The Day of Small Things

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Gentle Reader,

Let’s shift our focus from the exploration of how illness and faith intersect (as in the Detox Diaries series) and onto living the abundant life Christ said He came to give us (John 10:10). Take a deep breath; I’m not about to espouse a prosperity, health-and-wealth sort of “gospel.” My husband’s truck needs a complete engine overhaul. The truck he’s only had for three months. My medical bills come with speed and abundance that I’ve not seen in any other form of mail. If I thought that a large bank account and a body in perfect working order meant that I was in right relationship with God, then I’d be seriously freaked out about my salvation right now.

But health and wealth have nothing to do with my relationship with God. While I am immensely thankful that the latest round of blood tests have ruled out chronic hepatitis and Wilson’s disease, I still have to go see a specialist because there’s still something wrong. We definitely don’t have the money in the bank to replace the engine. Grocery shopping is a week away and we’re going to be eating creatively. Yet I have no doubt that the Lord is working on my behalf to bring me good, that I might praise and glorify His name.

So, if the abundant life doesn’t mean millions of dollars and it doesn’t mean that triathlons are realistic exercise goals, what does it mean? What does it look like?

“(God) answered and said to (Zechariah):

‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts.
‘Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!’

Moreover the word of the Lord came to (Zechariah), saying:

‘The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple;
His hands shall also finish it.
Then you will know
That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
For who has despised the day of small things?
For these seven rejoice to see
The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,
Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.’” – Zechariah 4:6-10 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

The prophet Zechariah was born in Babylon, during the Exile, a time in history when God used the Babylonian Empire to discipline His people. There were several deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon, the city was completely destroyed, the Temple ruined and many people died, either by the sword or from disease. (These events are thoroughly cataloged in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the closing chapters of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles). Zechariah was part of a surprisingly small number of people who came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and Temple as chronicled in Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai. He was a Levite and possibly a priest. Family linage alone would have meant Zechariah’s interest in the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple, but his calling as a prophet meant that he spoke directly to the people doing the work, directly into the process.

And what a process this was. Seventy years of exile meant decay, poverty and despair. When Nehemiah, the Babylonian king’s cupbearer-turned-governor of Jerusalem, arrived in 445/444 B.C., the people had worked for nearly a century and there was still much left to be done. Even at this late point, he speaks of opposition to the rebuilding on all sides. Some people had taken advantage of the ruin and made themselves rich and powerful. Haggai the prophet, who came in the first wave of 538 B.C., talks about the depression that dogged the heels of the Jewish people, who knew that their efforts would never come close to the former glory of their beloved city. Ezra the priest, part of the second wave of 458 B.C., writes about his efforts to bring the people back to the way and Law of God, something that meant a complete change of lifestyle, from attitude to action, for many.

It was into this atmosphere of struggle that Zechariah stepped. He was part of the first wave of returnees; this group saw the greatest damage and faced the biggest obstacles. They were the ones responsible for taking the first steps toward restoration.  His job was to encourage the people and to speak truth and hope into their hearts.

The first seven chapters of the book, titled in Hebew hyrzk  (“Yahweh remembers”) tell of Zechariah’s work in speaking the message God gave him. It was vital for the people to push forward in the reconstruction of the city and Temple, for “this was necessary to the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises respecting Israel and the coming kingdom of Christ.” Certainly the Jewish people needed to rebuild for themselves, to regain a sense of purpose and place as the favored nation of God, but the extent of their work was to reach through the centuries. This was rededication on a massive, multi-generational scale, a rededication whose benefits those covered in the blood of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike, reap to this day.

Cyrus the Great (the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire) allowed Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jehoiachin, the penultimate king of Judah, to lead the first group of people back to Jerusalem and set him in the governor’s seat. This was clearly God’s handiwork, for He says through the prophet Haggai:

“‘Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’” – Haggai 2:4-5 (NKJV)

Be strong. Do not fear.

Get to work.

God Himself tasked Zerubbabel (and Joshua the high priest) with rebuilding. He would be with them and enable them to do all that He asked. Over and over God speaks to reassure His servant, as in Zechariah 4:6 referenced above. Yes, the task was big. Huge. Seemingly-insurmountable. But Zerubbabel did not have to do this work alone. He did not have to trudge along in his own strength. Neither did Joshua the high priest, the prophets Zechariah and Haggai or any other person surveying the wreckage of Jerusalem. One by one the obstacles would be removed and God’s will would be accomplished.

