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Ezra Reads the Law: Celebrating in the wake of sin

It’s been a hard couple of months for me spiritually. I feel like one of those wind-up toys relentlessly marching away with my head against a corner, moving but going nowhere. I know that God is calling me to rise above the distractions and seek him first but to my embarrassment, I consistently choose Netflix over the King of Kings and I have prioritized scrolling over the creator of the universe. It’s such a silly thing really and utterly frustrating that I continue to worship the created over the creator. This battle of the will has left me spiritually dry and utterly devastated.  I can’t declare another social media fast only to break it, so at times I just stop trying. I let the sin of misappropriation encompass me and try to tell myself that I enjoy the feeling, that I may as well stay here rather than fail again.

Lying to yourself is an exhausting practice. When I get weak enough to reach out for God’s redemptive hand I almost shy away from it because I hate my sin and I don’t want him to see it. I mourn it and an I grieve it and I keep it close.

Ezra was the liturgical scribe in the day of the great restoration of Jerusalem under the instruction of Nehemiah. It was a time of revival and change as the people had returned to their homeland after a period of exile. Their exile was the result of God’s judgment and they knew it. In exile, they had time to wallow in their sins and think about the price of letting down the all mighty God. But just because God is always this good, he allowed the sun to peek out from behind the clouds and began drawing his people back to their first love. As they picked up the wreckage of their physical and spiritual lives they ran back to the only thing that had unwavering staying power: the very word of God.

“So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men and women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Nehemiah 8:2-3

Imagine holding an ice cold coke on a hottest of days? Not the one in the can, but the real deal, the glass bottle with its curved silhouette appears to have been made just for your hand. There is something about the desperation and joy  you experience as you hear the sound of that fresh fizzle rising to the top. I’d imagine this is the scene of anticipation unfolding as God’s people had returned from a spiritual drought only to find God’s word pouring out like a fountain head in the middle of the desert. They sat and the drank up the sweetness of God’s word, fulfilling a need they had almost forgotten.

Yet its possible for sweetness to turn sour in one’s mouth before one has even had the chance to savor it. When the devastation of your disparity sets in and you realize how trivial your own lustful desires have been in light of our Great God. All of a sudden the exhilaration of drinking from the fountain of living water turns to shame. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites that day as the measured themselves up and realized just how low they had fallen .

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping and they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:9-10

Have you ever observed the exact moment when you have broken someone’s trust? It’s a gradual change that begins with their eye and slowly takes over their entire body. It’s as if someone turned on a switch of sadness, or rather they turned off a switch of joy. What was once sacred becomes broken, what was once delightful becomes scorned and your relationship is left hanging in the balance. It’s a gut wrenching and devastating feeling. And it’s the feeling we all bare when the Holy God looks upon our sins.

But this is what blows my mind about the grace of our God.  In a time of mourning and despair, as the Israelite come to terms with what they have down,  in walks the Lord, full of grace,he lavishes on us mercy as he gives us chance after chance after chance. He doesn’t tire of our failure and in the midst of the Israelite’s grief  the Lord speaks through his prophet, ” Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Do not grieve! not only that, but in the wake of your sin, celebrate and throw a party! Eat choice foods and sweet drinks! Can you feel the tension of their fear and dread breaking? In the midst of their chastening the people respond to God appropriately by grieving their sin and The Lord steps in as a Father scoops up their crying child, and says no, don’t cry, celebrate.

We serve a good God, one who is long suffering, and ever so patient. One who is full of good gifts that we don’t deserve and one who would rather anoint our wounds and rejoice in our dependence on him, then brandish the punishment we so justly deserve.

The Lord is telling us in light of our brokenness, in light of our sadness, in light of us having fallen short that we are not to grieve, because he cloaks us in his own joy to strengthen us. “Do not grieve…For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The joy of the Lord, as in the joy that belongs to the Lord, is the substance in which we find the wherewithal to look at our sin bearer in the face, knowing full well that we have disappointed our savior, yet we dare to dance instead of grieve we dare to worship instead of weep and we dare to be strengthened rather than defeated.

I walked in service last night with my tail between my legs as the old folks would say. Weary of my own lack of desire to align myself with the Lord and aware of the triviality of my sins I waited expecting to mourn, yet the Lord lifted my head and said, no, here take my joy be strengthened by it and savor it because when a sinner returns home we slaughter the fated calf, we pull out choice drink and we celebrate!

 

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Year 32 elated-distraught and everything in between 

As is tradition every year around my birthday I pen something about the great wealth of wisdom I’ve accumulated since last year… (Cough cough add sarcasm here)  If there is anything I have learned from this practice, it’s that whenever I start to believe I am at a pinical of understanding God is quick to show me that I’m fooling myself. 

