Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

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when He is risen, but death still hurts.

Last year on Easter, I went to a sunrise service, had breakfast with friends, and then went to pick up my dad from the airport. We shared Easter dinner together with my aunt’s side of the family, and then I got to spend about a week with my dad before he flew back to Colorado. That was the last time I got to see him.

Last year, I had Easter dinner with my dad. This year, he is not here. How do I celebrate that death has no power, no sting, when its power overwhelms me and its sting still hurts?

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Christ’s tomb is empty, but my dad’s urn is still full. What does it mean?
“Today you will be with me in paradise,” Christ said to the thief who hung dying beside him. Not, “In the last days,” but “Today.” What does it mean?

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:36. NIV. Or, “Every time you plant seed, you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up, growing] unless it dies first.” -AMP.

On the night before He hung on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Where is that joy? Why does it feel like death has swallowed it up — when in reality, death is the one that is swallowed up, destroyed, rendered powerless?

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The very day before my dad died, before I even knew it was coming, I went to church and listened to a sermon on Nehemiah 8. I wrote verse 10 in my journal: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I continued writing, “What does that mean, God? Teach us, lead us. The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I am looking for the joy of the LORD today. I found Him in the stillness of the early morning hours, in the dark sky, in the foggy mists, in the creeping dawn. I found joy at first light, as the world turned golden orange and the water sang.

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Then the day came on, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, the stillness turned to busyness, and the cool mists burned away in the stifling heat… And now it is dusk. The sun has gone down again, and I am still not any closer to understanding Christ, His death, His sacrifice; His resurrection, His victory. I am drawn to Him, to the dawn. I need His hope, but I don’t understand it.

What does Resurrection mean today? For me? For the orphan? For the widow?

It is easy to sing of Christ’s victory, “He rose and conquered the grave, He conquered the grave.” It’s easy, when death seems far away, when you haven’t yet felt its sting, or when that sting has faded to a dull memory. Today, though, it hurts. Today, I sing, “He conquered the grave” not with a shout of triumph, but with a cry of desperation. It has to be true. He has to be risen. Death is defeated, it has to be, or what else can I do?

This sorrow will not pass, but perhaps joy can mingle with it… perhaps “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” I am looking for the eucastastrophe.

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“In Transition…” One Year Later

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Last year, I wrote this blog post on Christmas Eve called “In Transition.” It’s odd how I feel pretty much the same way now, though rather than hitting a speedbump, I’ve faced an earth-shaking crash that seems to have turned my world upside-down and render me senseless.

In that post last year, I wrote this:

One day from now marks the traditional anniversary of the moment my God left the throne of Heaven, took on flesh, and became a baby, a baby that would grow up to die for my wrongdoings and then conquer death to bring freedom and victory to the whole world.
So maybe that’s all that matters. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know the Gospel. …
May this be a time of sweet communion with the LORD, then. I want to know my Father’s heart so deeply, to bind mine with His so closely, that the way is obvious. And even if it isn’t, even if I still don’t get an answer, at least I will be drawing closer to the Lover of my soul.

I am grateful to have kept a log of my journey and be able to look back on these words to find comfort, comfort in the encouragement to simply commune with the LORD.

Manna today, or I starve. And that’s for today, not tomorrow, not a week from now, not a year from now, but today. There’s a reason God specifically commanded the Israelites to only gather enough manna in the morning for that day alone. (And when they disobeyed and tried to save some for leftovers, it rotted. See Exodus 16:16-20) Manna today. I must see His goodness today, or I won’t make it to tomorrow. And if I see His goodness today, then that is enough. He provides today, and therefore He will provide tomorrow, and two weeks from now, and decades from now.

Remember earlier this year when I blogged about my trek through the Hebrew prophets post-exile? I wish I had started blogging even earlier, when I was reading about the prophets in conjunction with the accounts of their various kings, because then I could’ve blogged about Habakkuk. I remember writing about Habakkuk for my college course on “The Problem of Evil,” because Habakkuk cries out to God about the evil he sees in his world and God’s plan to let the Babylonians carry the Israelites into exile, but in the end the prophet chooses wisdom over knowledge and joy over despair and lives by faith in a sovereign God.

