Sojourners & the Quest for Comfort…

When the year started, I felt the Lord say from the beginning to “give Me a year. Give Me this year.”

Sure, I hemmed and hawed about it…I procrastinated. I had my book about the Torah sitting on the couch (it’s still there) and a few other books set aside, and as life would have it, me & my hamster wheel just kept spinning, and I kept on saying, “It’s early, Lord. I’ll get there. I’ll get there….”

But I didn’t.

But then, COVID.

And lo-&-behold, I GOT THERE.

In hearing God say, “Give me a year,” what He was telling me was that it was time for me to get serious about His Word. It’s time for me to read it; to love it; and to push past the arrogance of a lifetime of Christian education, & to look at it through new eyes. It’s time to read it in humility & in wonder…it’s time to read the Word with acceptance and through lenses of His love for us (or as close as we can come to understanding His love for us–THAT is an ever-evolving journey). 2020 has been a year of unlearning and relearning the Bible, and in undoing & redoing my personal theology in ways I never realized could be done. It’s been a year of restoration, depletion, and of new creation, as far as my spiritual life has gone. God put me in a position where yes, He took the year, but I gave it to Him, first…He gently asked, I stalled; He made it possible, and I have slowly-but-surely turned it over to Him, day by day.

Up until this year, I NEVER had a heart for reading the Word. I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore–I realize why I became so calloused, and why it was easier for me to act like I had it together or was so smart, when really, my head knowledge about the Word has never matched up to my heart’s understanding or desire for the Word–and I’m not ashamed to admit it’s been a work in progress. I’ve been following a daily reading plan that includes an audio Bible, and I’ve been listening to it every morning on my way into work. It’s been revolutionary. There’s so much I never noticed before, and so much that I never realized I was skipping or glossing over. Hearing the Word has revived parts of me that I didn’t know were dead! It’s drawn me in closer to God, and even though we all know I’m a salty chick, I think I’m more in love with Jesus than I’ve ever been before. Again, I’m a work-in-progress, and I’m always afraid someone will read this blog and think I’m something that I’m not. I’m a mess. I’m just…I’m a mess that loves Jesus, and is trying her best.

I’ve tried to stay committed on this path, and I hope I continue it for the rest of my life. I’ve found myself tempted by the glossy theology of deconstruction, & the only way I know how to stay on the path of the Lord is to follow His Word, so here I am…knowing there is no where else I’d rather be, even if my friends or my spiritual icons, or my personal inspirations, seem to be veering off course.

That seems to be happening a lot lately….people I used to have on pedestals (which isn’t their fault) are tumbling down into softened Christianity, selling out moral compasses for comfortable mattresses of “One Love theology.” It’s so tempting.

It’s so, so tempting, to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything in Scripture that makes us uncomfortable….

It’s so, so tempting to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything that doesn’t make sense to us….

It’s so, so tempting to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything that sounds like judgment or conviction….

It’s so, so tempting to strip Christianity to one word–Love–but then to interpret that word into permission…

It’s so, so tempting to strip Christianity to one word–Freedom–but then to interpret that word into passivity.

I.

AM.

PASSIONATELY.

AGAINST

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to be comfortable.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to be accepted by the world.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to accept the world.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to understand or that everything “has” to make sense.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to accept carnal influences and allows them to strip us of our abilities to make choices.

–Theology that ties love to acceptance, and states that in order for me to love you, I “have” to agree with all of your life choices.

I can’t live that way, and I can’t accept that’s the direction the Lord is taking His people.

Recently, our daily readings took us through Psalms 119. A particular verse stood out to me:

“I am a sojourner in the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me.”–Psalm 119:19 (ASV)

The word, “sojourner” stood out to me; it’s not a word you hear very often, although it’s one I’m familiar with. I went ahead and looked it up, just to be sure my understanding was correct. A sojourner is a stranger or a nomad. Wikipedia says it’s “a person who resides temporarily in a place.”

There was a book series I loved when I was a kid, called The Chronicles of Prydain. If ever I was in love with a fictional character, it was Taran, the main character. In the book, Taran Wanderer, Taran goes on a quest to determine his parentage. Throughout the story, Taran proves his character & the end result (spoiler alert) is new confidence in the boy he was, and in the man he has become. The overall tone of the book is the journey itself, though, as Taran feels like a man without a family or a home. He has no roots, no lineage, and no claim to be able to propose to the woman he loves.

