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!

Blessing, Crossroads, Devotional, First Trinity, Youth Ministry

Count the Days…Make them Count

It feels like everywhere I turn lately the same message has been repeated over and over: number the days… get focused… make it all count!

I first realized the theme in a meeting a while back with two of my teammates. One was sharing some new resources she had gotten for families in our congregation through Orange and the Parent Cue app. A tool they suggest for parents is to use a jar filled with marbles to represent the number of weeks left for a child until they finish high school. By taking one marble out at the end of each week and watching the jar empty slowly over time it is a reminder to make the time they have count.

While I am not a parent, I figured out the stats: at that time I had less than 15 weeks left with the seniors in our high school ministry before our Senior Blessing Event around graduation time. Three weeks have already passed since then. Three more marbles gone. We’re down to 12.

A few days after that meeting I found myself listening to a podcast that was titled A Trip Around the Sun. In it Louie Giglio shares the number of days left in this year’s journey as we circle the giant star that lights our days. He challenged those listening to seek God’s wisdom in how to use each moment this year to make it count. As I think about the things I’m already planning for this year I know … it will fly!

This message was echoed in an book by Chip and Joanna Gaines I finished recently and before all of that countless circumstances, conversations, and situations all seem to be echoing the same prayer Moses has in Psalm 90:12…

“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

There are only 24 hours in each day. 365 days in a year. I’m guessing your life is something like mine in that there always seems to be more on the to-do list than can fit in the time.

Some may think counting the days only adds stress to that scenario, that numbering the moments is scary. In my own life, though, I have found it to actually reduce anxiety and provide focus. When I really see how much time is left, I become more intentional with how I use it. (Case in point: my college students at UB miraculously become more focused as the deadline for a paper approaches.)

As I realized that the weeks I had left with the seniors in our youth group were so few, I prioritized time with them. With each marble I take out of the jar, I thank God for one more week with them. But my intentionality didn’t stop there; I also prioritized time with my juniors, and sophomores, and freshmen. I found renewed passion to focus on the things that really matter and cut out the fluff. Soon there will only be a handful of marbles in their jars as well. I want to spend the weeks well.

It’s true: numbering the days leads to wisdom. It brings clarity showing what is important and what needs to let go of in order to focus on the important. It gets rid of the clutter and frees me to do the exact things God has created and called me to do.

Lord, forgive me for the days I do not invest well. Help me spend each moment with more focus, more purpose, more passion, and more grace. I still have a lot to learn, and that is why my prayer remains: teach me, Jesus, to number my days. Give me a heart of wisdom! Make my days count. Amen!

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66 in 52 Challenge, Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Reflections on 1 Samuel

At the end of this week in 1 Samuel it was actually something in the most widely known story of this book that stood out to me and is where I’m centering my heart. Despite reading and hearing the story of David and Goliath more times than I can count in my life, God still brought new application for my life from these timeless truths. This time it came in reading a different version than I’m used to reading. In the CEV translation a contrast between Saul and David arose.

Later on in the book we see David and Saul as enemies but none of that has come to the surface back in chapter 17. As David prepares to fight Goliath with Saul’s permission the CEV translation captures a subtle but perhaps huge difference about each man’s focus heading into battle and dependence on the Lord.

In verse 36 Saul tells David: “… I hope the Lord will help you.”

While a few verses later as David stands face-to-face with Goliath he declares: “Today, the Lord will help me!”

Saul was hopeful.

David was convinced.

As I went back and looked at other translations and even the original language unfortunately I can’t point with clarity that different words were used, however the context and the story itself seem to support this difference in their attitudes.

  • Saul gets all worried about dressing David up in armor to protect him. David takes it off and trusts what he knows: “The battle is the Lord’s”
  • Saul is the King, the mighty warrior leading an entire army who is afraid of the giant. They’ve heard the taunts of Goliath day after day and have only let fear increase. David, the shepherd boy, too young to be in the army, hears the taunts once and is determined to risk his life to quiet the insults.
  • Saul is focused on victory for human gain. David only cares about honoring God’s name.

