“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Angels are one of those topics that people seem to either be really fascinated by or generally stay away from. These warrior messengers of God may be hard for us to wrap our human minds around, but their presence throughout Scripture is undeniable.
Around Christmas this year a teammate and I ended up in a conversation centered around the angels present in the narratives of Jesus’ life. Many of us know about the angel that announced Jesus’ birth to his mother Mary, explaining how she, a virgin, would conceive the Messiah. Then there’s the angel that appeared to Joseph saying, “It’s okay, go ahead and marry Mary.”
Here’s were a theme of protection by the angels starts. Biology and all of history up to this point in time was working against Joseph believing Mary’s story. According to Old Testament laws, Mary could have even been stoned to death for her presumed act of adultery, no care given to the child inside her. While Joseph was already trying to figure out a way to avoid that, the angel that appeared to him sealed the deal, confirming he should go forward with the wedding.
Angels appeared again on the night Jesus was born, announcing the good news to Shepherds nearby.
A while later, after the wise men arrived, God sent an angel to Joseph, warning him that Jesus’ life was in danger. A messenger appeared again when the coast was clear to return.
Even here, at the beginning of Jesus’ life, angels were on the seen fighting for and protecting God made flesh, Immanuel. This fully God yet fully man being had a great purpose in the world, and He had a whole army of God working to make sure He could carry it out. Matthew even records a group of angels ministering to Jesus after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness and one appeared again in the garden the night before Jesus’ death.
But a few hours later, as Jesus’ hung on the cross, the presence of this warrior army was not to be found. All throughout Jesus’ life they were on call to provide and protect, but in this moment of greatest need, not one could be found. Matthew’s Gospel gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of the spiritual realm to see why. As one of Jesus’ disciples attempted to use physical earthly war to fight of those seeking to arrest Him, Jesus replied,
“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)
They actually were there, on call, watching the whole thing happen. During the time of Christ, a roman legion was 6,000 soldiers. If this was the measurement Jesus was referring to, then more than 72,000 angels were there, ready to jump in at any moment, should the Father say the word. But instead of “attack” or “protect” or “get him out of this sticky situation,” it seems the Father was saying,
“Angels, stand down.”
The next verse in Matthew’s narrative reminds us why Jesus didn’t call out to his Daddy to send out the troops:
“But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now.”
72,000 angels ready to save one.
One God-man willing to suffer to save all of us humans.
It’s mindblowing really. Yet, it’s true. We can only imagine the agony of the Father not sending 12 legions and even more to save his dear Son. But that just goes to show how precious we, His sons and daughters, really are to Him.
The angels didn’t show up. The Son was beaten, murdered, and placed in a tomb.
That’s the reality of this day, this “Good” Friday we “celebrate” each year.
Thankfully, though, the angels’ work wasn’t actually done:
“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. … Then the angel spoke to the women. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ … “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” (Matthew 28:1-6)
While only one showed up on the scene, I bet they all were rejoicing! Forty days later, Jesus took his rightful place on the throne in heaven surrounded by the legions of angels. No longer were these warrior messengers being told to “stand down” and hold back. Instead, they gather, with all the saints, bowing down, praising Him for that moment on the cross, worshiping Him forever.
“I looked again and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus: ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’ And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.’” (Revelation 5:11-13)
Oh, how I long to join that song.
Oh, how I long for that day.
One of my favorite passages to come back to in busy seasons is Matthew 6:25-34. The whole section is about how we don’t need to worry and be anxious in life because God knows our needs and cares for us. It ends with this verse:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
In another translation that last sentence says: “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
This is one of the phrases God brings to mind in seasons of my life when my to-do list seems overwhelming or I’m worrying too much about things in the future instead of what’s right in front of me. In those times, one of my favorite things to do is to take a piece of paper and write that verse at the top of it. Then, I draw a line down the middle and on the left column I write “Today”. The right column is then titled, “Not Today.” I start sorting out all the things I need to do in one category or the other. Having a space for the “Not Today” items helps me feel peace that I won’t forget them, while giving space to focus on the “Today” items.
This idea of not borrowing trouble from tomorrow is nothing new to me. However, God recently brought this passage to mind… but in reverse. Not only should we resist borrowing trouble from tomorrow… but we also should work to not ADD trouble to tomorrow as well. He challenged me to deal with today’s troubles in order to set myself up for success when tomorrow becomes today.
Troubles delayed = troubles multiplied.
Here’s an example: A few weeks ago I made a large meal for some people that involved using a roaster, three crock-pots, and other various dishes and bowls. When I got them all home, washing all of those dishes was the LAST possible way I wanted to spend my Friday evening. However, if I would have left those crockpots and roaster and serving utensils until Saturday, everything would have gotten hard and more difficult to clean. To keep the example going, left even longer, those dishes might have started to smell or even get moldy. What was an annoying but small “trouble” on Friday would have become a much bigger “trouble” days later.
