are happy as solitaries, and they tend to be seen by their neighbours as peculiar or selfish or worse.  Most people cannot stand being alone for long.  They are always seeking groups to belong to, and if one group dissolves, they look for another.  We are group animals still, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But what is dangerous is not the belongings to a group, or groups, but not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us.

When we are in a group, we tend to think as that group does:  we may even have joined the group to find “like-minded” people.  But we also find our thinking changing because we belong to a group.  It is the hardest thing in the world to maintain an individual dissident opinion, as a member of a group.” – p. 47, 48

We see “freethinking” movements today as many in our culture seek to reject the norms, yet this group will have its own dogmas and expectations and restrict free thought into areas it seeks to reject.

In my lifetime, I have been carried away in currents of more groups than I care to remember.  I have discovered that to align my life with the pattern that Jesus taught does not seem to be congruent with many groups I am aware of, chiefly because so many of the groups that claim to follow Him have allied themselves with other influential groups that imprint another belief structure on top of His, most of which I feel drown out and alter His true message.

Many world religions seem to have a violent faction and an arm of peace, which I find interesting.  Christians have a tiny slice of their group who reject active participation in violence, most of which exist on the outside fringe of what evangelicals accept as orthodox.

The Church in America denounces the violent past of the Crusades and Inquisition, explaining this was not “real” Christianity, yet the religion as a whole here supports without question the flag of a country, and its military, that have been one of the most and aggressive and meddling since World War II.  Although, when we are finished with a country, the Christians living in those areas are running for their lives, offered no protection from this great military might we Christians here support without question.

Evangelicals also widely support Zionism.  Along with the Hebrew Roots Movement to which I subscribed, these groups set up Israel as the modern fulfillment of Bible prophecy, therefore cannot be in error in any of their methods or goals.  These groups believe Israel must not be questioned  on any grounds for any reason, and refuse to believe any report that may suggest that the Jewish people may in fact be supporting a very oppressive, systematic breaking down of millions of people.  Many I know would in fact not even care.  They believe in the Jewish right to this real estate at any cost.  “Turn the Arab world into a glass parking lot…” – that’s what I hear.  This loyalty is based in religious belief, which ironically is not at all shared by the most devout followers of Judaism.

In the Hebrew Roots Movement we enamored ourselves with the teachings and way of life of the most faithful in Judaism while at the same time, never getting clued into the actual stance of many of them toward the political state of Israel itself.  This group does not believe in serving in the military (but are being forced to) and contend that the fulfillment of prophecy will come through the Messiah without violence and oppression.  Interesting viewpoint!

Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews both agree that the prophecies of Israel’s restoration will take place, but have very different views about the methods.

All religion aside (if that’s possible in this case), a brave voice in Israel wrote an article recently that explained most clearly and simply the situation as I had come to observe it as well.

The single most overwhelming item of evidence of Israel’s rejection of peace is, of course, the settlements project. From the dawn of its existence, there has never been a more reliable or more precise litmus test for Israel’s true intentions than this particular enterprise. In plain words: The builders of settlements want to consolidate the occupation, and those who want to consolidate the occupation do not want peace. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.Gideon Levy

This Palestinian hatred does not emerge in a vacuum.  Even the war hero, Moshe Dayan, honestly  acknowledged this fact, while still holding to the line that Israel must march forward no matter the reprisals or dangers.  But at least he didn’t glaze over the root cause of the conflict.

 “Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we deplore their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate,” 

(April 1956)

http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/doomed-to-fight-1.360698

 

When this injustice of continued land-grabbing ceases to take place, and Palestinians are not treated as sub-human on a daily basis in their encounters with the IDF checkpoints, and their basic human rights are acknowledged (speaking of the overall strategy here, not the wonderful exceptions to the pattern), then the claims of persecution and threat   may be taken more seriously in the world community.  I applaud that warning shots are sent to a house before it’s destroyed.  It’s great to be courteous when taking over a land.  I am not sure my own country is as thoughtful.  But attempts to minimize civilian casualties does not a moral army make if the directives are wrong in the first place.

