66 in 52 Challenge, Bible Journaling, Devotional

Things Worth Lamenting in 2018

Reading in the book of Lamentations this week has me thinking about what it even means to “lament”. As a noun, the first definition that comes up in a google search is: “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”  I’ve been pondering throughout this week what is worth lamenting over in our own world. Instantly, that thought alone brought tears to my eyes. It feels there is much to lament and yet it’s something we don’t often do.

To be honest I didn’t want to write this post (let alone post it) because it feels like everything gets so politically charged and what follows is not meant to be political at all. It simply feels like some lamenting is necessary when I look around at our world and my heart breaks. I know there are many complicated sides to all of these issues. I ashamedly have to admit I haven’t done enough research to comment intelligently about most of them. BUT no matter what my opinions or beliefs about any of them, I feel it is worth expressing grief and sorrow on behalf of the people impacted by these issues, situations, and struggles. I may not agree with those impacted or those making decisions or maybe I do. That’s not what this post is about. It’s about looking around this world and weeping with a God who is saddened to see those He created so broken and hurting.

So, for a few moments, I’m going to set aside arguing, debating, and even healthy discussion and simply lament. I invite you to join me and take just a few moments to stop, let yourself have some compassion, and perhaps even cry a little.

Things Worth Lamenting in 2018:

  • Hundreds and hundreds of people dying each month as a result of their drug addiction
  • The 44,400 people a day forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution in their country
  • Depression rates at an all-time high
  • Nearly a half a million of kids in our country alone orphaned and in need of a home, millions around the world living separated from their parents whether from the poor choices of their parents, because of death, due to poverty, or countless other reasons
  • Hundreds of people who die daily because they feel they have no other choice but to end their own life … to escape the terror of war that haunts them after fighting for our freedom in the military, in response to bullying about their sexual orientation or gender, because of financial or marital crisis, or simply because they believe that no one would even miss them
  • The fact that racism is real and many of us who perpetuate this in our culture don’t even know how racist we really are
  • The estimated 40 million human beings on our planet in slavery today
  • Wars around the world that never seem to end
  • The fact that I’m glad it summer because it hopefully means we’ll get a break for a while from what became weekly school shootings

Unfortunately, this isn’t even half of the list I came up with. When thinking of a Biblical lament like those in the book of Lamentations, it isn’t just enough to “be sad” about what’s going on, the grief leads to repentance and action.

I obviously can’t bring world peace, solve all the hunger and slavery issues around the globe, take in every orphaned child, or single-handedly get rid of all government corruption worldwide.

BUT there are things I can do.

There are ways I can bring light to darkness and hope to despair in the lives of those around me. I can inform myself about issues and reach out to those who do have more power than I do to bring about change. I can offer a listening ear to a struggling friend and welcome people into my home. I can advocate and speak up for those who can’t do that for themselves. I can open my life to refugees and orphans and the lonely.  I can repent for the times I’ve judged others and seek reconciliation.

It’s easy in the face of so much hurt and suffering to turn to God and ask “WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING!?!?” But, as Matthew West wrote in a song a few years back, we have to ready to hear what often is His reply: “I did, I created you.”

Some people say that grieving over the hard things in this world is pointless and a waste of time… that “praying isn’t enough.” But, at least in my life, what I’ve found is this: when I allow myself to fully experience the grief and sorrow for the hurt and pain others are suffering in prayer, it WON’T stop there. True lament always eventually leads to action.

It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. But may I challenge you to join me this week and spend some time in lament. Pour out your heart and then be still and listen. Ask God how He wants to use YOU to make change.

One last thing: When looking at a list like the one I made above, it can also lead to despair instead of action. That’s where these words actually from the book of Lamentations refresh my soul this week:

“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

We lament… and we hope.

66 in 52 Challenge, Bible Journaling, Youth Ministry

Reflections on Jeremiah – Cling to the Call

When I first started working at the church where I currently serve, our staff was working our way through Jeremiah in weekly staff meetings. I enjoyed digging into God’s Word with my teammates. However, when our weekly staff meetings switched to be once a month, Jeremiah seemed to go on FOREVER! Thankfully we found a different way to engage with Scripture in that time to avoid spending years in one book, but it was nice to revisit Jeremiah these past two weeks in the 66 in 52 challenge.

At times it was a challenge to read when you realize the rebellion of God’s people at that time is so similar to the rebellion of our own hearts. But what stood out to me was Jeremiah’s faithfulness to His call. This book chronicles time after time after time when Jeremiah spoke God’s truth only to have it fall on deaf ears. I have to imagine he got a little glimpse of how God felt about it all… passionately pursuing His people over and over, longing to shower them with love and blessing, only to have them turn the other way in rebellion. Even in the face of death threats, starvation, and more, Jeremiah remained faithful to the call, one he doubted a bit at the beginning:

The Lord gave me this message:
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” (Jeremiah 1:5-6)

God met him in those doubts and equipped him to be the prophet and leader God imagined from before Jeremiah was born. A few weeks ago I was out on a medical leave for a couple weeks recovering from surgery. As the end of my leave approached and I thought about the ministry I would return to at work, I had some moments of doubt as well. Could God really have called me to this? The practical tasks on my to-do list were many, but what really wore me down was the concept of how impossible it feels to truly disciple high school students and young adults in the middle of the culture and world in which we find ourselves living today. I can order t-shirts and reserve rental vehicles and run background checks and design programing. But can I help young people understand the joy and peace in following after Christ? I wasn’t so sure.