I am grateful that such a sovereign God led me to read through the Old Testament prophets last year so that this year, when I am so in need of their stories, He can bring them to mind again.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 says in shigionoth (wild, emotional, enthusiastic song):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.

Yet. I. will. take. joy.

That’s not a very easy thing to say or do right now. Grief still troubles me in the middle of the night, it still suddenly stabs the heart in the course of a normal day. Confusion and worry and fear tend to cloud my future. Joy sometimes seems too simple. Or worse, joy seems like forgetting, forgetting the father I lost, forgetting the need for a future.

But joy is not forgetting, joy is remembering. Habakkuk didn’t forget the evil surrounding him, but rather he chose to remember the goodness of the Lord and to trust in that goodness to carry him through the hardship, to allow him to tread on the high places, to give him hope and a future.

To quote Voskamp again: “Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing– and are filled. This breath! This oak tree! This daisy! This work! This sky! This day! Surprise!”

I will take joy.
“LORD, I have heard of your fame: I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known…” –Habakkuk 3:2

Stretches to the Skies

When I think about it (which doesn’t happen nearly enough), I am so amazed by the faithfulness of our God. He is always faithful, always, even when I am nowhere near being faithful to Him. I just wanted to take a moment to meditate on that fact: God is faithful.

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His faithfulness stretches to the skies.
To the skies.

I’ve read this verse (Psalm 36:5) hundreds of times, I sing the song in my head, and I just skip over the power of this line. I acknowledge it for the pretty metaphor that it is, and I keep on singing. But God’s faithfulness stretches to the sky, His love reaches to the heavens. The psalmist didn’t know how else to describe it, so he picked the infinite gap between earth and sky as a starting point: “Yeah, my God’s faithfulness is larger than that.” I think sometimes I just don’t pay enough attention to the word faithfulness. I don’t let myself truly chew on its meaning. Why should God be faithful? We are certainly not beings worthy of His faithful love. He calls us His beloved, but we are adulterous, selfish, and foolish.

And yet, my God is faithful. He is faithful to me, but even more so He is faithful to who He is and the promises He has made. And He is faithful to remind me time and time again of those promises when I forget. God has provided for me a hundred times over and has carried me through time and time again. Why should now be any different?

I feel like a little child, asking Daddy over and over again to tell me that He loves me, to whisper to me that everything’s going to be alright, to assure me that I’ve made the right decision. I ask Him to tell me the same story over and over again, the story of where He’s been, and what He’s doing. And He is faithful. He always answers, He always listens, He is always close. Abba, I love you. I do believe, help my unbelief. Help me to be faithful to You, never wavering in my trust in You, never seeking lesser loves, never turning my back on you… Help me to be faithful like you.

Praise the LORD all you nations;
extol Him, all you peoples.
For great is His love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.
(Psalm 117)
<3

A good king, a change of heart

IMG_1512Alright, blog, it’s time to get back to my trek through the story of the Israelites. In my life recently, in the midst of my ups and downs, my immense unfaithfulness and God’s everlasting faithfulness, I have found myself aching to go back to these stories, the stories of a people loved and chosen and cherished by God, a people who continually turn from Him and a God who continually draws them back to Him.

When we last left off, I was returning to Chronicles to read the ancient stories again as they were told to the returning exiles. I had just related the change of seasons, from war to rest, between David and Solomon. The other day I was reading about the kings that came after Solomon, and the story of one really stood out to me: King Asa of Judah.

His story, told in 2 Chronicles 14-16,  recounts a spectacular reign of God-honoring reforms, victory, and peace on every side. Asa destroyed the idols and commanded his people to serve the God of their fathers.

However, 36 years into his reign, Asa of Judah faces the threat of the king of Israel, and instead of trusting in his God to deliver him, just as He’d done before, he takes the dedicated silver and gold out of the temple of the LORD and gives it to a pagan king to win him as an ally. With the help of this ally, he succeeds in getting the king of Israel to back off, but he doesn’t defeat him. Hanani the prophet says to him, “You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.” (16:9)

Rather than listening to the prophet and turning to God, he gets angry and throws the prophet in prison. He mistreats his people, and three years later comes down with a disease and still refuses to turn to God for help (16:12). He dies, but he is buried in glory and honor, his reign still celebrated by his people.