So whether the original language shows a difference in these two men’s words or not, I think we can clearly see behind the words their hearts were indeed in different places. I wonder if their attitude back even at this point had anything to do with the trajectory of each of their lives. On the surface they were similar. Both were king. Both led battles. Both sinned and walked away from God… big time. Yet how they recovered from those defeats was drastically different.

David was humbled when called out. Saul got defensive.

David repented. Saul acted out.

David is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart”. Saul died falling on his own sword after being wounded in a battle with the Philistines, the same group of people David declared victory over back in chapter 17.

I can’t help but wonder if many of these difference can be traced back to that one key difference… Saul HOPED God would come through, David KNEW he would.

It brings me to a reflection of my own heart. Am I fearlessly confident in my amazing, all-powerful, victorious God or simply optimistically hopeful? Am I convinced or wavering? Am I centered on the things of this world or the name and glory of Jesus? It could make all the difference.

66 in 52 Challenge, Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Reflections on Judges – Not My Generation!

For me, the entire book of Judges can be summed up in this verse found early on in the book:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

I find it hard to even describe my thoughts and feelings as I read this verse, because I feel like we’re living somewhere in the middle of it today. I look at my generation (as well as the one after us) and I sadly see these two things true of us as a generation:

  • We don’t know or acknowledge the Lord.
  • We don’t remember the things He has done for us.

Of course, there are exceptions (I certainly hope I am one of them!) but as a generation, we don’t know God.

Then, to go on and read the rest of this book with that in mind, fear starts to creep in a bit. With these two things defining their generation suddenly things like murder, idolatry, rape, deception flood the story line. When we don’t know God and don’t remember what He has done, life gets pretty overwhelming pretty quick.

The repeating cycle in Judges continues today individually as well as generationally: we follow God for a while, then we don’t. We walk our own way until our lives get so horrible we can’t take it anymore and then we cry out for help. Of course, God, in His never-ending love and mercy, rescues us and sets us on the right path again. But, after a while, we forget again and turn our own way.

I’m sick of the cycle and I guess I don’t want to be part of a generation defined by our wandering. But even worse than that, I don’t want to be the generation the first part of the verse mentioned. It’s easy to skim over, but I think the reason the next generation didn’t know God or remember what He had done for Israel, was because the generation before them didn’t tell them.

If the generation after me doesn’t know God, that’s not on them. That’s MY generation’s fault. How can they “remember” the mighty works of God if they’ve never heard them? How can they know and acknowledge God if they’ve never been taught?

Oh, I see so much of God’s grace in the book of Judges, but I also feel some conviction. I sense the Holy Spirit motivating me to not only be part of a generation that knows and remembers Him, but that makes sure the next generation has that opportunity as well. I want to be part of a time in history where, thousands of years from now, people can look back and say THOSE people acknowledged God in their lives! I want to be defined as a generation who knows God and makes Him known. I want to see passion in the next generation to follow God greater than their sinful nature to wander away.

Our God is big enough to break the cycle in this generation. I’m ready and willing to join in on that work!

66 in 52 Challenge, Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Reflections on Exodus

It’s easy for me to read through a book like Exodus and kind of wonder: “How couldn’t they see it?!?” God’s provision, protection, and guidance are so clear chapter after chapter. From protecting Moses as a baby to grand things like splitting a sea in two or food appearing out of thin air day after day, God’s action on behalf of the Israelites is obvious. Yet, they complained constantly, thought going back to slavery would be better for them, made idols while God’s presence was still on the mountain in front of them, and blamed God instead of praising Him. How could this be? Couldn’t they see what God was up to?

But when I really stop to think about it… some days I’m no different. God performs a miracle, but we miss it because we were expecting something different. God figuratively splits seas or thunders from a mountain and the next day we’re so caught up in daily life we forget His power. We become immune to daily ‘manna’ falling from the sky in the form of food and shelter and friendships and His love and start to complain. I’d like to think that if I saw some of the miraculous things the Israelites witnessed I would never stop praising, but I’m not so sure I’d be any different.