This past year has been full of life! Changes in my job, new opportunities, a new little one expected to join our family, giggles, laughs and milestones. It’s also been one of belly ache crying sessions, the ones where deep groans seem to erupt from your inner being, it’s been full of tiered days and frustration, dinners that have gone un-eaten, screaming matches lots of humility, lots of love and a ton of painful growth.

That’s life though a milue of good bad beautiful and lovely. If you are anything like me when you look back on a year lived in this life the good parts and the bad parts seem to fuse together leaving behind a haze that reminds you that this existence of ours is real.  The point is that crying means you care deeply, pain shows that you feel with intensity, fights mean that you are surrounded with people to fight with. Being smeared in more baby poop than you could’ve ever imagined means that you have been trusted to care for another human. 

I can’t clearly separate the good the bad and the ugly of my last year. If anything when I look back I see evidence of my humanity, my fragility, my image being formed into Christ, I see pain that teaches hope, I see lack which teaches gratitude, I see beauty, I see God and a glimpse of my own eternality in him.

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Depression and Spiritual Emptiness 

Recently I’ve been walking through life, through marriage,through parenting. Floating by, watching. Just a little bit empty.

I can’t place my finger on when it happened, but I feel like a slowly leaking water balloon.

I will usually just turn on Netflix to distract me from this emptiness, but even that isn’t working.

My house is dirty. I keep trying my best but it just stays that way. I’m tired so much, that I’m snapping at my husband. I am ashamed to admit it, but my tiny toddlers have become tiny terrorists to me. I don’t know what to do with them so I do what I can until it’s time to put them to bed then I don’t know what to do again.

Last night after struggling all day to align myself with the leading of the Holy Spitit I came home from another function at church. My husband was playing his game which is typically my cue to wrap myself in the cocoon of Netflix and chill…without the chill…but I just didn’t feel like it. I don’t know what I felt like doing really. TV seemed like a source of disgust. The kids were sleeping. I am weak from pregnancy so cleaning or crafting only felt like an unattainable option.

So I sat.

I had a flicker of remembrance about the divine nature that is already implanted in me even when I don’t feel like it. I remembered the words of King David “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) so then where is my rock? Where is my stability? Where is the living water that I can drink and thirst no more?

Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father…

I fanatically searched for my bible which I have misplaced. If I’m honest it’s displaced due to my personal disinterest. I couldn’t find it but I didn’t give up! I grabbed my husband’s bible. Distracted and disoriented I began to read.

John 1: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God  and the Word was God.

I fell in and out of concentration and it seemed as if maybe my heart was reading but my mind was not. I was distracted. I almost gave up. I thought “why even try to read when I’m not paying attention to the words?” But my heart, itself, had taken on the race to get to the rock that is higher than I.

My soul itself yearned for the love of my life Jesus Christ as my mind struggled to catch up. I decided to let the words wash over me even halfheartedly.

I just needed to be exposed to it and let the living water touch me.

I am not fully O.K., but I am better today.

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Doubters Welcome Pampers in the Pews joins Bible.org

Anyone who knows me knows that I sing the praises of Bible.org! There is nothing like being able to search for articles on sensitive subjects on a site you can trust. I never thought that on day I would click on this site and see my own face! I am so grateful to the team at Engage Bible.org blog for allowing me to serve. YAY!

I am doing a happy dance. Please check out my first guest blog by clicking the link below this is an adaptation from a blog that started here on Pampers in the Pews.

Thanks for your continued support! I pray this blesses someone! Doubters Welcome on Bible.org

 

http://blogs.bible.org/engage/christen_jacobs/doubters_welcome

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some doubted

May of us have been taught that doubting what you believe in comparable to a deadly sin. But I find that Jesus takes a gracious approach to the doubts of his followers.

After 3 years of a miracle filled ministry on earth, the disciples saw Jesus dumbfound the religious rulers of their day with his clarity in teaching the scriptures. They saw the dead restored,  sickness healed, demons driven out food multiplied, manipulation of the wind and the waves  and to top that all off they heard Jesus speak with his own words that he would be crucified and rise again. Here they sit as Jesus is about to give his final word, in his resurrected body after having shown himself as the risen Lord to hundreds of people and we see that some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-20

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worship him: but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

To the very end! Some doubted! But notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke those who are having wavering thoughts. We know he knows the hearts and minds of men and could have easily called them out.

Instead he knowingly reassures them that because He is God incarnate, because He is the promised one that He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He comforts them by telling them who he is then gives them a charge to spread the word based on that authority!

