Five Minute Friday (Was Three Days Ago): Change

Gentle Reader,

Playing a little catch-up today. Kate asked us all to write about change last week. Linking up is better late than never!

Go.

The big change for me this summer has, of course, been coming off of Cymbalta. (You can read all about that here). I knew that it would be really difficult to battle anxiety each day without the help of that blue-and-green pill, so I hoped to be able to use St. John’s Wort to assist in balancing out those pesky brain chemicals. Then I found out that’s a tricky thing to use when you’ve got liver damage and it seemed best to avoid it altogether. (I am not at all an expect, but I’ve found that many herbal supplements and essential oils are tricky to use when liver damage is present. For example, I can no longer use valerian root to help with sleep, as it’s poisonous to an unhealthy liver. It’s best to approach this area with caution, do some research and definitely talk with your doctor).

I can watch what I eat. I can go for walks and do other exercise stuff. But that only goes so far. When I wake up in the middle of the night (and it happens every night now) and my heart is pounding and I’m sweating, there’s no snack healthy enough or trail long enough that will take the pain away.

My only answer is God.

I’m glad of that. I really am. This illness has forced me to my knees. I have nowhere else to go but to the Throne of Grace. I don’t know what awaits me at the specialist, a visit still a month away. But it doesn’t really matter. The medicine he might give me, the therapy he might try, the procedures I may undergo will not alter the fact that my only choice is God. I have nothing else.

I don’t like what got me here, but I’m inexpressibly grateful for this change.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

The Shot Glass Life

Gentle Reader,

“Who dares despise the day of small things…?” – Zechariah 4:10a, NIV

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10b, NKJV

I’d wager that we’ve all seen a shot glass a time or two, even if we’ve never tipped one back and swallowed some fiery contents. (Full disclosure: I have). There isn’t a drop of alcohol in my house, but I have a couple of shot glasses nonetheless. Some recipes require their use, like the chocolate creme de menthe cake my mom makes all-too-rarely. (Love that thing). And when talking about the abundant life, shot glasses make excellent metaphors.

No, really. They do.

We tend to view our lives as these great, gaping things, and we search for something large enough to fill the holes. The cliche is that we’ve all got a “God-shaped” space in our hearts, and there’s a lot of truth in that. But let’s be honest. When we see ourselves as bottomless wells, we try to throw things in to stop the sense of falling and ease the ache. No matter how devoted we are to the Lord, we’re always on the lookout for something in addition to Him.

Because really and truly, we don’t quite believe that He’s enough.

Oh, some days are better than others. Some days we can sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand! All other ground is sinking sand!” with gusto and with complete sincerity. Other days? Well, we slog through that sinking sand hoping to find whatever it is we think we need to make our lives better.

Ultimately, it’s idolatry and that’s the great struggle of humanity. Money, titles, position, power, clothes, looks, family. You name it, we’ll chase it. We all assume that the abundant life means all of those things. We assume that a life full and overflowing with joy and contentment means that we’ll have everything we want. Even the most devoted of Christians deals with this assumption.

We need a change of perspective.

We need the shot glass life.

But first, what was Jesus talking about when He stated that He came to give life, and abundant life at that?

“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.” – John 10:1-18, MSG

We see that Jesus’ offer of the abundant life is settled explicitly within the context of salvation. People who don’t know Jesus don’t have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” Period. This has absolutely nothing to do with wealth or power. An abundant life begins and ends with knowing Jesus.

Here Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd.” He talks about how He cares for the sheep, who represent us. Do you know what sheep need? A safe place to sleep (shelter). A safe place to run and play (a fenced pasture). Good water to drink. Food to eat (grass, hay, grains, minerals, the occasional treat). Protection from predators (provided by the shepherd and faithful herding dogs). Grooming. Healthcare when they get sick. Above and beyond all else, they need a shepherd they can trust. A shepherd who keeps close watch over the flock, who will risk his own life to keep them safe, who shows his affection with petting, playing and the odd snuggle.

Did you notice what sheep don’t need?

I’ll let you provide the answer yourself.

Jesus is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the abundant life is found in being with Him. That’s it. He is the source of everything that we truly need.

When we think of our lives as boundless and fathomless, we wonder if it’s possible to ever feel complete. We are ever-aware of the emptiness. We doubt that the Lord can fill us up. Surely we need something else, something in addition to Him. Or we see God as some sort of cosmic vending machine, One who will give us everything we want if we punch the right combination of buttons.

Jesus never once says that we entitled to anything. We’re not even entitled to a relationship with Him, though He graciously offers it to us. But it ends there. He doesn’t say, “I will save you AND make you the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” He doesn’t say, “I will save you AND make sure you never get sick a day in your life.” He doesn’t say, “I will save you AND…” anything.

He says, “I will save you.”

And that is over, above and beyond anything and everything.

So I wonder what would happen if we started seeing our lives as shot glasses. It takes very little to fill and cause one to overflow. If we see our days and our needs in this compact way and both begin and end with the awesomeness of salvation, the amazingness of knowing God, anything else is a surplus. It’s the extra icing on the proverbial cake.

That surplus is to be found all around us. A fresh and unexpected bloom on the rose bush. The heat radiating from a dog’s body and he presses himself against your leg. An inside joke with an old friend. The feeling of cleanness after a shower. The smell of bacon. Or a freshly-baked cookie. The squish of sand between your toes. A child’s laughter.

Blessings all.

Sheep don’t care if they’ve got millions in the bank or a new car. They just follow where the shepherd leads. They romp in the fields, drink from streams, bathe in sunlight. Their lives are totally full and fabulous because they trust in the one leading them. What more could they ask for?

What more could we?

Grace and peace along the way.

 

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.