The Dark

Sometimes I potentially overthink songs and ruin them for other people. That is precisely what is about to take place.

There is an adorable song (by a great band with a terrifying name) called I Will Follow You Into the Dark.

Love of mine, someday you will die

But I’ll be close behind

I’ll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

Just our hands clasped so tight

Waiting for the hint of the spark

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied

Illuminate the Nos on their vacancy signs

If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks,

Then I’ll follow you into the dark.

It’s beautiful. It’s truly being together forever, in the worst and best of times. The trouble comes when I envision myself in that situation: me and my love, in darkness, with heaven and hell fully occupied.

NO.

For starters, while there are a number of things about which God has not revealed enough to be entirely clear, there are also quite few about which He was clear. My understanding is that my soul is broken. It is imperfect in the eyes of a perfect God. However, that perfect God became a perfect man, that He could replace the brokenness of my soul with the perfect righteousness of Himself. Because I believe in that replacement and in the loving and just God who orchestrated it, I am going to heaven. The best thing about heaven is not that there are white gates or that I’ll get to see loved ones; it’s that I’ll get to see God and experience Him fully. I’m quite excited about this. It has formed the foundation of my life. Christ’s example is why I live and love the way that I do. It is why I am so happy and positive.

To die and be standing in the darkness with another broken soul would be nightmarish. It would be the absence of God, and thus it would be awfully close to hell, if not hell itself, “No Vacancy” sign or no.

I also have to imagine my trust would be shattered- here I had built a life on faith, hope, and love related to Christ and He had abandoned me- who’s to say this love of mine is sticking around? I’m certainly not going to follow him further into darkness and I would not advise following me anywhere, either, because I clearly do not know what I am doing.

I love that the Bible points this out in 1 Corinthians 15. It makes no secret of the fact that we are relying on something being true and are in quite the situation if it is not true.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

BUT 

“in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

It is that same faith, hope, and love for Christ that keep me from fearing that this would come to fruition. I have explained on this blog before why I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus was a real, human person, that He is God, and that the Bible is factual document. I believe that there is evidence to support this. So I look what is stated in something that I have found to be true. I look at what Jesus said and did, and I have faith around the bits that haven’t happened yet. I have hope for a better day than the broken and often sad ones we’re living now. I hope through His promises, in which I have faith.

But the Bible points out that the greatest of these three things is LOVE. Love that sacrifices. Love that already followed me into the dark because I was already there. As it says in Isaiah 9 (a classic Christmastime chapter), “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” I was already surrounded by an absence of light, creating more darkness from my own brokenness. It was God who took the initiative, who followed me to bring me to light:

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:7-10)

We’re currently celebrating Easter weekend, and Saturday is the day that not a lot seems to be going on. On Friday, we talked about Jesus’ death on the cross, and on Sunday, we’ll celebrate Him being risen and conquering death. I often forget that Saturday represents the time that He was in the darkness retrieving me that He might create light in me.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)

Praise be to the God who was not content with my residence in darkness, who conquered it for me, and who made me new. Happy Easter!

The Years of My Sojourning

Happy New Year!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really one for resolutions, but I understand their value. Culturally we measure things in years, so the beginning of a new calendar year seems as good a time as any to evaluate how we’re doing and what we can improve going forward. People may also do this at the beginning of a new school year or year of life (yay birthdays!). Some of my friends ask for advice on their birthday or reflections from others as part of this evaluation process. But in any case, we’re pretty good at measuring how much time has passed and trying to consider how much or what we have done in that time. The questions and answers are fairly simple:

What year is it now?

Well, it’s 2014!

What grade are you starting?

Oh, tenth!*

How old are you today?

Yeah, I’m turning 26!*’

(*Please note that these answers are not intended to bear any resemblance to particular persons, living or dead, and there are indeed no 26-year-old tenth graders running around as far as I am aware.)

Apparently on at least one occasion, and perhaps more, a similar question was posed differently:

How many are the days of the years of your life?

Okay, that’s a little odd, but it seems you’re asking how old I am. [Simple answer.]

However, on at least one occasion, someone answered very differently than I may have. His name was Jacob. Here’s what he said:

“The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”

He then blessed the highly regarded person to whom he was speaking. Suddenly “I’m feeling 22” seems wildly inadequate. Factual, in some cases, but maybe not as informative as this response. There are a few things that jump out at me about this.