He is commended as one of the great kings of Judah, he is still remembered as a “godly king who reformed Judah.” In 1 Kings 15, there is no mention of his turn from the LORD, only that he took the silver and gold out of the treasuries of the temple. He is remembered as a good king. But I can’t help but think, in light of 2 Chronicles, that in his personal relationship with God, in his cries behind closed doors, in his heart, he lost something…

He lost something.

Earlier in his reign, when faced with a vast army, he prayed: “LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:11)

What happened? How could he have gone from that to stealing from the temple to buy a foreign ally? Was it fear? Was it pride? I don’t know, but it troubles my heart, and I don’t want it to happen to me.

I don’t want to forget what the LORD has done, to forget His power, His goodness, His closeness, even when I’m lost in terror and darkness. I dont want to attribute success and prosperity to my own doing, when all good gifts come from the Father. I don’t want to win a battle on my own effort, but lose the war in the long run. I don’t want to turn my back on conviction, but rather I want to repent and seek the LORD. I want to come to Him, to humble myself before Him. I want my heart to be fully committed to the LORD, all my life, as is written about King Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:17—but I want it to be completely true, all the days of my life.

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Eric Bégin / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Sometimes, I read Scripture and don’t even pay attention. This happens a lot when I assume, “Oh, I’ve heard this story before, yadayadayada.” For example, a lot of what Jesus said and did in the Gospels has been preached and quoted a lot, and sometimes I breeze past it because I think, “Yeah, I got it, bless those who persecute you,” or “Check, fishers of men, heard that before.”

I have been trying to push through this by reading the book fo Luke with my friend Alison. We are reading verse by verse, and we can keep each other in check when we try to skip past stories because we think we’ve heard them before. I can’t tell you how many times our conversations have turned to: “You know, I’ve heard this preached a thousand times, but…”

It’s so wonderful to discover Jesus anew again, to give Him the room to speak instead of relying on sermons and Sunday school lessons to tell me what He said. Yesterday, when reading Luke 12 on my own, I had one of those moments:

Jesus starts off by talking about how we should not fear those who can kill the body and then do no more, but we should fear God, who after killing the body can throw us into hell. I don’t think this is supposed to be scary, I think it is supposed to be encouraging: God alone is in charge, and we are more than our body.

I think this is supposed to be an encouragement because right afterwards, he says:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; for you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

This is the verse that made my soul swell within me. I’ve heard this thrown out in sermons a thousand times, God knows the number of hairs on your head. That is amazing. However, it is the part about the sparrows that makes me want to run to Jesus and throw myself at His feet.

You see, in essence, these sparrows are worthless to the world. You can buy five of them for two pennies, and they are so small they probably won’t offer you much sustenance anyway. I don’t do math, otherwise I would divide it up and tell you exactly how little it would cost to purchase just one sparrow. You probably wouldn’t have to, they’d probably just give it to you for free, or you could capture one in your house. Sparrows were around in abundance at the time, they were so cheap probably because there were so many of them. And yet, Jesus says, not one single sparrow is forgotten by the Creator of the universe.

I struggle a lot with feeling worthless, and I think Jesus saw that in some of the people He walked amongst. He ate with prostitutes and disgraced women, tax collectors and lost men, people who probably thought their life was worth less than two pennies, and yet He loved them. He wanted to tell them, “Even the animal you deem most worthless is cared for intimately by the Father, how much more does He care for you, dear child!”

Jesus talks about birds again in verse 24. This time it’s ravens, how the ravens don’t sow or reap and yet the Father feeds them. It’s a slightly different principle, but I have to believe He’s trying to hammer this point home when he says: “And how much more valuable are you than birds!”

Don’t believe the lie that you are worthless. I am so grateful that God knew we would struggle with this, and He wanted to tell us over and over that we are worth so much more. “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Jesus, I can’t get enough of You. Keep it coming!