I implore you to take less than 10 minutes to hear this alternative voice:

I understand Israel has a deep-seated fear, and a genuine danger from her neighbors, which she herself feels  obligated to escalate and perpetuate.  These nations are on track to bring about destruction of the entire region.  Palestinians are not that immediate threat to Israel’s destruction, although they do manage to cause pain and suffering.  Their rockets shut down the economic activity but harm little else.  They are pawns – used by opposing sides – to justify activities that profit a few.

Jesus says to live by the sword is to die by the sword.  If Moshe Dayan was correct in his assessment that to have a nation state of Israel in this region is to commit to a life of the sword for survival, then what does it mean to pray for the Peace of Jerusalem?  What would be the prayer for Jerusalem now that Jesus would pray?  Would it be similar to the one He prayed in tears when He walked the Earth?

If my survival, and even more commonly – my prosperity, depends on bloodshed, the damage to my soul is greater than I have done to the body of my enemy.  I speak this of my own country even more so than Israel.

Can we form spiritual and political alliances or are they mutually exclusive for a Christ follower?  Are there people being called in all areas of the world who see that this path as one of self-extinction, not of peace?  For those who believe this theology of spreading the gospel to save the world, is it more effective behind the sights of an assault rifle or not?  Does the person on the other side of the rifle barrel or in the drone target zone understand the difference between your soldiers and missionaries?  And why you support both?

I close with one last quote from Doris Lessing.  She was a humanist, but echos my observations of the polarization of mankind into extremes.  I however have to differ with her on the point of reason and sanity.  The Narrow Way doesn’t usually follow into those categories.  But while there is great evil increasing, I also see rays of light coming out from unlikely sources.  Come quickly Lord Jesus – if not in the clouds today – at the least in our hearts.

 “This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures.  Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that – a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check.  But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and do not notice – or if we notice, belittle – equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short, of reason, sanity and civilization.” p. 3,4  Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

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I really believe the human default (for adults that is) is law and legalism. I am not sure we are born with it, but society operates on this paradigm so it’s drilled into us at a very early age. Even if you don’t grow up in a legalistic religion, classmates and teachers both will make sure you understand the ground rules of success both socially and academically. How far back can we trace our fear of failure and rejection? Maybe parents were critical and you felt you must achieve something to gain their love. I am starting to see behavior-based religion as a secondary element that we choose because it flows with the worldview we already have. All the world religions I know of fall well into this same paradigm.

The problem isn’t that the law framework is false. Reaping and sowing are obvious – and even Jesus talked about this.  But grace is the supernatural variable that comes in, and unconditional love sees only that which remains – the good He planted in you – His own life and breath spreading light into the world.

The shocking, scandalous grace Jesus brought offends this law-based world, largely because we are led to believe that law is an end in itself. We never imagined there was another way, so if we can’t see the higher way He taught, we will try to fit him into the old wineskin where we understand how things work.

I read an essay yesterday by an environmental activist who saw the tragedy in living by a contract – that you will give no more than you absolutely have to. Sustainability concepts teach that you should endeavor to not take more from a living system than you put in, whether it be your land, community or family. This “contract” he stated, has created a mindset of people who are not willing to go out of their way for anyone or anything if they believe they have fulfilled their obligation. I understood exactly what he meant. Legalism at its finest.

Yesterday my children gave me a beautiful picture of what it looks like when Love trumps Law. I left my younger two with their older brother while I went to run errands. The house had been neglected for three days as we had spent most of our time working in the garden and yard over the holiday weekend. I constantly struggle with feeling overwhelmed, unable to keep up with my own expectations (law) about what I believe I need to accomplish.  I left them with two things I wanted them to do while I was gone, not really expecting it to be done by the time I returned. This brother and sister can take ALL day to clean a room, between playing and fighting – very normal kids.

When I came home, I instantly noticed the living room looked unusually tidy. My young son couldn’t wait to tell me what they did. But he didn’t have to tell me because I could see it! I walked into the kitchen to find my daughter sweeping the floor, and a note on the table said, “For You Mom”. The table was cleared off, along with the rest of the clutter around their desk and school area. She pointed to my bedroom door and said, “Look we even made your bed!” They also had started their laundry. I nearly cried. My gratitude for this gift was beyond measure. They weren’t even asking for extra allowance! They just wanted to help me. As I kept telling them how much I appreciated this extra help, my son said, “Wow mom, I didn’t think you would be THAT happy.”