God saw the fear of Zerubbabel and his people. He knew how overwhelmed they were. He heard every sigh and spied every shrugged set of shoulders. He looks into their hearts and examines their lack of faith, the wrestling with the impossibility of the work. Through Zechariah, God, “reproves their ungrateful unbelief, which they felt because of the humble beginning, compared with the greatness of the undertaking; and encourages them with the assurance that their progress in the work, though small, was an earnest of great and final success.”

Again, He says, “be strong, don’t fear, get to work.” Take a step. Any step. Just do something, no matter how small. All the little things will add up in the end.

The return to Jerusalem was a blessing, but that didn’t mean that the new inhabitants got to stretch out, work on their tans and wait for God to do everything. He gave them a job, and a hard one at that. Certainly God promised to give them everything that they needed, but the city wasn’t going to rebuild itself. Food wasn’t going to spontaneously appear. The normal rhythms of life would not pulse again without their effort. Without their ownership.

These ancient people had been invited into an intimate partnership with God, one that required strength, confidence and a good work ethic. He offers that same partnership to us. The connection between their task, Jesus’ gift of abundance and our lives today is not difficult to make, and it is a connection that we will explore deeply in the weeks to come.

In the weeks, the days, of small things.

Grace and peace along the way.

Five Minute Friday: Tell

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Gentle Reader,

Partying with the Five Minute Friday crowd tonight. The gracious Kate invites us to: tell.

Go.

“Sharper Edge”

My heart with sharper edge does beat

Soothed no longer with medicine’s treat;

I bleed these aches onto the page,

Hoping for the end of -

Something.

Undefined and ever-present longing.

Joy and despair, despair and joy,

Treating my mind as plaything, toy.

Stretching, burning, turning,

Depths and heights and all between.

Needing help for every step.

My Lord, my God, be by my side,

Catch each tear – shed and uncried

I don’t often share my poetry. For some reason, I find it a more vulnerable form of writing. Rawer, somehow. But given all the discussion about mental illness this week, this is what I have to tell. Brightness and darkness exist in the same day – in the same person. It hurts. It’s confusing. It feels like walking through thick molasses.

Yet God is there. He gives me exactly what I need, often before I even know I need it. He collects my tears (Psalm 56:8). He teaches me how to live (John 10:10). He is the steady, sure and unchanging One.

That is enough.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

Speaking with Compassion

 

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Gentle Reader,

Along with unnumbered scores of others, I was saddened by yesterday’s news of Robin Williams suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy, but this particular death has people talking. It is shocking to think that someone who brought us so much laughter experienced the kind of despair that leads to such a decision. Such a thing drives home the point that mental illness does not discriminate. Men, women, children, old, young, rich, poor. Anyone can find themselves in the midst of deep pain and confusion.

In this Internet age, anyone can post any opinion with the brush of a few keys, and I think that’s perfectly fine. Every one of us has the right to our own thoughts. I believe in free speech. But I also believe in compassion. Too many articles touching on this subject lack it, whether from the ignorance of “he’s free now,” something that belittles the entire topic of suicide and all those who have been impacted by it, to those who hone in only on the personal responsibility of Mr. Williams, to still others who speak of “just choos[ing] joy.” Mental illness is far too complex an issue to be reduced in such a way.

Honestly, I wish that the discussion of these things could be limited to those who have walked through the shadows and those who are trained to walk with them. But, again, anyone can say anything. So let me simply request this of you: Speak with compassion. Try to imagine the deep, tortuous pain and agonizing sorrow that would move someone to take his own life. Try to understand that this is not “just” a spiritual issue, nor is it “just” a physical issue. Mental illness takes over the totality of a person. The vision is clouded over – the vision of the eyes and the vision of the soul. 

You would not speak to a cancer patient and tell her to “just get over it.” You would not tell an man with a broken leg to walk normally. No. You would come alongside and do what you could to help. This is exactly what the mentally ill need. We need your encouragement, your prayers, your friendship and your attempt at understanding. We need your grace and your hugs. 

We do not need your condemnation, your attempts at neat classification or your ill-informed and lofty opinions spouted as fact. 

Think about Jesus. Think about how He would speak to someone in despair.

Go and do likewise.

Grace and peace along the way.