And I’m not just talking about dishes.
If I leave that conflict with a coworker unresolved and keep putting off the tough conversation that needs to happen, bitterness makes me hard and resentment starts to grow like mold.
If I experience a stressful season in life or a traumatic situation but choose to ignore how it’s impacting me instead of walking through the hard, I “steal” from a future “tomorrow” and add to its troubles. That stress will eventually come back to the surface, my body will eventually revolt and I’ll be forced to deal with it along with whatever troubles that day already had going for it.
If I don’t face the sin in my life today and ruthlessly cut it out, seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, it will grow deeper in my soul deceiving me and hurting the people around me.
Don’t borrow from tomorrow’s trouble with worry and anxiety. But also don’t add to tomorrows trouble by ignoring what you need to take care of right now. Whether it be dishes or disease, laundry or loss, sorting socks or suffocating sin, we need to deal with today’s troubles.
“Sufficient for the day it its own troubles”
and sufficient is our God to help us deal with them… TODAY.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
“I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. … I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.” Leviticus 26:12-13
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
Look up, my daughter.
There’s so much to see.
Those downcast eyes.
That downcast mind.
Your downcast soul.
Look up to the mountains.
Look up and see the snow falling softly.
Look up to notice: I am near.
Break free from the chains, the slavery, the fear.
Break out of the darkness, O Child of Light.
I am your God, your help, your shield.
I never falter, never fail, never forget.
I am the Lifter of Your Head.
So look up.
Be the beautiful woman I’ve made you to be.
A woman with her
On Tuesday I got to have dinner with a dear friend. We always love any time we can get together; this time felt extra special as she prepares to move to another city soon. As we cooked together, ate our meal, and then grabbed some blankets and headed toward the living room, life poured out of both of us. We shared updates on what’s going on in our worlds but also processed some things out loud for the first time, discovering more about ourselves along the way.
As the evening came to a close we decided to spend some time in prayer with each other. One of the things this friend prayed for me has lingered with me since. She asked God to open my eyes to a new way of looking at productivity… that when He is calling me to do good work while at my job or home, I would be productive in that, but that sitting on the couch and doing nothing while my body heals might also feel like productivity. She prayed that when He calls me to the traditional concepts we think of with productivity that He would provide the energy, but then kept coming back to examples we would normally label “unproductive”.
The awesome part is that even as she prayed, God began redefining this word and concept for me. It struck me in that moment that the word “productive” has as its root the word “produce”. Even with this in mind, I might default to asking “Jesus what do you want me to do, or ‘produce’, in this day that can bring you glory?”
However, on that night, Jesus flipped the question. My prayer suddenly became, “Jesus what do You want to produce in me?”
Productivity isn’t bad, but I’m learning that God cares more about the fruit He’s producing in my life than the efforts of my labor. And our Master Gardner can bring fruit out of any situation. Perhaps productivity, in this season of rest and healing, looks less like getting things checked off the to-do list and more like producing peace in my heart. Maybe He’s less concerned about the fruit of my ministry and longs to produce more patience and dependence on Him.
A while back I shared a passage from Jeremiah as a defining scripture for this current season of life. As my friend prayed the other night it came suddenly to mind again:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (emphasis added)
Trees don’t have to “work hard” to produce fruit. The fruit comes because that’s what they were created to do.
An apple tree doesn’t stress and toil over how to make the apples come. No, if it’s rooted in the soil, receiving the nutrients it needs, protected from elements or creatures that may try to ruin it, it just produces fruit. Related, an apple tree will never succeed at producing oranges; it’s just not designed for that.
Productivity does not come from the work I put in. Instead, it comes from where I’m rooted.
I know that my life as a human is not meant to be literally as passive as that of a tree. All the way back in Genesis, before sin entered the world, we were designed for work. However, I must keep in mind that whenever the work feels forced or pressured, it might not be the kind of productivity God desires. It won’t always be easy (and often it will be hard), but if it’s not coming from my identity in Christ and and purpose God has on my life, it’s likely that I’m trying to produce oranges as an apple tree. (And that just leaves everyone with unmet expectations and a bunch of wasted effort.)
Also, this verse doesn’t say that there won’t be things threatening that production. The heat and drought come. However, rooted near the river of living water, trusting, and letting my roots draw nourishment from this never-ending stream means that whether I’m “at the top of my game” or “laying on the couch” (as my friend prayed), production never stops. The fruit keeps coming because it was never up to me in the first place. Jesus said it this way:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. … Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. … When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.” John 15:1-9
Jesus, produce Your fruit deep in my soul. Keep me rooted near the river. Amen.
