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!

Bekah's Heart, Uncategorized

Blessed are those who mourn…

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

This verse was the basis of our sermon this past Sunday.  Unfortunately, the concept of mourning also seems like it could be a theme for this week.   Just to remind us all, here are just a VERY SMALL list of the some of the things that happened THIS WEEK locally, nationally, and globally:

Even closer to home, I’ve seen families torn apart by abuse, children grieving the loss of their parents, teenagers starving themselves or injuring themselves to deal with life’s struggles, and more. 

And the list could go on and on and on and on and on.  The mourning for lost lives and lost innocence and lost hope is great.  

I’m thinking about how we learned Sunday that to “mourn” in this sense captures both mourning the loss of something but also mourning over our sin.  Both are true in my heart today.  I grieve the beautiful people this world lost this past week.  I grieve the way we all humans have such ability to hate.  I grieve the way our sinful nature pulls us apart, pulls away from God, pulls us into violence, pulls us into murder.  Yes “us” (not “them”), all of us, every single one of us.  I grieve our sinful acts and the things that happen to us as a result of sin in general in the world. 

I grieve today.  I mourn.  I hurt for all that has happened.  I’m saddened by the reality that next week the names or places might be different but the headlines likely will repeat.  I find that all I can say is Lord, have mercy and lean into the One who promises comfort for those who mourn.  May we mourn not with worldly sorrow which leads to death, but Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and life.  

And that is the key… Yes, we want justice (and God does too!) But when we grieve in our worldly, human way, “justice” can quickly become synonymous with “revenge”.  Revenge mixed with grief never seems to end well.  When we grieve in our human way, it always leads to more death.  We’ve seen it happen this week.  Yet, when we grieve the injustices of this world in a godly way, a way that starts first with us on our knees on the ground in repentance for our own misdeeds, a way that takes action but does so out of love not hatred, a way that is focused on the comfort and peace of Christ, that kind of grief and mourning leads to life

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

This verse may be talking about spiritual death but looking at the events of this week, it seems true that it might apply to physical death as well.  Our cities, our nations, our world must grieve and do so in repentance.  And it must start with me and you.  It may seem crazy, but the truth is that we are just as capable of committing these huge acts of injustice and violence as the next guy.  And there is not one but of hyperbole in that.  Believing we are above the violence and pain and hurt we’ve seen this week makes us all the more likely to fall in Satan’s trap.  And so, on behalf of our entire world, let us come today in prayer, in humility, and seek the face of God, the only One who can lead us into true life, can bring about real justice, and can provide comfort and healing in the midst of our brokenness. 

Borrowing (and slightly adapting) from the prayers of Daniel and Nehemiah, we pray:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 

We have not listened but pray your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants in this world. I confess the sins we, including myself, have committed against you.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame — the men and women of Buffalo and people of America, and all the world, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us.  O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All have transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong.  Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the world that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

O, Lord, have mercy. 

Advent, Books, Wonder-Full Wanderings

A Week of Hope {wonder-full wanderings}

Week one of the beautiful advent season… One candle lit on the advent wreath… The hope candle.

  
The flame dances small but mighty both on the wreath and in our souls.  I don’t believe it’s coincidence that everywhere I turn it seems the ‘word of the week’ appears.

All through the pages of God’s Word:

“Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24

“I wait for the Lord, my souls does wait, and in His word do I hope.” – Psalm 130:5

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13 

On the kitchen wall:

  
In a book I recently picked up:

“And hope happens here at this nexus of bitter and sweet. I will not talk myself out of hope, hiding behind Scripture to support all my reasons for being ‘wise’ and ‘measured’ in my responses to the not-yets in my life. Because when I choose to engage in that awkward intimacy of believing that He might say no while asking expectantly that He say yes, He gets the most beautiful part of me. 

Hope is my precious oil, mingling with tears to wash His feet.

Hope, and the vulnerability it brings, is what moves His heart.

Hope, and how it draws me to Him, means not one of those minutes curled up in pain was lost, not one of those minutes of closeness with Him is forgotten… I can discover that our greatest testimony isn’t found in those moments of victory over weakness or even in the moments of hope fulfilled. It’s found in waiting, wanting, adoring.” – Sara Hagerty

And isn’t that what this season is all about anyway… The waiting, the wanting, the adoring? 

This hope is a daring thing, because “who hopes for what we already have“?  And yet as Christians, that’s exactly what we do.  We live in the “already” and the “not yet” all at the same time.  

We have the promise: He WILL come again!  

We have the inheritance: life forever in heavenly bliss.

We know the end of the story: He wins! We win! 

Yet we still live in this painful, war-torn, desperate world, hanging on desperately to hope.  But as the advent season continues on to an advent week 2 adventure of peace, the hope flame stays lit too.  May it be true in our hearts as well. 