Chronicles of Prydain | Prydain Wiki | Fandom

To wander through life without a feeling of belonging or home, is the very definition of what it means to be a sojourner. It is a feeling of being out-of-place, of never belonging anywhere tangible. It is a feeling of being, in a word, UNCOMFORTABLE.

Psalms 119:19 asks God not to hide His commandments from us–that’s because when you’re a sojourner, you need the anchor of His Word to ground you….to remind you that nope–THIS isn’t home, but you’re eternally tied into the place where you belong, which is with Him.

Christianity was never designed to be “comfortable.” It’s not designed to feel good–I mean, God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die a terrible death so that we could spend eternity with Him. It’s a belief system built on sacrifice.

Sacrifice is (wait for it)…UNCOMFORTABLE!

So, we’re sojourners—we’re just passing through this crazy world, and we know that no matter how difficult it gets, we have peace on the other side. Sometimes, that’s a huge comfort in and of itself (not always, but sometimes)…but “comfort” is the word I’m taking to task, because it seems to be more important these days than anything else.

We do EVERYTHING in order to make our lives more “convenient.” Like, I love me some Target Drive-Up or Walmart Pick-Up grocery shopping! I love me some Amazon! I love anything that doesn’t cause me to have to get out of my car or to interact with people. I love my electronics; I love my “quick fixes” for just about anything. I, like most Americans, do NOT like to be inconvenienced. I like my comfortable clothes, my super-soft blankets, and my aromatherapy mister.

I don’t like to be uncomfortable.

At some point, our desire to be comfortable has spread into our theology, and we have forgotten what our very faith is based in.

True love is uncomfortable.

True Love means I care enough about someone to say when they’re making a life choice that has spiritual repercussions. It means I care enough to have uncomfortable conversations in respect & in gentleness (I Peter 3:15). It doesn’t mean that I force my beliefs on someone, but it does mean that when that door opens, I am willing to step out in faith and talk to someone.

True Love means I stop expecting God to answer my questions. That might shock a few people–let me explain: Shortly after my daughter passed away, Natalie Grant’s song “Held” came out. The lyrics are forever burned into my brain; specifically, the line, “Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed, and why should we be saved from nightmares?”

Those lyrics rocked my world, and woke me up to the absolute arrogance and entitlement with which I was living my faith. I will never understand the hows or whys, but what I do understand and believe is that God has a plan. I do understand and believe that God is GOOD…and even though what has happened does not always seem to match up on the surface with that, I am set in my belief that it is true. God. Is. Good….and that goes beyond the scope of my comprehension. Who am I, to demand answers and explanations from Him?!

WHY DO CHRISTIANS THINK THEY SHOULD ONLY EVER ENCOUNTER GOOD THINGS? Why do we think we’re immune to heartache? To loss? To sickness or disease? NOTHING in the Bible states that “you find Jesus, it’s green lights and allllllll rights from here, baby!!!!” NO–verse after verse after verse reminds us that this world is not our home. They remind us that yes, good can come from suffering, but THERE IS SUFFERING. I tend to blame prosperity garbage for these lies, and I most definitely think it’s a theology that’s responsible for devastating the church (I don’t agree with everything in this documentary, but the film American Gospel has some good sticking points about the Prosperity Gospel). WE ARE HUMANS. WE ARE BROKEN PEOPLE, LIVING IN A SICK, BROKEN, DISEASED WORLD. We are in the world, even if we aren’t of the world, and guess what? No matter what color you’re wearing, it’s gonna get dirty in a garbage bin. WE ARE NOT IMMUNE, and it’s total arrogance for us to think anything otherwise.

True Love means that when I don’t get the answers I want or think that I deserve, that I lean back in faith and still trust Him, even though not knowing or understanding makes me VERY uncomfortable.

A “comfortable” theology looks at the moral compasses and absolutes in Scriptures, cocks its head back, raises an eyebrow, and says those fateful words, “Hath God Not Said?”