One verse that struck me came right as God was enacting this great plan to lead them out of Egypt. Pharaoh had finally worn down and they were on the move. Passover had been instituted and God’s people had been spared the death of the firstborn that plagued the rest of the land. They had not yet come upon the Red Sea, but certainly had plenty to praise God for already.

So Moses said to the people, ‘This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. … On this day in early spring, in the month of Abib, you have been set free. You must celebrate this event in this month each year…” (Exodus 13:3-5 NLT)

Reading this translation struck me… REMEMBER… YOU HAVE BEEN SET FREE… CELEBRATE! It goes on to explain how God wants them to celebrate but the party stops pretty quick as they approach the Red Sea and see that Pharaoh has changed his mind. The army is approaching quickly from behind and the body of water ahead has them trapped.

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (Exodus 14:10-12)

Suddenly they wanted to go back. Their current situation seemed worse than slavery, but that’s because they forgot the powerful mighty hand of their God.

Earlier this month I attended a conference. One of the hosts said this as he wrapped up one of our sessions:

Sometimes we feel like: “God you’ve led me to a place where there’s no where out.”
God says: “That’s only because you haven’t seen a sea parted.” – Ben Stewart

As I thought about this story that I’ve heard many times, as well as my own tenancies to complain and forget what God can do, I wondered if a key piece in all of it was the celebration God instituted the chapter before.

When Moses told the people to remember the day they had been set free, he said, “you MUST celebrate it”.  One way to read this Scripture would imply a focus on trying to please God and so we must praise Him because He deserves it. It’s true, God does deserve our praise, but I wonder if the “must” here is more about God knowing our nature. He “demands” celebration in a sense because He knows we need it. He knows that we MUST celebrate or we will forget. We must celebrate or we will worry. We must celebrate or we will feel trapped and see no way out. We must celebrate because we are free. Without celebration, we find our souls enslaved again.

I don’t know what celebration looks like for you, but find a way to party today. God has done everything to secure our freedom. May we never be slaves again!

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Bonus Thought: Music is one way I choose to celebrate. Maybe this song by Ellie Holcomb can help you live free today!

So we will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t, see the way
He will part, the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road” – Ellie Holcomb “Red Sea Road”

 

Devotional

The Work of Christmas

I was reminded today of this poem I read a few months ago.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins,

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

~ Howard Thurman

Some good stuff to think about as many of us plan and dream for 2018.

Let the work of Christmas begin!

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Devotional

Not consumed…

Pick any day of the year and countless themes might threaten to consume us. The holiday season seems to up that pressure tenfold. Not only are we consumed, we also carry the title: consumers. As we hit the shopping malls and big box stores we consume so much which leads to being consumed.

We become consumed by planning the picture-perfect-pinterest-party for family, making sure all the food is just right, the decorations are “beautiful, the gifts are spot-on.

We become consumed by fliers, social media adds, apps dinging on our phone reminding us the latest sale, the newest gadget we all need.

We become consumed by to-do lists, by running kids here, there, and everywhere, by all the ways we don’t measure up.

We become consumed by the feeling that this is not what we really want Christmas to be about.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
(‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:21-26‬ ‭NIV; emphasis added)
Not consumed.
Those words seem to jump off the page. Oh, of all the things that threaten to swallow us whole, there is a thing that can keep us from being wholly consumed.
Love.
Specifically the never-failing love of God.
Because of that love we don’t have to be consumed by ANYTHING this Christmas season. We can stare Satan down and declare, “Not today, buddy. Not any day. This does not have to consume me because nothing can keep me from God’s love.”
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
THOSE are some words with power! Those are some words that we can cling to and declare when things start to overwhelm… I will NOT be consumed. I will call this truth to mind, I will set my heart on hope, I will get my eyes focused on Jesus, the Christ-child, the One this whole holy-day is actually all about!
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are NOT consumed.
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Need a little reminder like I do? Below are photos I created that you can save to set as your desktop or phone background.
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