What a beautiful picture of God’s gracious heart toward man. Truly we are like sheep led astray but being the good shepherd he is, He doesn’t rebuke the sheep but he takes his time to bring them back into the fold.

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The Lord Keeps Blessing Me Right now Oh Right Now

I usually don’t do this, but when the Lord provides its a glimpse for others who are going through!

As many young families both working in the world of non-profit money is tight!

As I am now pregnant with my 3rd child one of my needs has been maternity clothes. Honestly I think I had given most of them away lol.

I could go on and on about how God has stretched our little tight budget to graciously cover 2 cars a house 2.5 children who eat like they are grown and lots of lovely undergrad debt. But today I just want to focus on what God has done today! As in foot in the door at work and he has provided!

While maternity clothes have been an issue for some time I don’t necessarily remember formally praying about this. I know my husband and I have sat down and looked at the budget to see where we can fit in a piece here and a piece there. But I can’t say that I even uttered a request to the Lord.

Even so I walked in to work today an a sweet co-worker had two maternity dress pants on my desk. I didn’t ask her for this but she was led to do it! (Praise Dance Number One Ensues)

After catching up on emails I stroll over to our Women’s Bible Study and a sweet friend of mine hands me a bag with yet another shirt I can wear! Again she had no clue (Now initiating praise dance number 2)

While speaking with this friend another friend tells me she caught a sale and picked up two maternity dresses for me.  (Let the count down begin for praise dance number 3)

So lets just circle back and observe what happened hear: God heard my unspoken prayer that I truly wasn’t even thinking about today. I came to work and received 2 pair of pants, 1 shirt, and 2 dresses all from people who I did not ask.

So ask me again if God’s hand is over me and that her perfects all things concerning me even down to the smallest detail.

I can say nothing but sing this little song “The Lord, is blessing me, right now, oh right now.” praise

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No one gets to heaven by being a good person

There is a lie that has infiltrated culture. In fact this lie has become pseudo religion, rather a folklore that doesn’t represent biblical Christianity. Its easy to understand how even Christians who believe in the validityof Scripture can have the wool pulled over their eyes concerning this. The fact is that history has surrounded us with distorted images of what heaven and hell are as well as how to get there. Cartoons feature a little devil with a pitch fork and pointy tail. We envision God as a Zeus like character with white hair checking off our naughty and nice list. We are told good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. We hear sermons about this, we see it on TV, when someone passes away we assume they are in heaven because the alternative is unbearable.

What if I told you that is not true….

Better yet what if the bible told you that is not true…

Romans 3:11-18

There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now, if  no one is seen as righteous, no one can measure up, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). If we honestly believe in the truth of James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Then we cannot do this on our own. Being good means nothing across the span of one’s life also peppered with dubious sin. Mankind has shown us time after time that someone will rise up through the ranks who appears to be perfect, until the cracks appear and we see the fragility of human nature. In our darkness, scripture says that we are separated from Christ, excluded for the covenant of promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)

This is a grim reality

But the beauty is we are not left alone! We find a champion in Christ. We find Grace! We find forgiveness! We put on his perfection in the shadow of our inability and we are saved. Not of ourselves!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8

Your pile of good works means nothing the sight of a Holy God. It doesn’t matter how many times you give to the poor, how many homes you have built how many soup kitchens you have served in, or how many church services you have attended.

I was listening to someone speak recently and it was a great reminder that the Holy Scriptures, which are God breathed, are there to point you to the truth that God wants you to know.

What a miraculous thing, that at the culmination of God’s Redemption through Israel to the New Testament we find that God takes a break at a seemingly awkward time to focus in on the thief on the cross. Here we are in this epic retelling of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ who is the very image of the invisible God, (Colossians 1:15) and here enters a thief who acknowledges Jesus for who He is and through his bidding recognized salvation in Christ.

He says,  “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23-42-43) 

Why interrupt the retelling of our precious savior’s sacrifice with the words of a thief?

So that you and me can see the very heart of God and what salvation is all about! This man did nothing to deserve salvation. He did no good work, he did not go to church, he was not baptized, he had not completed all of the sacraments. He was nothing…… but he put his trust in the only one who is something! The one and only savior Jesus Christ.

Don’t believe the lie, its been said that God needs but one breath, one instance, to change the path of a man’s eternity. Salvation, and Christianity as a whole, is Christ focused not you focused! If you don’t know Him and you haven’t come face to face with your inadequacies, I beg you to throw out this pull yourself up by the boot straps type of religion you may have been fed. Forget about the reel of good and bad you have been told you will see upon judgment, the check list of weights and measures that somehow validates you,  and seek salvation through the Only one who can say, “today you shall be with me in Paradise.”