The same day I began reading Jeremiah I was reminded of a quote by author and speaker Rebekah Lyons I first heard back in February:

“God didn’t pick the wrong girl for ministry. Satan picked the wrong girl to mess with.” ~ Rebekah Lyons

This quote paired with the reassurance God gave Jeremiah in chapter 1 was enough to remind me of the reason I got into professional church work in the first place:

God made me for this!

Before I was born, God set me apart to join Him in His work in this world.

Coming out of high school, He led me to a college where I could learn and grow in my skills and abilities to prepare me for ministry.

Eight years ago He planted me in Buffalo and continues to reaffirm that call over and over again.

Like with Jeremiah, some days are harder than others, but there is no denying that God is at work and He has called me to join in.

So Satan, watch out, you DID pick the wrong girl to mess with! Let’s do this Jesus!

"God didn't pick the wrong girl for ministry. Satan picked the wrong girl to mess with!" ~ Rebekah Lyons Jeremiah 1

Bekah's Heart, Bible Journaling, Devotional

Reflections on Ezra and Nehemiah

“HE IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!”

These words echoed through the halls of churches all across the world this past Sunday. However, when I look around our world, we still see so much hurting, pain, and even death. I saw it in the eyes of a friend, in words across Facebook, in stories of suffering splattered all over the news. I’m guessing each one of us can look back on this past week and find at least one moment where the reality of sin in this world seemed, if only for a split-second, bigger than the resurrection.

I read a blog post earlier this week in which the author described her struggle to believe the resurrection of Jesus. She resonates with the Jesus of Good Friday because suffering, she knows; new life is just too distant of a concept. She said,

“… I found I couldn’t even envision a risen God. A victorious living God.

A suffering God? A dying God? An oppressed God? Yeah, I could see that.”

– Sarah Moon in “Resurrection and the Surviving God”

While I may come to different theological and personal conclusions on some things than Sarah, I very much appreciated her insights. Her view into the struggle we all face sometimes in reading God’s Word claiming ‘new life’, ‘resurrection’, ‘victory’, and then look around our world (or even our own life) seeing destruction, suffering, and pain made a lot of sense to me. I loved the concept she presented that sometimes resurrection simply is the power to get up and walk through another day here on earth. She shared:

“I didn’t single-handedly defeat depression and the pain from my past when I rose off that floor. I didn’t defeat the powers of evil or anything like that. But I survived.”

“Today, I’m going to embrace the idea of resurrection as this: Fellow survivors, God is with us.”

These are the thoughts I had on my mind as I began reading Ezra and Nehemiah this week. These books of the Bible (likely originally one book together) set up a pretty bleak situation. Exiled for years… these people were slaves… their city and place of worship in complete ruins.

In the midst of it all God calls some people to begin rebuilding. It wasn’t glamorous. It didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of pain along the journey. Enemies rose up in every situation. At one point God’s people were forced to even stop rebuilding work on the temple for about 20 years! Later on in the story as they each worked together rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem, they had to have their work tools in one hand and keep a weapon in the other in order to defend themselves. This promise of restoration wasn’t feeling much like a reality right then.

There, in the midst of all of that, this verse in a prayer of confession stood out to me:

“We are slaves, but you have never turned your back on us. You love us, and because of you, the kings of Persia have helped us. It’s as though you have given us new life! You let us rebuild your temple and live safely in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)

Even as the people turned their back on God, they recognized that their God never had, and never would, turn on them. They saw His love. They saw new life.

They survived. They got up and did what they needed to do for another day. While we live here on this earth, sometimes that’s exactly what new life and resurrection look like: power to get up and do it all again another day. Right there in the middle of death and suffering, illness and disease, violence and hopelessness, we have hope to take another step.

We have hope because one day, none of those things will be there. A true Resurrection Day is coming, one that will destroy death FOREVER! God is rebuilding His world and there we will live fully in safety, never again as slaves, only as beloved children.

Revelation 21:3-5 says it this way:

“I heard a loud voice shout from the throne:

God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are goneforever.

Then the one sitting on the throne said:

I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. my words are true and can be trusted.” (CEV, emphasis added)

That’s the resurrection Jesus made possible in His own death and resurrection. That’s the resurrection that begins in little ways even now amid the death, suffering, crying and pain: God making His home with us and giving us power to get up again and again each time one of those things beats us down. That’s the resurrection I long for. That’s the resurrection I believe in.

He is alive! Alleluia!