“Hath God Not Said” are the Four Words that Wrecked it All, and they’re the first four words we say when we find ourselves faced with Uncomfortable Theology that we want to talk ourselves out of. “Hath God Not Said” are the Four Words that Satan the Snake used to lead Eve to eat the Apple and to corrupt her husband, and “Hath Got Not Said” are the Four Words that put us in this leaky boat on an ocean of UGH.

It is so uncomfortable to trust God. It is so uncomfortable to wander through this earth, through this mortal life, knowing that this unsettled feeling is permanent. We’re strangers in a strange land, and we’re a long way from Home. It’s okay that we accept the fact that it’s not easy, it’s not fun, and it’s VERY uncomfortable…

But it’s worth it….

It’s worth it for those glimpses into His character that we see in His Word. It’s worth it for those whispers we hear in our hearts from Him. It’s worth it to hear His Spirit speak into our hearts, to hear Him call us His sons and daughters. It’s worth it to know the security and grace only He can offer. It’s worth it to know we are forgiven, and that we are loved, and that we can share that love with others in this unloving world…in this world that sells a candy-coated, hollowed-out version of love that is so far from the Real Thing…We have in our hearts a Love that is more inclusive than anything the world can imitate. We have a Love that extends grace to all who ask…who extends eternity to all who seek it through Jesus. How great of a Love is that?

This has been a Most Uncomfortable Year for so many…I, for one, am glad that this world is not my home, because who would want to think this is it??!?! If this is all there is–if there isn’t an eternity to call Home–it’s sorely disappointing, even at it’s best, in the light of what Jesus offers us.

Truth be told, I started percolating on this blog last week, while I was sick, and while I was facing my 43rd birthday. I’ve had 43 years on this planet, and it takes me FOREVER to feel like I even slightly “fit in” anywhere. I always feel like a weirdo, but maybe instead of a “weirdo,” I should adopt the term, “sojourner,” because it seems more fitting. This world is not my home. Eternity is my home and my hope, and I am praying that as I continue on this road of reading and of falling in love with the Bible, that my eyes stay focused on just that….on hiding His commandments in my heart, and on hearing His voice. He asked me for one year…it’s turning into all of them. That’s uncomfortable to say…but I guess that’s the point of this blog.

Music, Worship, & a Little Bit of Chicken Fried

And if you know that next line is, “cold beer on a Friday night,” you might be my people. I have a thing for the Zac Brown band.. I can’t help but to appreciate a group of true, honest musicians with REAL talent. I like music with meaning, and I like sounds that can be recreated face-to-face, instead of only in a studio.

Music is my happy place. When I hear a song I like, it feels like someone has recharged my batteries. I can’t identify the feeling, and I can’t tell you what it is about a song that gets my attention. I heard “Almost Human” on the radio this morning, and felt like I could go into war. I blogged about “Reckless Love” the other day, because it completely undid me (and continues to do so, every time I get to sing it). A good, truly well-written and/or well-performed song hits places in the spirit like nothing else.

I’ve sang for as long as I can remember. My mom is one of those harmonizers that you only hear once in a lifetime; I remember singing Gatlin Brothers‘ songs with her while we did dishes, back in the Single Mom Days. If walls could talk, I’m pretty sure my childhood home would sing.

I used to sing in a small group of mediocre people on behalf of our college, on a scholarship team. Yes, I said “mediocre,” as I am also, “mediocre.” None of us were ever going to rise up to be Kelly Clarkson. 😉 We were all comfortable midwest singers who did what we did to get out into various congregations to raise money for our school. We didn’t really have the resources or the training to take it any further. There are certain things about that time in my life that I remember fondly, but most of it is with sadness. Music was a performance on so many levels. I was singing about a Jesus that loved us all, but I felt unlovable and ugly…singing had been a refuge, but at the end, it was more of a prison.  It was a very difficult time in my life; I was very, very good at playing “church,” but my heart was broken.

It wasn’t the fault of anyone that I was singing with; I needed more help than anyone knew how to give, or that I even knew how to ask for. Every day was increasingly difficult, and by the time I graduated from college, everything crumbled. I didn’t want to sing…I didn’t want to worship…and I really didn’t want to do anything.