Firstly, Jacob is 130 here. He is also what some might call “a Bible hero.” At the very least he is referenced in the Bible and part of Jesus’ genealogy. This said, he describes his 130 as “few” and “evil.” That’s a very interesting perspective and basis for comparison for a 20-something struggling regularly with a bevy of things described on this blog and many, many more. Then again, his basis for comparison may very well be his perfect Creator and the ancestors that he references. These are people who were cited in Hebrews for their outstanding faith and walking in righteousness. In those cases (particularly the former), “few and evil” sounds about right.

Secondly, Jacob uses “sojourning” and “life” interchangeably. Life is a journey, some canvas on Pinterest tells us, but what does that actually mean? Is it even true? I’m not quite sure of the answer myself, but the fact that Jacob describes his life as “sojourning” gives me the idea that it’s not a time for being stagnant. All the more so when we don’t have a lot of time to get there (the days are few) and we’re constantly tripping over our own faults and those of others (the days are evil).

Well, this is a great New Year’s message so far, Marissa. We’re going to die soon and we’re evil disasters. Thanks. Sorry, sorry! But let me explain why this is actually making my new year happy.

1.) We have examples.

Another reason that I don’t really do resolutions is that I take commitments very seriously and I have trouble coming up with resolutions that aren’t too extremist. In response to an end-of-year questionnaire asking about what I might like to let go of in 2014, I thought of the single versus married people blog war (Don’t get married yet! You’re young! You’ll throw your life away! versus If you haven’t gotten married by X years of age, you’re doing something horribly wrong! Meanwhile, everyone’s insulted.). I thought of the times I flipped through someone’s pictures and lamented my own perceived lack of beauty. If I wasn’t doing so well at repressing school thoughts during my holiday time, I probably would have considered the times that I felt so unintelligent there. So I wrote “comparing myself to others.” Seconds later, I erased it.

In a sense, comparing myself to others is good. Paul offered his behavior as an example to the church in his letters (“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about here things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”) as a point of comparison. I am constantly comparing myself to Christ and those who are striving to be like him. What about their faith encourages me? How can I be more like them, and ultimately, more like Christ?

2.) We have time.

I know, I know, I just said that the days are few. But there are days. The days are not zero; they are few. We are a vapor, but typically a breath is not indicative of death. This just means we need to “make the best use of the time” that we do have (Ephesians 5). This is why I’m a Christian. I don’t have a whole lot of time, but I have some. I look to the One who gave me that time, to the One who is good, and I am awed by what I see. I am in awe that He not only made me, but loves me, and loves me sacrificially- with the greatest love. Not only that- He loves everyone with that kind of love. So I seek what it is He wants out of the time He has given me because whatever it is, it is good and it is based in love.

So Happy New Year, everyone! I am thankful for the days given and those yet to come; I am thankful for the sojourning and praying that it follows the steps of Christ’s time on earth as closely as possible. His days were few, in a sense, but they were good. May this brief but new year be a time of growth, blessing, gratitude, and mirroring Christ all the more as He makes us new.

If Not, It’s Useless. IF.

I would be remiss if I just let Easter slip on by without saying a word about it. As I have written before, the precious day that we celebrated last Sunday is one of the biggest in terms of importance to the Christian faith. I think Paul breaks down the importance of Christ not only coming and dying for us, but also being raised again in 1 Corinthians 15, where he says (emphasis added):

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

I’ve included the English Standard Version here, but the New International Version hits even harder in the first sentence: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Talk about taking the focus off of me. Without Christ having raised from the dead, becoming the Victor over death and showing His power, my faith is nothing, and the hope of the goal that I am constantly talking about pressing on toward is nothing. So Hallelujah! He is risen!!

Too often I forget, or fail to live out, how big of a deal this is. I am challenged by these words in Hebrews 2:3-4: “How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced but he Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.”

So basically, this is truth. This is life-changing, life-saving  truth. And I am richly blessed just to know it. How much more blessed will I be, and will God be glorified, when I acknowledge His truths in more than just my head?

To read more about Easter and how it’s absolutely a big deal, you can read last year’s blog post here. And for the whole story of the Gospel (the good news), see the Bible! =) But you can also check out a much-abridged version here.