As I get back into normal routines this fall that were obliterated during the summer, blogging is one thing I hope I can create space for in my schedule. As I sat down to “get back in it” I found myself skimming through various drafts of blog posts that never made it to the ‘publish’ stage. Some were so incomplete I couldn’t even figure out where I was trying to go, but one really struck me. It caught my attention because the lessons I was wrestling with years ago when the draft was created, are things I find myself continuing to wrestle with now. It also talked about a scripture in Mark which we’re studying this week for the 66 in 52 Challenge.
For the sake of keeping the flow of the words, I left the timing in the rest of the piece as it was originally, so just know that “this morning” or “last week” actually refers to some time in my life a few years ago, but I pray the lessons remain relevant for us now.
Do you ever have those days or seasons when God is clearly trying to tell you something? For example, a few weeks ago John chapter 17 was the topic of conversation or study in 5 completely different settings over the course of only 6 days. I think God was trying to tell me something.
More recently the lessons came in Isaiah 58. Specifically verse 10 popped up in two places one morning before 6:30 a.m. I think God wanted to set the tone for the day. Here’s the passage:
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
Pour yourself out.
Other versions translate it as “spend yourself”, “extend your soul”, “give yourself to”. No matter how you look at it, the message is clear: there is sacrifice and there is a stretching involved.
Something I’ve struggled with for a really long time is the balance between giving sacrificially of myself to serve others and caring for myself. We all know (whether we act like it or not) that self-care is important, but it can also feel very selfish. Satan gets us all kinds of confused when we start to figure out how to make a decision in this area. If we feel the pull towards “spending ourselves” on behalf of someone in response to God’s call, he works hard to tell us that we deserve a break… that we need to think about ourselves more. And in moments when self-care is exactly what we need to better be equipped to “extend our souls” when the necessary times come, he makes us believe we’re worthless and dumb for not being a “good Christian” who would help anyone.
While this is something I think I will likely continue to wrestle with the rest of my life, a little hint of clarity came through a session at the conference I was at last week. To summarize, the presenter talked about both selfishness and selflessness. When those are the only options, it seems the only “good” option to choose is selflessness; who wants to be know as being selfish?!? However, she presented another option: self-interest. Here are some of the ways she described these options:
- Selfishness denies others. Selflessness denies self. Self-interest looks at myself in relationship to others.
- Selflessness and selfishness both creates victims (like what I was explaining above in the temptations of Satan). However, self-interest takes into consideration both myself and others and builds leaders.
- Selfishness leaves no room for you. Selflessness leaves no room for me. Self-interest looks at we.
She explained that the word self-interest comes from the Latin words “inter” and “esse” which means “to be among”. Basically self-interest could also be communicated as “self-among-others”.
Even Jesus wasn’t 100% selfless, at least not in our limited definition. Rather, He had a very clear purpose and self-interest. There were times when people wanted Him to stick around and teach more or heal more or do more for them. In our limited view, a “selfless” person would have given in and done what they wanted. But He saw the bigger picture; He saw the other people that needed to hear of His love. He saw even at times His own need to get away and be alone with His Father.
This concept of self-interest doesn’t solve all my struggles with trying to balance “pouring myself out” (Isaiah 58) with “come away and rest” (Mark 6), but it comes a little closer. I don’t deny self or others, but rather process each situation with God looking at the fact that I am constantly among others. God created me, and everyone, with the desire and need to be in relationship. We need each other! God also has a clear vision on our lives and as we seek to live our lives neither entirely focused on self nor on others, that path becomes a bit more clear.
One last story that seems to tie this all together. In Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 we see some important context we don’t necessarily get in the other tellings. John the Baptist (Jesus’ relative) had just died. Jesus and the disciples were so overworked they hadn’t even had time to eat. He was leading them to what He thought was a secluded place so they could rest a while. They all knew some time away was needed, yet, when they arrived, a mass of people had ran ahead to meet them there. Tired, hungry, and grieving, this would have been the perfect space where we’d expect anyone to be a little more “selfish” and pull away. However, Mark describes Jesus’ counterintuitive response:
“Jesus saw the huge crowd as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34).
He responded with compassion.
As the story continues the disciples tell Jesus the people are hungry and they end up feeding 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. While it doesn’t tell us for sure, when it says “they all ate as much as they wanted”, my guess is that the disciples and Jesus were included in the “all”. Sometimes God works this way too… He feeds us or gives us rest right in the middle of our being poured out. The disciples are so busy they don’t even have time to eat, and right in the middle of their work God feeds them. What a clear picture of this concept of self-interest… “self among others”.
Also, just to note, after all of that was over, Jesus did sneak away and went up into the hills by himself to pray. We need both times but there might not always be a clear rule to follow when deciding which which. May we never stop wrestling, never stop being poured out, never stop drawing near and letting God speak into our lives! He’ll lead the way!