I very soon thought of our Father in heaven and how it must touch his heart when we joyfully do things as a gift of love for Him, and not just doing our duty. Doesn’t the Scripture say, “God loves a cheerful giver?” I always go back to our human family as a reflection of our relationship with Him. Where there is love, no law is needed. Love goes above and beyond. It is a Law in itself, but one that breathes life and joy. (Not saying children don’t need boundaries… they do!) But as they grow and mature I want this love to be their motivation, not living up to my law or anyone else’s version of “have to”. Because everyone seems to have one, in and out of church or religions.

I would have been pleased enough if they had done what I asked. But to see them thinking outside of themselves, beyond reward or punishment to what would bless someone else, gave me a far greater joy – not just for the help it gave me, but for them to know this joy also. I don’t want to see them living a life seeking only their own benefit which leads to the never-enough syndrome, whether it’s in trying to ensure they avoid the wrath of God, or just impress the world on its terms. My prayer is they choose Love.  

 

 

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If the leading teachers in the Hebrew Roots Movement received the same heart-breaking emails I get from some readers here, I wonder what they would say?  Another came through a few days ago, nearly word for word what many before have shared with me, and pleaded for help to know what to do.  Nearly all of them describe a drastic change in personality of the person who has become Torah observant.

My spouse’s beliefs have caused a major problem with our family, children,…. our marriage. The holidays are torture. The Sabbath Day usually leads to a battlefield. And our children are stuck in the middle. My spouse’s personality has changed from a loving, happy, and fun person to one of self-righteousness, strictness, and generally being very serious/dark.

I really wish I could make it all better, heal the hurts, and save the children from broken relationships and skewed ideas of their Father in heaven.  Can you imagine the husband or wife of a new convert writing a letter like this to the Apostle Paul?  Was this the wake he left behind him on his missionary journeys?  Even Paul, who could write very direct confrontational words, still maintained that love was the highest and best expression of God in this world.  Romans 12, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, to name just a few chapters, highlight his exhortations to walk in love.  The religion that gradually developed around the early Christian teachings also became enamored with law-based thinking, and the corresponding fruit came with it.  I do not believe the church has worked this out of its system overall.  Protestants brought the same dictatorial mindset to the New World and through many heinous methods, imposed their “salvation” upon the First Nations already living here.  To this day the gospel is often shared with the Law of God as the basis, rather than the Love of God.  We fight for the 10 Commandments to be kept on government buildings because we are a “Christian” nation.  Yet where do we see the teaching of Jesus etched in stone anywhere?  Why is Moses still getting top billing in a Christian nation?

So I’m not going to pick on just those pesky “law-keepers” out there.  The shortfall in our concept of what Jesus did, and is for us – affects far more people in mainstream Christianity than the Hebrew Roots Movement will ever touch.

Jesus came to set us free in love, acceptance, restoration, and life in the Spirit, at peace with our Creator and each other.  And in our human need to control and protect, we built more walls to train more Pharisees like the ones who schemed until they had Him hanging on a cross.  Any time you have a group of people who believe they are the only ones who are right, you will have a religious zealot problem on your hands.

Hebrew Roots followers exemplify this unfortunate divergence from the love of Christ quite frequently, but this situation can create unexpected traps for those suffering from their attempts at coercion.  The biggest mistake we can make in confronting them is to become like them.  I will say this presents the biggest challenge for anyone who lands in a spiritual conflict of any kind.  I cannot give you any sure fire scripture or argument to prove someone wrong.  It’s really not hard to be right.  We all think we are right.  Jesus wants us to pick up our cross and be love instead.

Have a difficult person in your life, of any religious persuasion?  Here are some ideas.

1.  Respect their convictions.  Just as you want yours to be respected.  Even if you don’t get the same in return, treat them as you would want then to treat you.  Don’t ridicule or belittle their ideas or practices.  Make room for them to follow their conscience by deferring to their wishes for holidays or dietary habits.  This does not mean YOU have to comply or go along with them if it is against your own convictions.  But if you support and respect even while you disagree, this will send a message in itself.  Don’t use your tolerance as a weapon in an argument (as in “you owe me”).  Simply do it because it’s the loving thing to do.

2.  Find ways to show love and support to the person in question that have nothing to do with religion.  Outside the context of your differences, let them know they are loved.