Changing Seasons

Yesterday on Small Still, I wrote a post about the transition in Israel from King David to King Solomon, and I reflected upon the changing seasons in my own life:

In 1 Chronicles 22, King David makes preparations for the temple his son Solomon is to build for the LORD. God tells David that Solomon’s reign will be a time of peace and rest for Jerusalem. The fighting and bloodshed of David’s reign has ended, there is peace on all sides, and it is time for the people to rest secure, free from battle, in the land of their inheritance.

This rest is purposeful. There is a very important task to be completed during this time of peace and quiet, the task of building the temple of the LORD. David says, “Is not the LORD your God with you? And has he not granted you rest on every side? … Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God.” (1 Chronicles 22:18,19)

Click to read the rest on Small, Still Voices!

Living without a Bible

My friends Mary and Mallory sent me a copy of God’s Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew and his ministry behind the Iron Curtain during the fifties and sixties. Let me tell you, the things this man has experienced are ca-razy. And ca-razy awesome.

I’ve learned a lot spiritually, but also just historically by reading this book. I didn’t really have any idea how the Communist countries in Europe treated Christians and Christianity during that time until I read this book. Brother Andrew was (still is?) a Bible smuggler. There were Christians behind the Iron Curtain who had no access to Bibles, churches that didn’t have Bibles, pastors that didn’t have Bibles.

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Sometimes, I just can’t fathom that. Sometimes (read: all the time), I forget that the freedom I have to possess a Bible is not universal across this world. I own four different Bibles. The church I attend has a Bible under every seat for each person to follow along with during the sermon. When Brother Andrew visited a church in Yugoslavia, only seven people in the entire congregation had Bibles, and they had to work out a rotation to share the Bibles across the congregation throughout the week. In Russia, the pastor of a church had to borrow a Bible from one of the attendees in order to read the reference for his sermon.

There was no moment in the story when Brother Andrew had to hand over his own Bible. In any case, he couldn’t, because the people he was ministering too couldn’t speak his language. However, it did get me thinking… Would I be willing to do that, to leave my Bible with someone who needs it because I have the incredible freedom to simply go home and buy a new one?

It also makes me think twice when I open my Bible to read. Today, I wasn’t particularly feeling the Scriptures I was reading. I was trying to reread what I’d already read in Luke and also trying to read a few ‘boring’ passages in 1 Chronicles. But oh my goodness, I have the freedom and the ability to read and reread the Bible, any time I want. I don’t have to pass it off to someone else, I don’t have to wait for church on Sunday. When these Christians in Communist countries received the Bibles smuggled in by Brother Andrew, they accepted them in awe and reverence. Brother Andrew even notes that they handled their Bibles with more care than he did. I don’t think they would’ve felt bored or apathetic about rereading a Gospel or working through a dense history record in the Old Testament. They would have read joyfully, grateful for the opportunity to actually hold God’s word in their hands and read it for themselves.

I don’t want to take the Bible for granted.

The issue of remembrance…

First order of business, I have a correction to make: I had spoken incorrectly in my other post. The Jews had returned to their land, and they had settled, but not in Jerusalem. They left Jerusalem empty and ruined, until Nehemiah arrived on the scene and led the rebuilding of the wall. The wall was important. The wall brought boundaries. The wall kept them set apart, the wall upheld their Jewish identity. [Interestingly enough, even after they’d finished rebuilding the city’s wall, he had to resort to a lottery to repopulate the city because everyone had already settled in towns outside of it and they knew that living in a city was dangerous because the city could an easy target.]

Now on to the rest of the post!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of remembering as I’ve been going through these Old Testament stories. A lot of them I’ve never really studied in depth before, and I never really had a clear idea of the timeline between Exodus and Malachi. So as I’m finishing up the last of the history-text in Nehemiah, I’ve been thinking, “Okay, great. I know what’s going on now. I got it, check. Moving on…”

But that’s not the point of this. If the point of these books were just so I can read them once, understand them, and move on, then they wouldn’t be here in my Bible. God put them here because He intended for them to be read over and over again. It’s hard for me to get that, and it’s hard to understand why we would need to reread something like Lamentations, poetry of grief about a moment that happened centuries and centuries before Christ. It’s beautiful poetry, and it’s a great literary and historical study, but it’s included in the Bible for more than those reasons alone. I’m not sure what the real reason is yet, but I know that God intended for us to remember these ancient moments immortalized in laments.