The Day/Month/Lifetime of Love

Well, people, it’s February again! If you’ve been reading this blog for at least a year, first of all, thank you! Blogging has sparked quite a few delightful chats and forced me to think more deeply about my faith, with wonderfully encouraging results. Secondly, you may have been around for a Parakaleo Valentine’s Day before. Just to recap- I LOVE VALENTINE’S DAY. I wind up taking the whole month to celebrate, much like the entire month of November turns into a celebrating of giving thanks/Thanksgiving. My logic goes something like this:

The most important thing to me is my relationship with God/my faith.

One of the most important things to my faith is Jesus Christ.

One of the most important things to Jesus is love (as evidenced by His death by one of the most torturous methods in history for people who loved Him either not at all or to a pathetically small degree in comparison to the love He showed).

So if we’re going to set aside a day to celebrate and show love like that, I’m pretty excited. And indeed, I think my whole life should be set apart to show love like that. However, as someone who likes to think about and evaluate things (probably more so now that I’m a grad student), I’ve no opposition to a time to especially concentrate on that.

I was going to try to make a list of my dearest loves, but I got as far as “God,” “family,” “friends,” and “music” before I realized that it was going to be almost exactly the same as my gratitude list. Love and thanksgiving really seem to go hand in hand. So I’m jumping ahead to a basic reminder of the love that moves me so and won’t let me, straight from the source. It’s a bit of a long passage, but I love that it includes the roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and tells us the truth flat out: We are broken. We can stand there and try to make it better every day and we will fail except for the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which completely changes us and the way we interact with the people around us.

As a forewarning, I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading and highlighting articles, so when I put this huge block of text here, I immediately started marking it up. The things in bold are just the things that I jumped out at me as I read it this time. I may very well mark completely different things tomorrow, and for that reason I really encourage you to look it up yourself and mark it up and appreciate it as best applies to your relationship with God. It’s Hebrews 10:1-24. Enjoy, and happy Valentine’s Day!

~

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,

but a body have you prepared for me;

in burnt offerings and sin offerings

you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,

as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them

after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,

and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Called to Blessings

Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving!  Unfortunately, due to this new schedule that I so excitedly advertised a couple of days ago- wait, a couple of MONTHS?!  Um, anyway- Parakaleo is no longer on Thursdays, and it’s no longer weekly, so I won’t be able to do a post on Thanksgiving.  However, I’ve noticed that a number of people have taken the opportunity to spend the month listing things for which they are thankful, which I think is fantastic!   One of my friends is researching gratitude and its effects and did a very interesting presentation that revealed many positive effects of being thankful.  (I’d like to note that this is a prime example of science and faith overlapping.  Many people think they’re mutually exclusive, and I’ve found the opposite!  Science makes my faith even stronger and challenges me to think about different things.)

Thankfulness is such a huge part of who we are as Christians.  In Colossians 2:2-7, we read, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

We are called to give thanks to God, which brings me to a rather exciting point.  Just as the way we are called to love is something that we should express throughout our lives, thankfulness is as well.  This suggests to me that we will always have something to be thankful for, just as there will always be someone to love in Jesus’ name.  It is a tremendous blessing to be called to thankfulness as part of our lives in Christ.

So I’ll hop on the Thanksgiving list bandwagon, too!  I’ve mentioned my gratitude list in the past on Parakaleo and today, I’d like to share some more of it with you.  Don’t worry; there are currently 224 things on the list- plenty to go around.  I might even have one to add- I’m thankful that the things that stress me out in grad school are things that I either love and find fascinating or know that I’m going to be able to use.  Oh, make it two- I’m thankful that I can be stressed, but not depressed.

This is exactly how this list got to be so long.

15.) clean water

22.) contentment

55.) AP Bio  (What?!  I know.)

70.) those really, really, REALLY tiny seashells that are so small that you can barely see them on your pinky finger.

78.) dance

79.) memories

100.) being able to count this high.

134.) taking criticism constructively

151.) chai tea

158.) sentences that you can’t finish because you’re laughing so hard

177.) chapstick

195.) that someday I’ll see home, and spend all of eternity with my Father and Savior who loves me more than I can even dream of loving, in His peaceful, beautiful, perfect heaven

209.) pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.