“Hold onto hope. Hold onto hope. Even those closest to you will challenge it, as the world around you collapses, but hope is your greatest weapon because it is an invitation into the Unseen.  … One day, the Unseen will be more real to you than what your eyes can perceive.” – Sarah Hagerty

 

Bekah's Heart

A Good Samaritan – Jesus Interruptions

This is kind of back-tracking a bit, but blogging about this week’s “Jesus Interruption” story made me think back to last week’s: The Good Samaritan. Each time I hear that story I am challenged to think of the ways I can be that person who allows the interruption in my schedule to help someone in need. But this week as I think of it, my mind goes a slightly different direction–I am suddenly reminded and overwhelmed at the countless times I’VE been the (wo)man on the side of the road and someone took the time in their day to pause and help me out.

I’m reminded of a camp counselor years ago, who took time with one of her middle school campers to encourage a soul that was hurting and confused and to call out in that girl who God had made her to be.

I’m reminded of friends who not only celebrate the great things in life but walk near in the times when life leaves me battered and bleeding on the side of the road. They’ve been there to clean me up and get me back in the race.

I’m reminded of professors and mentors in college who took time to help me figure out who I even was and think of DCEs who have and continue to encourage and walk with me in the ups and downs of ministry.

I’m reminded of all the little things that people have done as Good Samaritans in my life that may not seem upon the same level as “saving a life” but trust me, oh they are! … Inviting me to share a meal with their family on a day when I feel alone… helping me shovel snow or checking in to make sure I got home safe when out in bad weather… Showing up with flowers for no specific reason at all… teammates helping me set up for an event… And the list could go on.

So yes, I hope and truly pray that God would keep my eyes open for the ways I can be one who stops and really sees people and helps meet their needs. However, I also want to make sure to stop and praise Him for those who do that for ME.

Thank you! Really, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you! And thank You God for people who love me so much.

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Bekah's Heart

A Hand Holding God – Jesus Interruptions

I really am loving our current series at church about the ways that people interrupted Jesus or He interrupted their lives through Scripture and the way it still happens today.

This week’s story (read the whole thing here) was about a man who interrupts Jesus to ask him to come heal his daughter. When a woman interrupts Jesus along the way it delays Jesus and the man’s daughter dies. Yet, the story doesn’t end there. As Jason said in his sermon this week, he invites the father a little closer, to trust a little more and continues on to the house where the child was. Here’s how the story ends:

“…(Jesus) took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” (‭Mark‬ ‭5‬:‭40-42‬ ESV)

I went to bed Saturday night after hearing the familiar story once again at church simply thankful that even when interruptions come in life and our plan seems to be falling apart, that God may indeed have an even more glorious plan.

In the middle of the night, I woke up, my mind swirling about a million different things, I found myself reading the Psalms trying to fall back asleep and came across this treasure:

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” (‭Psalms‬ ‭37‬:‭23-24‬ NLT)

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was finishing preparations for the children’s sermon that I made the connection between these passage though…

Our God is a hand-holding God.

He reached out and raised this girl to life, by holding her hand.
When I stumble through life, he holds my hand.

Suddenly other verses came to mind:

Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. (‭Psalms‬ ‭73‬:‭23‬)

For I hold you by your right hand— I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭41‬:‭13‬)

Our God is that near… So close to hold our hands. He faithfully walked with Jairus through the ups and downs of the situation. He welcomed the interruption of the woman as she got close enough to touch him. Our God is not a far off, distant God. He delights, as the Psalm 37 verse says, in the everyday details of our lives. He walk through every step of life, holding our hands all the way. Oh, yes, we may stumble and fall, but He’s got our hand, and we will never be completely destroyed. He picks us up, dusts us off and reassures us we have no need to fear the next steps, He is near.

“Against all hope
Help me hope
Against all fear
Draw me near
Against all hope
I will hope
Against all fear
I will draw near…
In You I have everything I need”
– Christy Nockels

Jesus, thank you for being a God that gets so close, you can hold our hands. Walk with us today reassuring us that you are near, to comfort in the hard times and celebrate with us in the joyful moments. Against all hope, help us hope, Lord. Against all fear, draw us near. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

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Bekah's Heart, Devotional, Hope Restored

Repeat the Sounding Joy

I have a lot of friends who are hurting this Christmas season. Broken…abused…challenged…confused. Each day as I am reminded of their situations and prompted to pray, one thing I pray for, is joy. We hear that word through many Christmas songs… especially “Joy to the World” but what about when joy doesn’t seem to come to our world.

While reading my Advent devotion this morning (which I LOVE by the way), I was a reminded of this great passage in the little Old Testament book of Habbakkuk:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
And there are no grapes on the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
And the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
And the cattle barns are empty,
Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

Perhaps the friends on my heart might say it this way…

“Even though the job opportunities don’t blossom,
And I see no fruit from my labor,
Even though friends fail me, and family fails me, and I fail me,
And my home is empty and barren,
Even though my loved ones have died,
And my heart is empty,
YET, we can rejoice, we will rejoice, we must rejoice.”