In Nehemiah 9 and 10, the people rededicate themselves and their nation to God in a lengthy prayer. The prayer begins with Abram and ends with the return to Jerusalem, recording the people’s continuous rebellion and God’s continuous goodness. This happens a lot in the story of the Israelites: the people have to constantly remind themselves (and God has to remind them too) that their God is the One who brought them out of Egypt and led them into the promised land of their inheritance, the God who sustained them in the desert and gave them all good things. They read and reread the Law of Moses, they retell the stories through the ages.

I am so far removed from those stories. They happened thousands of years ago in a place thousands of miles away, for a people I have no ancestral connection to. But I am connected, through the blood-relation of the Savior. I have been grafted in and become a part of this chosen people. These stories are important to remember. These sins are important to remember, just as it is important to tell and retell how God had mercy upon a fallen and stiff-necked people. Thankfully, though, God also likes to remind His people that He brought them out of slavery, and He questions why they would continue to return to it. These stories are important.

And the stories of my Savior are important to remember too. I’ve noticed that I tend to shy away from rereading the Gospels, and I don’t know why. So my next journey will begin in Luke, to explore and remember how God responded to His people after four-hundred-odd years of Scriptural silence. Here is where the promises of Isaiah, Zechariah, Malachi, and the other prophets are being fulfilled. On the side, I’ll also try to read through 1 and 2 Chronicles, the same history and the same stories I’ve finished reading retold for the returning remnant of exiles.

Because it is important to remember, and these stories are in here to be read more than once. I want to meditate and absorb the Word of God, and I can’t do that without returning to the same stories again and again. Thanks for joining me in the journey. <3

Takeaways from Two Prophets

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I haven’t been able to put together a sufficient blog post for my readings of Zechariah, but keeping up on this blog has really helped me process through the Scriptures, and I didn’t want to skip over an entire book. So I am going to list here some various notes and “takeaways” from my reading of Zechariah. I’m also including some notes from Ezekiel, since that is a very long book and I only briefly touched on it. These are still only brief notes, but it was helpful to me to write them out here.

God spoke not only through Ezekiel’s words, but also his actions. Ezekiel’s entire life was the message. Sometimes, Ezekiel didn’t even speak at all. God told Ezekiel to do certain things as an example for his people– certain crazy things like lying on his side in front of a model of Jerusalem for 430 days (390 for Israel days for the sins of Israel, 40 for Judah). That’s over a year, and it boggles my mind. Also, while he was doing this, he had to cook his food over cow manure. In chapter 24, we see that Ezekiel had a wife. I wonder what it was like for her in times like these…

God gave Ezekiel some amazing visions of His glory and His power. These come in the very first chapter, because Ezekiel has to know the power and the presence of the LORD Almighty before he can submit to speaking such bold words and doing such crazy things. We have no way of knowing whether or not his wife experienced such visions, but there must have been some incredible faith on her part if she didn’t.

The need for Christ: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” — Ezekiel 22:30

A very great promise: “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.” –Ezekiel 37:26-27

Zechariah means “God has remembered.” Throughout the book, God is described to be “choosing” Jerusalem.

Zechariah, like Haggai, called the people to return to God and rebuild the temple, but he also points to a greater future: rebuilding the physical remains of Jerusalem is powerful, but it is not all that God has for his people. Look ahead to the glory of the LORD.

Zechariah speaks of one who will be both ruler and priest. At the end of Haggai, the governor, Zerubabbel, is appointed by God to rule over Israel. In Zechariah, Joshua, the high priest over Israel, is anointed and referred to as a man “symbolic of things to come” when “the Branch” will be a priest and rule on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two. (Zechariah 3:8; 6:12-13)

“I will remove the sin from this land in a single day.” — Zechariah 3:9

When the LORD comes to reign, “Holy to the LORD” will be inscribed not only on the priestly garments, but even on the horses, and pots and pans for cooking will be the same as the sacred bowls used at the altar (Zechariah 14). Everything in the LORD’s city will be sacred.