210.) that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Fun fact: By the end of this post, the list was at 234, due to the fact that I kept thinking of more things to add as I scrolled through my list.  Dear readers, what’s making your gratitude list today?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

p.s. I was looking back over my blog for other posts on thankfulness to link to, and found quite a few!  I’ve included some of them in this post, but if you would like to see more, search “thankful” in the search bar right underneath the Parakaleo banner at the top of the screen.

Event Planning

I love hustle and bustle.  Have 30 seconds for a set and costume change between scenes in a play? I’LL HELP!  Filling 250 water balloons for 75 children to demolish in 50 seconds? Count me in.  The chaos of preparing for order is just delightful, and I love being part of an efficient team.  Because of this, and to practice my leadership/planning skills, I agreed to help plan my campus ministry’s event of the year: Progressive Dinner.

One person should never have to plan this entire thing, so my jobs were shopping, making the playlist, and coordinating rides.  Making a playlist is not what it seems to be.  People come and ask you to play certain songs.  Sometimes they ask very wholeheartedly that you play a song that is simply not danceable.  Granted, we’re a group of very nerdy dancers, so we could probably pull just about anything off, but still.  There’s a limited amount of time, and you’ve got to get the most popular and enjoyable songs in while you can.  Furthermore, you have to time things properly.  A small demographic of the ministry I’m in LOVES swing dancing.  So I was obligated to put a couple of songs in that would allow them this opportunity.  But then you have to put something like a Cha-Cha slide in immediately afterwards to bring the people who shirked away back to the dance floor.

At some point during the night, I noticed that some of the songs were starting to replay.  The bring-people-back-after-a-slow-song was not what it was supposed to be.  I hurried over, disbanded the group hovered around my laptop, and tried to figure out what was going on.  Somehow, the whole thing had been put on shuffle.  I had to just stand by it for a bit and play particular songs that were in somewhat aggressive demand, then click back to the appropriate point on the playlist before some people heard even a millisecond of a song that they wanted to hear for the third time.  Silly, but slightly stressful stuff.

At some point later, another poor friend meandered towards my laptop, and stretching out his hand toward the trackpad, began to ask, “What if we play-”

At this point, I all but snarled, “DON’TTOUCHTHEPLAYLIST.”

He hurriedly retreated to a corner. (No worries- we immediately danced out our feelings and all was well.)

I wonder if God ever feels that way.  I’ve really been waiting all night to hear this song, Lord- is it on the playlist?  Can I rearrange it?  Thanks for playing such-n-such, but I was really hoping to hear this version- is that coming up?  Can we add it?  How am I supposed to dance to this, Lord?!  What on earth is the purpose of including it?  I’d just want to smack those little hands away and say, “I’VE GOT THIS.”

On the other hand, how do I react when He does do that, though much more gently and lovingly?  I feel like I react less gracefully than my friend, instead throwing a fit and literally crying and going on about how I don’t understand.  And just the way that I’m not about to sit and explain the hours-long process I used to make the playlist and what’s there for who and when your favorite song is coming, so on and so forth, God doesn’t sit and explain everything to me.  He just tells me to trust Him.  Just trust Him.

I’m reminded of the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus tells us not to worry.  Not only should we not fiddle with the playlist, but we should also not even worry about it!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

He’s got this.

It’s not an exact parallel- I’m not perfect.  I did accidentally put one song on the playlist twice, which may have led someone to accidentally hit shuffle in trying to skip it, and I did forget to put one favorite song on the list altogether.  I can’t please everyone, and apparently some people were disgruntled by some of the songs.

With God, however, despite the fact that we may be disgruntled, He’s always right.  He’s made the perfect playlist.

It’s funny how this parallel has brought so much understanding to me. I love the way that God knows so much about each of us and how we’re made in His image.  I love music, so this playlist analogy is something that makes sense to me.  What’s your playlist equivalent?  Keep an eye out for the little ways that God teaches us something by reminding us both that we’re made in His image and how we can trust Him.  Let me know what those little ways are- I’d love to hear them! =)

And thank you Lord, for making me in Your image, and for teaching me through even the little things.  Amen!

The Ring vs. Who?

