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.

The Detox Diaries: Five Vials of Blood

 

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Gentle Reader,

The doctor.

We’re developing quite a relationship.

Today’s visit marked the fourth to his office in a seven-day span. I’m getting to the point where I know what information the receptionist is going to ask me to confirm before she asks it. I just start rattling off numbers and dates.

I told you that I’d been called into the office to discuss the results of the blood work I had done last Monday, and that God had been faithful to give me peace for that appointment. I am beyond thankful for that, because things aren’t the greatest. They could be worse; I’m glad that my blood sugar level is fine and that my triglycerides have stabilized. All this walking and avoiding delicious food has done some good. My liver function is, however, neither fine nor stable.

Without a medical degree I can’t properly explain the situation, but what I do know is that there are two enzymes, AST and ALT, in the liver that work to filter the blood and break down the yuck stuff. Both of mine are at much higher levels than they should be. This can be an indication of leakage from damaged cells caused by liver inflammation or cell death. Basically, my liver is not working like it’s supposed to, but my doctor doesn’t know why. He ordered more tests and has referred me to a specialist, whose call I am anxiously awaiting.

So, round two. Today I got poked again and forked over five vials of blood. These tests will reveal the levels of iron and copper in my blood, as well as the level of some very long word that began with an “a.” The lab will also run a complete hepatic panel, though I don’t know what that entails. I assume that they are checking levels of other enzymes that hang out in the liver.

I hurry to get to appointments and then wait for the results. Hurry up and wait. That is the great test of patience.

This testing and stretching of my limitations moves me to a place of thankfulness as I think on the fact that God knows all things. He knows the end from the beginning, and the middle part, too. He knows what’s going to happen me. None of this is a surprise to Him. I cannot unravel the mystery regarding the will of God and the will of man; I believe that man is free and that God is free, and somehow everyone has real choices to make, but I completely reject Open Theism. While God chooses to relate Himself to us via Scripture and the Spirit in a way that we can sort-of grasp, using the element of time, God is not bound by the clock. Time is not some force that has always existed in an uncreated state. He is completely outside of time and sees it all.

This is greatly comforting to me – God is bigger. He isn’t up there in Heaven biting His nails. He isn’t phased by my situation or by my coming to Him over and over again asking for help. He isn’t unsure how to respond. He knows exactly what I need, when I need it, and why I need it. More importantly, He knows all of this before I even know to ask and so often graciously works in my life without my uttering a word. He simply and awesomely provides.

He knows what’s in those five vials of blood and what it all means. If it will bring Him glory and me good, if it will be the best thing for the outworking of His plan, then He will remove this burden. If I walk through more tests and waiting and illness, then that is somehow what’s best. Whether I am healed by His touch, through medicine or on the other side of Eternity, I will be healed.

That is the outcome.

Grace and peace along the way.

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Fill

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Gentle Reader,

After my two-week hiatus I am once again linking up with the FMF crowd at our new hangout, Heading Home with Kate Motaung. Yes, our beloved Lisa-Jo has passed on the baton. But that’s okay! Sometimes it’s right to let a good thing go.

For this first post with Kate, we: fill.

Go.

“Omer”

I’m running on empty today, God

What You gave her just isn’t enough

I need You to meet my need

Adjust Your outpouring supernaturally

I don’t want to complain

I don’t want to be greedy

I just need enough of You

To fill the omer within me

I wrote this poem, based on Exodus 16, years ago, but it came to mind as soon as I saw this week’s prompt. God has answered this prayer over and over again, today in a parking lot being the latest occurrence.

Just a brief recap: as many of you know, I live with some chronic health issues and back in May began the process of coming off of Cymbalta due to liver problems. Thankfully the withdrawal symptoms have passed, but the road to an understanding of what’s happening to my liver is a long one.

A long one full of potholes.

On Monday I had blood work done. Tuesday the doctor called and told me that my enzymes were elevated. Higher than they were in May. I needed to come and see him as soon as possible and get a referral to a specialist. I stayed late at work yesterday so I could leave at mid-morning today and trek across two towns to get to the appointment. He didn’t tell me much more than he did on the phone, but I got the referral and an order for more labs, to be done tomorrow morning.

I’ll be honest: I freaked out when I got that call on Tuesday. I’ve made changes to my diet. I’ve been exercising. I was really hoping that, after two-and-a-half months, there would be some improvement. I certainly wasn’t expecting things to be worse!

The closer I got to the office today, the larger the lump of panic in my throat. Pulling into the packed parking lot, I located an open space beneath and tree and clunked into the…whatever that concrete thing is that keeps you from running into the grass on the other side. Turning off the engine, I closed my eyes, took and deep breath, and prayed.

Okay, God. I need You. I need You really bad. I need You to fill me with that peace, that peace that doesn’t make any sense. I don’t need high blood pressure right now. Calm me down. Help me to hear what the doctor says and make whatever decisions I need to make. Give me clarity. I am with You, Jesus. You are with me. 

I got out of the car and finished with, “Let’s do this.”

My blood pressure? 117 over 70-something.

Almost before the words came out of my mouth, the peace flooded in. From head to toe, I was filled. Completely. There wasn’t any room for fear. I listened, I asked questions. When my doctor told me not to freak out, I smiled.

Because whatever happens, I’m with Jesus. And His plans are good.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.