And even when that seems impossible, I’ve been reminded that joy doesn’t come in any of those things. Joy comes from the God of our salvation, alone, no where else, no one else. That God is One who is always blossoming, never failing, abundant and full, never empty and barren.

And the joy comes when we shift our focus to Him… And, as the songs says, we “Repeat the sounding joy!”… When we choose consciously to remember and repeat, again and again, the Sovereign One who reigns and is in control even when our lives feel wildly out of control. That joy comes when we remember and repeat His love that comes to us in those moments of need, that came to us as a baby this Advent. We remember and repeat, to ourselves and to each other because we all need reminding. We find joy not in our circumstances, but in our cross-bound, infant King. And with that joy, comes HOPE! Hope that we are not forgotten in this crazy world. HOPE that gets us through each day. HOPE that whether better days come here on this earth or not until we’re in Heaven with him, they WILL come, just as sure as He came that first Christmas.

So even if your life is falling apart this Christmas… We can still rejoice! We can join with the “fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains” to repeat that joy over and over and over again reminding ourselves and each other of the God who Saves, the God who reigns, the God who alone brings joy and restores our hope.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

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Anna's Story, The Exodus Road

Anna’s Story: Part Two – Slavery – Laos

We’ve already journeyed with Anna through the process of being trafficked and today we venture deeper into part 2 of Anna’s story which involves her actual slavery. As you can tell from previous posts, I’ve chosen to write this story from the perspective of someone who knows Jesus. I did this for many reasons including understanding the reality that this can happen to ANYONE as well as imagining some of the struggles that might come in trusting that God even exists when one finds themselves in a situations like this. Yet, even amid the struggles and doubts Anna can draw hope and strength from Christ. However, we must remember that for many “Anna’s” around the world, a faith and hope in Jesus Christ is a completely foreign concept. They have absolutely NOTHING to draw hope from. As you read the next part of Anna’s story, pray for those, like Anna who do know Christ and ask God to encourage them and give them strength in that faith today. Also pray for those that don’t know Him, ask Him to work in miraculous ways to reveal Himself and His love and His hope no matter how hopeless their situations may seem. Lastly, continue pray for the many organizations, including The Exodus Road, who are working every day to rescue “Anna”s, and be a part of God restoring the world to himself. Check out the link above to see information about the latest rescues and ways to get involved.

Anna’s Story: Part Two – Slavery

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March 6, 2013
I’m so sick of this place, God. I don’t even feel like a human anymore. I never know when someone is telling me something true or when they’re just manipulating me into another awful situation. I tried so hard to get out of it. I demanded to be released… that only resulted in more… well, let’s just say I won’t do that again. Will I be here forever? I saw what happened to Alina and Regina when they tried to escape. I don’t have any money anyway and haven’t seen my passport since it got handed off to that Chinese guy on the bus days ago. So even if I got out, I wouldn’t make it far, especially since I kind of stand out here with my white skin. I guess the only way to survive is to just stay here. I don’t know how I’m going to go on. I don’t know if you can even hear me anymore God after all the things I’ve done but these few minutes that I get to sneak away with my journal every few days are the only thing that keeps me going so I guess you must be real in some way. If so, then help me do whatever they want me to do so I can stay alive.

March 10, 2013
Sunday. You would think being trapped in these dark rooms I’d loose track of the days, but I can always tell when it’s Sunday because we start earlier on Saturdays. I should be sleeping right now, especially with another long night ahead of us, but I can’t help but think of Marta, Ruslan, and Liza who are probably walking into the Cathedral in St. Petersburg right now. Do they even know I never made it to America? I can picture Pastor Peter at the front getting ready to teach from the Your Word. Oh the Bible. I wish I still had mine, but I’m so thankful for Mrs. Alena who told us to hide it in our hearts like Psalm 119 says. Sometimes some of those verses are the only thing that gets me through another night. Ones like Isaiah 41:10

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

If I’m honest, God it’s hard to believe that you are here, with me, in such an awful place. I don’t know if you’d ever come into a place like this, so dirty, so broken, but I remember the stories Mrs. Alena told us… I think there was even one about you talking with a prostitute. If that’s true, Jesus, then maybe there’s hope for me?!? Help me trust this is true and give me strength. One of the other verses from Psalm 103 she had us memorize says you forgive and heal and redeem our lives from the pit. I need you to save me from this pit, Jesus!

I wonder what hymns they’re singing at church today; I keep thinking about this one verse from one of my favorite ones:

Christ the Victorious, give to your servants
rest with your saints in the regions of light.
Grief and pain ended, and sighing no longer,
there may they find everlasting life

I can’t wait for that day Jesus! Bring me out of this pit I’m in. End the grief and pain. Give me a new song to sing because the only one in my heart right now is one of hopelessness and despair. And as I head off to sleep tonight, give me rest and strength, because I don’t know if I can live this life one more day.