So there’s a common joke around here about how Buffalo only has two seasons: Winter … and Construction.
It feels especially true this year. Everywhere I turn another road is closed, a bridge is being worked on, or it goes down to one lane. It’s constantly changing in some spots and in others it’s just constantly closed. A few weeks ago my mom was visiting and we were trying to go to the library and to fill the car with gas. The two locations are each less than a mile from my house and yet it took us over an hour to run those two errands because of so many road closures.
You know those signs that say the road is closed except for local traffic? I have to drive past at least one every day just to get home. I’m the “local traffic” living inside the construction zone.
Lately, that feels true on more than one level.
As I stumbled upon even another road closure the other day I found myself pondering this even more. It’s not just life right now that feels like a construction zone… it’s some what of a constant state we’re in our whole lives.
Just because the potholes are fixed and the streets get repaved today doesn’t keep new cracks from popping up when a new winter of freezing, thawing, salt, and plowing comes through. Next summer the orange cones will be up again. Just because we find healing or restoration in our lives today doesn’t mean hard things won’t come and break us open again.
Another interesting thing is that the streets around my house were actually in pretty good shape. No, it wasn’t the roads that have caused me to live in a construction zone for over a month already. Rather, the giant sewer system that was underneath the road was in major need of repair. In order to fix it they had to tear up the entire main intersection closest to my house (and will eventually work their way down the road) in order to get at the issue underneath.
This too mimics life. Sometimes life actually is pretty good on the surface. However, I’ve found lately in my own life, that when I’m in a healthy and good place, God knows I’m able to let Him do the good hard work of digging up some of the things underneath that could use another layer of healing. It feels so wrong to dig up a perfectly good road/life when it seems it’s all going fine, but He knows that dealing with the problems underneath will actually make for a smoother ride.
What type of construction zone are you in right now? Where is God building, filling in holes, repaving, or perhaps tearing things up in your life? Where could you use some repair work?
As you ponder that, ponder this promise too: One day the construction will finally all be over, but God won’t stop until it’s time!
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)
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.
Image 1: Green and Vibrant
I walked out my front door this morning and the first thing that crossed my mind was: “Wow! When did that happen?!?”
I was caught off guard and pleasantly surprised by the way the world turned green, seemingly overnight. Grass is growing, the tree filling with leaves.
Not long ago I thought winter would never end in Buffalo. The wall of green outside my door was a great reminder for life:
In the darkest and coldest of winters, when it feels like the hard season will never end, slowly change occurs, often undetected. One day we will wake up and exclaim, “Wow! When did that happen!?!” Hope will return and new life will be vividly on display.
Image 2: Wilted and Dying
On the way to campus today I stopped by Trader Joe’s. While paying, a manager walked up, handed me some potted flowers, and told me to enjoy! Oh how this felt like such a gift, a beautiful reminder of God’s abundant grace; I think I smiled the whole way to campus. I didn’t have a chance to stop back at work or home and despite my concern for the flowers on this hot summer-like day I had no choice but to leave them in the car. I hoped that since these flowers survive just fine out in the heat when planted in gardens the same would be true in the pot.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. I returned to the car to find them discolored, wilted, dead.
Also unfortunately, it kind of mimicked how I felt at the end of my day. Nothing particular was hard about this day and lots of amazing things actually happened. Yet, I felt like these flowers were a perfect representation of my wilted spirit.
As I drove home processing it all, a comment from the Trader Joe’s cashier popped into my head: “Oh, and if you plant them, they’ll come back again.”
That’s it! Often when our hopes and dreams wilt or even die, we throw them away as useless. But, if we put in a bit more effort, aren’t afraid of getting a little dirty, and plant those dreams, perhaps they’ll bloom again.
Image 3: Broken and Shattered
Each Wednesday this month some other young adults gather in my home to explore faith and life together. We’re currently studying Psalm 31 and talking about committing everything to Jesus. Tonight our conversation centers around brokenness.
The speaker describes a mirror that shattered in the house he shared with his friends back in college. In this story, some guys just left the mess, laughing about the way in which it was broken. For those that did help clean, some of the pieces of mirror were swept under the couch, others were rearranged into a collage with super glue, others were ignored and left alone.
When life shatters do we hide our brokenness? Rearrange it to try to make it look better? Ignore it? Laugh at it? Or do we let Someone, Jesus, come in and heal the broken places with hope?
What does your life look like right now?
Green and vibrant?
Wilted and dying?
Broken and shattered?
Three images. One message: Hope.
Spring is coming.
Dead dreams can bloom again.
Shattered lives can be healed.
Jesus is enough!
“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!