I was clinically, deeply depressed, but this was 1999, and no one really talked about such things.

Church relationships that I had over the following years fell apart…family relationships struggled…and at some point, I hit the bottom, and I lost my song.

I never turned my back on my relationship with the Lord, through all of it…but you can shut down and hide in a cave, without turning your back on Him. My prayers were a string of unfinished sentences and runaway thoughts, for the longest time…and then, things began to shift…

I can’t remember if it was a book or a song, or a message; I don’t remember. I’d have to dig through some journals to see if it was a catalytic moment that began to pull me back. But gradually, slowly, my heart began to thaw out, and the music began to come back.  Random songs began to pour out…songs about laundry, songs about the walk to work, songs about Jesus, songs about my future husband. I never really wrote any of them down, but they began to rise up like grass in a forgotten pasture. They were there; they never left, even when I shut my eyes and closed my ears.

In 2003 (or was it 2002?), I met my husband. We bonded over a shared love of Caedmon’s Call and Vineyard music that he introduced me to.  We don’t have a whole lot of musical tastes in common (I like rap. No, that is not negated by my opening paragraph. Anyone that can recite in rhythm the amount of lyrics that are in any given rap song is TALENTED. Rap is poetry, and poetry is art). He likes jazz (which I think they play in elevators in Hell), I like Americana; he hates country, and I want to punch Diana Krall. We do have a mutual love of 90’s music, so there’s that–we’ll always have “Holiday,” LOL.  I feel like most of David’s personal music catalog is some kind of cross between Rod Stewart and Norah Jones, with some Melody Gardot thrown in. My musical catalog is something like Chris Stapleton with some Steffany Gretzinger and some Tiffany, crossed with Andy Mineo, Jason Mraz, and some Alanis. It’s a mess. We don’t “fight” over the radio, but we know we can only listen to 3-4 stations together (oldies, soft rock, and K-SHE 95). It’s a beautiful compromise.

I spent a long time with a strained relationship with singing for any reason at all. I really struggled with self-esteem,  with not understanding direction in various musical settings, and with the fact that I am not a musician (there’s a difference between a singer and a musician, just like there’s a difference between someone who can plunk out a melody on a keyboard and a trained pianist). I do not play any instruments, and I can barely read music. I totally can’t read chords (they make no sense to me at all). It makes me feel like I am “less than” the people I am surrounded by.

In the late 2000’s, I joined a worship team led by a man named Chris Clausen, who is just ridiculously talented as a musician, a singer, and a songwriter. He & his wife, Paige, are also incredibly kind and nurturing. Chris has every reason to be an arrogant clod of a man when it comes to music (he is anything but), and I have no idea why in the world he decided to let me be on his team at church, but for a few short years, I was privileged to be a part of his crew. It was a musical education that I hold very close to my heart. More importantly, it was a time of internal healing and recognition. I’d been in such a bad place mentally and spiritually the last time I sang in a group; I had no faith in myself or in any abilities, and I was absolutely petrified. I vividly remember sitting in a classroom in our church at one point, having a near-panic attack just before we had to lead an extended worship set. I was consistently focusing on the wrong things, and it took my time on the Clausen team to work through those issues.

My time on the team was such a great experience for me…to have a teacher who was humble but direct, who recognized abilities that I didn’t know I had, and who had so much patience, was a blessing. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my soul needed that time to remember what music can do in our relationship to the Lord. Music is a method of healing. Music is a method of how God speaks to us, of how He speaks THROUGH us. Music affects us physically, spiritually, and mentally. When we allow ourselves to focus, and to direct our heart and our intentions to Him in worship, He hears it, regardless of how it sounds in our own ears. I think that music opens up our hearts and our brains to receive from Him in ways that words just can’t. Music carries His message like nothing else can.