3.  Do not retaliate when you are condemned or attacked.  Let them know you hear and understand, and respectfully express that their opinion does not define your worth or identity.

4.  Seek the Spirit for your own strength daily to not fall into doubt about your own walk with God and His love and approval for you.  You are in a war zone of spiritual influences that will seek to play on your doubt, magnify your short-comings, and leave you feeling like you are never enough.  Getting pulled into verbal combat will only leaving you more vulnerable and feeling less worthy.

5.  If you do break down and become angry and hostile (some days…the humanity bleeds through), apologize quickly and take responsibility for your own emotions.  Do not blame the difficult person for “making you angry”.

6.  Do NOT tolerate any form of abuse to you or your children.  You can remain firm and loving, but do not stay in an unsafe situation no matter how persuasive, or how much authority someone claims to have over your life.

7.  Talk about Jesus, His words, His actions, whenever appropriate in conversations about spiritual things.  He is your Foundation, your Rock, your Reason for everything.  Focus on the heart issues, more than the legal ones.

8.  PRAY for the person you love.  (This should actually be at #1).  In praying for them, everything else on this list will become easier.  Give them to God.  You can’t fix them.  You can only love them.

My heart breaks especially for the children caught in the middle.  Your endeavor to show love in the face of all that is dark and harsh, will be a testimony to them far greater than any theological teaching you can give.   Right now they may not understand why mom and dad don’t agree, but they will not forget the testimony of love and patient endurance

All of this is so easy for me to type.  I have not often had the opportunity to walk this hard road.  But Jesus did, and it is His example, and that of many persecuted believers worldwide, that inspire me to take a higher path, in His strength.  I am aware enough of my weakness and limitations to know none of this would be my own first response.  But there is such a great power in peaceful, loving resistance.  I say resistance because we will not give up our faith for any Law.  But let us not give up our love in the name of our faith, as many have done.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14 – 21

 

 

 

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My mental backlog of blog posts is starting to get a little overwhelming.   I could go into all the reasons why I have no time to write, but I guess I’ll just let this one fly off the cuff tonight.  It’s been a really strange, but wonderful day.

First I will start with a dream I had this morning, which I don’t fully understand, but feel it’s related in some way.  It was definitely one of “those” dreams – the kind that stands out from the normal kind, whatever normal is.  But some just scream, “Pay attention!’

I was in a small village, out in the main street, and many people were out walking around.  News was spreading that someone important was coming, and everyone seemed excited and started lining up on the sidelines like it was going to be a parade.  But a man began warning to not go and see, not to look.  He said a powerful woman was coming in really fine, splendid clothes, and an entourage, and you will want to look at her, but you must not look.  If you glanced at her in the least, you would be under her dominion in some way.  My excitement turned to fear, and I began looking for a place to hide from this splendid, yet frightfully powerful woman.  I could find nowhere, until I came upon a seating bench that had a lid with storage underneath.  I was trying to get in and place the lid over me, but I realized I was too late, so I sat behind it, facing away from the street, hoping to just not be seen.  I could hear the crowds going wild and felt powerless to stop what was happening.  A woman was standing near me who was not cheering, yet she was not hiding either.  A man from the entourage stopped, and I pretended to be asleep (so I could keep my eyes closed and not see anything.)  I could hear the woman near me talking to him.  She wasn’t afraid, but she was pleading with him.  The man was her brother.  She kept saying how much she loved him and it seemed she was hoping to be the one with the most influence over him instead.   Then I realized that I had based all my fear on the warning of one man, and not even known if he was telling the truth or not.  Then I woke up.

Not long after I awoke, my husband received a phone call from someone we met through this blog who does desire to obey God through Torah observance.  We never knew if we would meet in person or not, but he just happened to be in town today, so we readily agreed to get together, and had him over for dinner.  As I was working in the kitchen preparing the meal, and he and my husband were having a good visit in another room (which I could not hear), I had the strong impression that this dream is about our meeting in some way.  I will let the reader decide in discernment.

