Bekah's Heart, Bible Journaling, Devotional

Reflections on Ezra and Nehemiah


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!

Joy, Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Joy

Joy is a facinating thing to me.  I don’t quite understand it and am thankful that it is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in my life and not something I have to muster up on my own.

But until recently I think that’s how I treated it…as something I must make happen.  People would say something like “choose joy”– a phrase I’ve heard, loved, and even used for years–but sometimes I wonder if my “choosing joy” really was more like “acting-like-nothing’s-wrong-and-putting-on-this-happy-Christian-face”.  (Which, by the way is not really joy at all.)

I knew I had experienced joy–true genuine joy–before and I knew I wanted more of it in my life, however I think a few weeks ago I finally understood it a little more.

In talking with a friend about a certain situation throughout the course of a day, my attitude had much improved about this situation from earlier in the day.  She commented, “You sound happy.”

I knew what she meant, but it still didn’t seem quite right. In fact I was anything but happy about the situation, and I suddenly realized, I wasn’t happy, but I WAS joyful.

I began to wonder if maybe “choosing joy” isn’t really a choice between “joy” and “sadness” as I had always supposed it to be.  No, more often than not, that just ends up with the fake smile plastered on your face.  Maybe, the choice is rather between joy and HAPPINESS.  Those are really the things that are at times in competition with each other.

As I talked about earlier this week in the post about giving up the pursuit of happiness, my definition of what will make me happy in life is first of all very unlikely to actually come through. More than that, the pursuit of happiness often ends up stealing my joy not fulfilling it.

Joy and sadness or pain or struggle on the other hand I’ve found often go well together. Because joy is not dependent on circumstances but rather on Jesus, our Joy-Bringer. And from what I’ve come to learn about this amazing God is that He loves to bring joy in EVERYTHING.

Habakkuk said it this way:

“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.” (Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-18‬)

So, as I told my friend the other day, at least in that situation: Happy? No. But by God’s Grace, I’m was filled with joy and for that I’m thankful!

31 Days of Imperfection, Bekah's Heart, Books

Until God’s Love is Enough… {31 Days of Imperfection – Day 24}

Maybe you’ve been there-I know I have-getting ready to settle in and have some “date” time with Jesus but then, you just don’t.  You know it’s good for your relationship.  You actually enjoy it most the time you spend with him.  You even miraculously HAVE time to interact a little.
And yet…

You check your e-mail one more time.
You grab a snack or a drink.
You take a nap.
You run an errand.
You glance through Facebook.
(You write a blog post????)

(And these are only a few of the distractions I’ve personally used today.)

As I’ve mentioned before, these Sabbath moments each Monday have become a place to remember Whose I am and therefore who I am. I NEED some Jesus time… especially after this last week, a truly holy week, but also, especially in the life of a church worker, a busy week.  It’s a week filled with emotion and passion as we journey, and help others journey, through the most crucial days of our Savior’s life.  As I had the chance to share God’s resurrection power in my own life on Thursday, walk to the cross to lay down all our burdens on Friday, and celebrate together the joy of Easter this weekend…  I’m overjoyed, content, grateful, and at peace.

I’m also tired.

As I said before, I need some Jesus time.  And yet, for some reason, on these days when I need it most, I am the most distracted and distant.  I’m ever aware of my imperfect relationship with God… and unlike human relationships, the fault is all one-sided… me.

On about the fifth attempt of the day to settle in and let God remind me who I am, I read something that helped me understand a little more of why I had been struggling so much.

“Until God’s love is enough, nothing else will be.”

This quote from Renee Swope’s A Confident Heart hit me.  With each glance at Facebook, snack made, or errand run I was unconsciously seeking it to be enough.  I thought if I’d just get those things out of the way maybe THEN I’d be able to settle in and see God’s love for me.  But that way of thinking is seriously flawed and backwards of the way in which God’s kingdom works.  You would think after a week of so many reminders, after attending SIX Christ-centered, love-focused worship services, after living and breathing the life, death, and resurrection of Christ at home, at work, with my friends for the last week, after all that you think I would remember this simple truth:

God doesn’t love us because of what we do. He loves us. Period.

That great love came long before anything we do.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The things I need to do each day, the relationships in which I want to invest, the duties as a worker, a family member, a housekeeper, and more will still be there.  I can’t get those all done and THEN come to Jesus; I come to JESUS so that I can get all of those done.  I can’t get rid of all the distractions in life; I must come to Jesus and let him focus me in on what’s most important.  I can’t try to fill my life, I must give Jesus access to my heart and let him fill it.

“Our schedules are full, our minds are full, our stomachs are full, our refrigerators are full, our closets are full, our lives are full.  Yet, we find ourselves… empty…. Why? Because the wells of our hearts were created to be filled by God alone. The deepest thirst of our soul can only be quenched by Him.” (Renee Swope, A Confident Heart)

And so I shut down the computer, put away the snacks, turn off the phone, and open God’s Word.

Ready or not, He’s here waiting, and He is more than enough.