My husband got the message that it was time for us to move to a different church in 2011 or 2012, and we found ourselves in our current congregation. I think I finally (fearfully) stepped out and asked to join the worship team in 2013 or 2014. It’s a different vibe, but it’s a good thing. Our pastor is a musician (and a beautiful guitarist), and he’s a man that understands that God speaks through music. Worship is something we can do to give back to Him, to tell Him how we love Him; things change in worship that wouldn’t change in any other way. Worship evokes the prophetic, which is so, so important (and which is so totally forgotten in may churches today). God speaks in worship!!!!  God speaks through music!!!  Every note, every trill on a piano, every chord on a guitar, every beat of a drum–it all affects atmospheres in worship! Nothing else does what worship and music can do. There’s a reason why there are so many references to music in God’s Word (over 1,150!). It’s so important to our lives, and is such an important medium to get His message out into the world.

I still deal with anxiety and occasionally, depression. When King Saul was going through his crazy days in the Old Testament, he sent for a harpist to come in to play to calm him down. I get it. I’ve rarely been Saul-Level Crazy, but any time stress or anxiety are an issue, music is the first place I go to refocus. Even if I’m not in a place where I can sing along, just having it play is huge. And singing….There’s something about the physical act of singing that releases endorphins. Like, physically, you just feel better when you sing (Carpool Karaoke, anyone?!?!), not to mention the spiritual ramifications of pouring out your heart in worship. There are times when it feels like the world is somewhere between imploding and exploding. Worship is where you find the balance. Music carries the journey of finding that place of peace.

It’s just so important…worship is so important. As a singer, as just an average, run-of-the-mill, mediocre singer, I know from the depths of my heart that where worship is concerned, there is NOTHING mediocre about a soul that worships Jesus in complete humility and in complete honesty. It’s not the sound–it’s the heart, and hearts united in worship CREATE a sound that moves the heart of God. It’s so amazing, to be a part of a body of believers that come together every week with that one focus. It’s a movement that carries through the rest of the week.

Worship feels like home to me. I’m at a place right now where I am not afraid (which isn’t something I say very often). I’m not afraid of “doing it wrong.” I’m not afraid of embarrassing myself. I’m not afraid of being a mess in a room full of people. They’re family, after all. I know that when I come to that place, whether it’s on the platform or in my regular seat, that I am in a safe place where my King remains. My song–however it sounds–is beautiful to Him, and He hears me. It’s worthy of Him, because He makes it so. Worship is this beautiful whirling fire of incense that rises from our hearts to the very throne of God. He loves our worship, whether we sound like Cory Asbury or Gilbert Gottfried. He hears our hearts, and He LOVES our song.

I told David the other day that worship is the only place where my soul feels completely at peace. When I had my thyroid removed in 2015, I was so scared of the effect on my vocal chords, because I was so scared that I would lose my ability to get to that place…but I didn’t. My voice is different (weaker), but it’s still there, and I am so grateful. Worship is the only place I feel like every worry, every fear, every concern or outside thought, is shut out. It’s the single greatest place of focus that I can know.

Anyone who knows me or who knows how static I naturally am, knows what that means. Peace. True, unadulterated, uninterrupted peace. There’s nothing like it; there’s nothing worth more. It’s the eye of this hurricane called life, and when I’m there, I never want to leave. It’s taken so many years to get to this point, to have a revelation and a revolution in my relationship with music…so many years. I feel like I’m just getting started, and I get so excited when I think about an eternity with Jesus and endless worship. Ridiculous…just amazing….He’s preparing a place for us, with THAT. Crazy.

So, I appreciate music, and I appreciate excellence in music, because I understand Who gave it to us. I know what He gave it to us for…not to be entertained, but to bring it back to Him, for His glory…it’s all for His glory, and it’s unbelievable that He gives us all that gift to be a part of.  There are so many wonderful musicians that are so gifted; even if they don’t know Jesus, they are still part of creating a sound that He can use in ways we don’t understand. People’s hearts identify with the messages in music. It’s why musicians have a responsibility to celebrate goodness and joy with their sound, instead of misogyny and violence.

I love music in so many forms. It all has value, even the stuff I don’t like (jazz…ugh). It all creates movement in the spiritual, so as Christians, we have to be aware of the tug-of-war we’re a part of. Sing freely, especially this season. Worship freely, especially because we live in a country where we still can. “Let everything that has breath (it doesn’t say, “let everything that sounds marginally on-key, LOL, so don’t let that stop you if you “can’t” sing) PRAISE THE LORD!”

Psalm 150

 

Praise the Lord.[a]

 

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

 

 

 

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