I let them know when the meal was ready and we all sat down.  He was very kind to patiently listen to my expounding (I get really passionate about Jesus, Spirit, and the power of Love).   We went around the usual circular discussions that are inevitable whenever the Old and New Covenant ways of thinking collide.  There are so many ideas, so many angles, and ways of seeing things.  I can’t give someone my eyes, or my heart vision.  Nor can I judge their heart.  I sensed in him a deep conviction, and desire that was very familiar.  I have it too.  I used to walk on that path he is on, but found a different way to apply that conviction.  In fact the practical application of my belief system continues to change and grow.  I believe now more than ever that patience and love is the most important element in relationships of any kind where religious differences are present.  Can we make the other party approach the table this way?  No.  Can we choose to?  Yes.  I have seen and sadly been party to some painful divisions since leaving the HRM between people who had much more in common than they disagreed on, yet the mountains of offense continued to build over differences in information and perception.

If someone believes with all their heart, they are doing the right thing, then they are.  Even if their ways seem crazy to us, their hearts are being true to what they believe.  I have a great deal of respect for our new friend who loves God, trusts God, and wants to obey Him.  That is a beautiful thing, even if that looks much differently to him than it does to me now.  Of course I did my best to explain the new and improved version of righteous fruit (it’s not really new, we just have it in HD with Jesus, with the static taken away).  But I can’t force him to see the world my way.  No one could have forced me.

After our friend had gone, I saw a status post on facebook:  “Do the right thing, regardless of whether bad things may come later or what it might lead to. Do the right thing today.”  This friend does not observe Torah as given to Moses, but follows Jesus whole-heartedly.

A short time later I found a similar quote while continuing an internet search I had been on for a few days about my family history.  I ran across an article written in 1961 about my grandfather who gave up his 15 year career as a law enforcement officer because he had just been baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist.  They would not allow for him to have Saturdays off, so he turned in his badge.  Ironically, the article was written by my other grandfather who was the pastor that baptized him.  The editors added a relevant quote from Ellen White that read, “It is the very essence of all right faith to do the right thing at the right time.”

I had seen this piece in a scrap book a long time ago.  Our family had held it up for many years as the picture of integrity.  My husband also for years would not accept a lucrative promotion at work because he refused to work on the Sabbath.  We followed our conscience and I don’t regret that.  However during those years, we have many regrets about failures to love with our whole heart.  Which will hold more weight in the end?   I am thankful for the few instances where we were given a chance to redeem those lost opportunities.

Today I also saw a picture of my grandmother’s headstone, wife of the former police officer.  I did not attend her funeral, and she is buried far from where I live.  It was the first time I’d seen it.  Under her name it reads, “She Loved Country Music.”   She also observed the Sabbath and the feasts, and out of respect for her, I will only say that it makes me sad this was the love she was known for.  I loved her, but she loved very little and it has grieved me to see how the pain of not being loved gets handed down from generation to generation.

So there we have it, a day all about doing the right thing, which is not exactly defined the same way by everyone.  HRM followers disagree about this all the time between themselves, as well as Christians.  We think having a Law would simplify it and preserve it.  It doesn’t.

Often the right thing is determined by fear.  There is something that needs to be avoided, controlled, or protected, or an approval to gain and keep.  These fears used to drive my view of faith, scripture, and my value system about what is right.  I understand this path very well.  I go back there a lot in other areas of my life as it seems to be my default operating system installed since birth.  It takes conscious effort, or realignment I should say, to His heart and mind, to operate from the other center point.

Perfect Love casts out all fear.  I believe this is the example of the fearless woman in my dream.  What if the right thing was determined only by what was Love.  Perfect love loves no matter what.  Even to the death.  What is the right thing?  A legal system can never answer this question because the explanations take volumes of Talmud, endless Supreme Court cases, or other books and tapes and videos without end.  Yet there is always something left unclear and uncovered, or impossible.

Love answers the question with itself and satisfies all.

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
James 2:8 If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well:

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photo by Krystal Tye

I spent last week in Southwest Colorado, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  My father moved to this area when I was 11 years old (and helped build the condos in the picture) so I’ve been blessed to have a childhood full of mountain memories.  Even before this, our family lived in Grand County, Colorado on three acres of lodge-pole pines.  I have always wished my own children could have grown up having the same adventures I did.  As kids, we lived outdoors – hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, swimming, spelunking,  backpacking, fishing, biking, four wheel mountain road driving … that’s all the “ing” words I can think of.  I am so glad my parents gave me an appreciation for nature and finding joy in the Creator’s world.  I still have to be outside as much as possible, even if it’s just to sit in my own back yard.  Sitting.. my new “ing”  word for my older body.