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings series, but let me give you a very brief recap.  Basically, there is a young hobbit (basically a teeny person with hairy feet) named Frodo who is charged with carrying a magical ring to Mordor, where he is to toss it into this huge fiery lake for it to be destroyed.  Simple enough, right?  WRONG.

My friends and I occasionally do nerdy things where we stay up until 3 in the morning at someone’s house watching a long movie series like Star Wars, or as we did in this particular instance, Lord of the Rings (heretofore referred to as LOTR).  Note: We also (crazily) opted to watch the Extended Editions.  We’re talking about three hours per movie, here.

I can say, hands down, that that was the most emotionally taxing movie marathon I’ve ever gone through.  It was taking Frodo FOREVER to get anywhere.  The ring wasn’t magical in the sense that it made everything really delightful and wonderful.  Instead, it was constantly trying to drag itself and its bearer into the clutches of evil, leading poor little Frodo to be bitten by HUGE poisonous spiders, turn on his friends, have his friends turn on him, etc. etc.  And don’t even get me started on the orcs.  The orcs are these terrible creatures that are out to stop Frodo at the order of one of the bad people (again, this is a very rough summary) and because they’re essentially made in a factory, once Frodo and friends killed off a bunch of them and continued on their way, more would arrive!  I was exhausted and angry just watching it.

But part of the toll, I realized, arose from how similar to Frodo I sometimes feel.  Thankfully, no one’s shoved an upsetting ring formed in the fires of Mordor at me and told me it’s my destiny to bring it back to be destroyed and to fight off way too many orcs, but I’ve got my own little ring- sin.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you’ve probably been forced time and time again to read Philippians 3:12- “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

“Pressing on” seems to be a very different matter than “strolling on” or “skipping on.”  Jesus has already won the battle for us, so we know the ending is good (which is a better deal than Frodo probably had going on), but we still struggle with our sin daily.  I realize that a lot of the time on this blog, I talk about an issue I faced, and how I resolved it, and then kind of move on.  But every once in a while, you’ll notice that there’s some double posts.  There’s got to be at least five about facing fear.  The ring is constantly pulling me back, and I’m constantly pressing on.

Frankly, it’s quite tiring!  The biggest struggles of mine that currently come to mind deal with fear.  Largely with fear of being alone.  I’m very people-oriented, so the idea of having certain specific people leave me either because of choice or death is very hurtful and oppressive, as is the idea of never having someone fulfill certain roles in my life.  I’ll go through a really rough time, feel better about it, and then sink right back in… back into fear, back into pride, back into doubt- it seems so dire.  I’m broken.  The people who are helping me are broken.  Sometimes it really feels like this disparaging, dirty struggle that’s been going on for centuries and it’s not just cognitively knowing “Adam and Eve sinned against God, which led to separation between God and man, and now all of us sin against God as well.”

But, thanks be to God, the message doesn’t end after “I press on to take hold.”  The verse ends so encouragingly: “Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  This immediately calls to mind three things:

1.) Jesus is holding on to me right now.  He took hold, and He did not let go.  Every time I sink down, I can know that His hold on me will pull me right back up.

2.) Jesus isn’t holding onto me with the tips of His fingers and paying more attention to the football game.  He came down from Heaven to live a human life for me, He died a terrible death for me, and He rose again in victory and with a deep love for meHow He took hold of me is amazing and very telling.

3.) He initiated the taking hold.  I didn’t heroicially stick my hand out of the quicksand and grab His.  This has implications, then, for my response that I think are best worded in 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”

Dear readers, we get so tired.  I’ve been so emotionally exhausted that it’s exhibited itself physically.  Right now, even, I face some old fears and “Why me?”s.  And I don’t even have it nearly as bad as Christians in places where they face physical persecution, perhaps even to the point of death.  No matter where we are, sometimes it’s just hard to sit and watch what Psalm 73 calls “the prosperity of the wicked” as they seem to have “no struggles” and be “free from the burdens common to man.”   As the Psalmest laments, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”

But we are never alone.  It’s not just us versus the ring or versus our sin.  It’s not just you taking on exams, or you alone taking on the loss of a loved one.  You’re not facing sickness, jealousy, doubt, by yourself.  In fact, God has already won the battle.  And He is always with us.

“Yet I am always with You;

You hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with Your counsel,

and afterward You will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And earth has nothing I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.”

Amen!