Now I am a city dweller, and it has some great perks.  But nothing can compare to watching the mood of a mountain range change five times in a day as the light and clouds change, hearing the wind in the trees before it comes to you, the smell of soil, pine, and sage, and a sky so blue you wouldn’t find a match even in a 64-count box of crayons.  I’ve only been home a day and I’m already homesick for the Rockies.  And I have not even begun to count the ways I love them.

On this visit, my younger two children were finally old enough to take a serious hike.  We took off to climb the mesa behind my father’s house.  My brother has camped on top a few times, so he knew they easy way to the top.  In this case, easy meant avoiding the 80 degree incline directly behind the house and opting for a more gradual slope farther down the road.  But we still had a steep climb with patches of snow, mud, large rocks, cactus, and brush to maneuver around, with no trail.  My six and eight year old kids had never been on anything more challenging than the bike trail behind our house.  I wondered how long before the complaining would begin, but I didn’t start begging to stop for a rest until we nearly reached the top!  My idle ways while living at near sea level revealed themselves as I gasped for air.  My children however urged me on to keep up.  I realized hiking in the mountains from a young age taught me I could do hard things, and that hard things could be very enjoyable, even though painful at times.

The views from the top made it worth the effort.  We could see the entire valley, a lake, and even the state line into New Mexico.  We hiked along the top to the far end,WP_000580 then made our way down farther from the house than we planned.  We tried mud skiing (new sport) down the last incline, investigating a large animal skeleton at the bottom.  As we rounded the base of the mesa and found the road that led home, I realized we had walked farther than we ever do on our city trails.  Yet none of us had grown bored or wished we hadn’t come.  I contrasted this to my various attempts to start a walking program motivated by the fact that it’s good for me.  No comparison.  I tortured my body on this hike and wondered if I would need assistance to get out of bed the next day.  But at home it’s like pulling teeth to get out and walk down my flat, straight city street, or even the bike trail.

WP_000589I sometimes hear people speak of their relationship with God as I do my exercise program; obligatory and guilt-ridden for lack of effort.  I’ve been in that place plenty of times too.  But God is not an obligation – He is an adventure!  The Spirit has so much beauty to show us, so many interesting things to ponder and ask about, full of fresh air and bright light.  My grown-up self often forgets that God isn’t found in the list of things we “should” do to be a good Christian.  He is found in the joy of childlike curiosity, love, and trust.  He delivered us from being servants and pupils under the school master to being sons and daughters of Him, Abba, Daddy.   I love the world He created for us to enjoy and He speaks to me so much when I have the chance to immerse myself in it.  Even in my city, there are places and times to do this.

But sometimes following Jesus isn’t a walk in the park.  He did say there was a cross involved.  Choices, sacrifices, endurance, patience, and pain – these also come with the high calling to “walk as He walked.”  I have been on hikes that lasted longer than I bargained for.  One day, when I was 12, my dad had to carry me the last couple miles back to the truck.  I couldn’t go anymore.  Sixteen miles round trip of steep trails and a few laps around the lake while fishing – I was overly optimistic about my abilities.  But do I regret it?  Not for a second.  What drives people to do crazy things for Jesus?  Joy, Gratitude, and Love.  If obligation is my game, I’m afraid I would give up before I have barely started.  Truly loving relationships don’t understand that kind of drudgery.

When we got home from our trip, my children ran to see their daddy who had to stay behind.  No one had to say, “Please go hug your dad and tell him you missed him.”  Spontaneous love and affection erupted that even the neighbors across the street could hear.  If only we could see ourselves with our Heavenly Father this way.

I can write about this much easier than I can live it.  So easy for my default setting to be task oriented, not love seeking.  Seeing truth is easier than walking.  But I’m thankful my Abba knows when I need Him to pick me up and carry me.  Maybe that’s a third and best way of walking.

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I don’t think I have anything new to say about this topic I haven’t already shared, but this is a special time of year for us now – whereas we used to dread it because our abstinence created so much conflict and stress.  You think the holiday season is stressful?  Try explaining to everyone again and again why you don’t celebrate it at all!  That gets exhausting because it always leads to more and more why questions, and none of those answers led to Jesus, but to me.  One of the first questions people asked was, “Do you believe in Jesus?” and the answer was “Yes, but..” and in the ensuing explanation, Jesus got set aside.

This year has been incredibly difficult for us.  Looking back I can assess the experiences as speed bumps, but while going through it all, it felt more like racing toward a cliff.  I am looking forward to Christmas here at home with all my kids, and now a new grand baby too.  Just to be together and healthy fills my heart with so much gratitude for what He has brought us through.

Recently we have made a new group of friends who are not all Christians.  Tomorrow the kids are getting together to exchange crafts for a Christmas party.  I don’t have to make some excuse about why I can’t come.  I can go and pray for open doors to share Jesus… even though I am in great need of courage to share Him in a society that doesn’t need Him anymore.

There is another man who has this boldness for Christ and he has inspired me many times.  He lives where there is genuine risk of persecution, but he wants Christmas to be a time to draw people’s attention to Jesus, right in the city of His birth.  We can quibble over days and laws, but I would rather be filled with His Spirit to speak for Him whenever and wherever He leads.  Christmas, Ramadan, or Halloween.   What matters is that people see Him!

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The word “cult” gets tossed around a lot, even by people who belong to them.  Many definitions abound, so it’s easy to pick one that might not include your own group, especially if you don’t meet all the criteria on a particular list.  Various degrees of denial make cult definitions a subjective pursuit.  This week my friends shared two helpful links about cults and abusive groups that are worth your time to check out.

Looking back on my life, I have quite a cult resume.

My husband and I would have never considered ourselves in a cult, or worse yet, the leaders of one, when we were in the Hebrew Roots Movement.  We did not follow any particular teacher, although we had friends who did.  We saw the movement as something God brought together because it wasn’t started or led by any one particular person.  People from many different Christian backgrounds came together under one common bond.  While every group had to muddle through many various points of contention, we had given our minds over to one idea which became the foundation of belief and the basis for our fellowship.  Nearly anything or anyone we recognized as having this same beginning premise, we trusted, and believed.

As this election season has heated up, I have watched this phenomenon in the political realm too, and see the human condition is so very prone to wanting a framework with neat, concise answers. We want talking points, dogmas, and simplified answers to our dissenters.  Go-to catch phrases head off any opponents arguments.  We become emotionally attached to our systems and ideas, take them on as part of our personal identities, and tie them on tightly with our fear and pride.

Seeing the political sides take shape, I realized that cults can gel around an ideology just as easily as a person.  Candidates are playing into the idea, trying to appear as if they are closely aligned with the values of the group they seek to represent.

Once the idea has become concrete, this is where the danger comes in.  Anytime we give up asking questions, listening, and investigating, we are in danger of cult-like thinking.  If we pledge our support for something, and emotionally invest in a “side”, we are much less likely to think objectively about our own camp, be it religious, political, or national.  It doesn’t matter how free of an atmosphere we have to ask questions, if we don’t.

Our religious “cult” was not formed or held together by Jesus, but a list of commands that pointed to Him.  We saw them as Him.  And He came to open the way for so much more than this in our relationship with Him.  What if I, as a wife, viewed my husband as only our marriage license.  I look at the paper every day, frame it so I can hang it on the wall, and make sure I tell everyone I meet about this agreement and what it entitles me to.  Yet, he is standing there wanting to love and be loved.

Cults of any kind are demanding, but Jesus is inviting.  The spiritual difference is life and death.  People who have not experienced the deep, healing love of Christ are trying to fill a need when they follow a cult of any kind, religious or otherwise.  We want belonging, and we want to be right.  It feels safe and warm in a way, yet we never quite “arrive”.  There is always one more bit of knowledge, or a higher degree of compliance to achieve.

If I could zap you through this screen and give you a sense of how much MORE Jesus has for you than the much less you are settling for, while believing you are in the elite crowd of the chosen few, I would.  But I can’t.  I pray the Holy Spirit does reveal this to you even though you probably found this blog looking for information that you agreed with, and this wasn’t it.  I say, just let Him love you.  He died so You could know the depth of His love, and you are running backward to the shadow.  You don’t have to earn His love, or fear a curse.  Just let Him love you.

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