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.

To Know Just Who You Are

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thank you for your patience with my unexpected hiatus; I got quite, quite sick during November and then finals week hit with a vengeance and I just couldn’t keep doing everything. To make it up, and in honor of wonderful holidays falling on Parakaleo days, I’ll be doing back-to-back Parakaleo posts this week and next week.

As for today, I would like to share part of one of my favorite songs year-round that happens to be founded in Christmas:

“I’m torn between what keeps me whole and what tears me in half;
I’ll fall apart or stay intact.

With tired eyes I stumble back to bed;
I need to realize my sorry life’s not hanging by a thread,
At least not yet…

It always hurt to be all by myself this time of year;
A cold and lonely Christmas Eve.
And living out my days alone,
Well, that had been my deepest fear,
But You promised You won’t leave.

I look towards the east and see a star;
Jesus Christ, it’s blessed my life to know just who You are;
You are my hope.”

I love the fact that Relient K ties together the gift of Christ’s coming, that we may know Him and know God, with His ongoing gift. Through Him we have ever-increasing faith, hope, and love. Through Him we have a perfect example to represent us before God and to imitate, as we’re called to do in Ephesians. Through Him, we have eternal life (what that even is supposed to mean is a separate post). Christmas is more than a baby in a manger. It is God amongst men. The psalmist notes, “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” What then, is man that You loved him and became him?

I think the best Christmas gifts are the ones that show how well someone knows another person. Sometimes this is knowing and acknowledging a need, whether that be spiritual, physical, or emotional. Sometimes this is knowing a personality or characteristic (e.g. how I made my mom laugh until she cried with my note on her Christmas gift that she was not allowed to keep the box I had given her). “God only knows,” we say, too often sarcastically, but literally God only knows the depth to which I am broken. He knows how much I need love and to be made into something better. He knew what I needed the most, and how His love and purpose fits in with every quirky aspect of who I am (from the constant singing to the constant learning) and He gave of Himself the perfect gift. This is why I love Christmas. This is what we as Christians are called to do for others when Ephesians 5 starts, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

“Walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wise and Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Gratitude is such a vital part of the Christian faith, and I’m so glad that it’s something that we take a full day to celebrate. We put everything aside and we make time for family and/or rest; I realize sometimes the two are mutually exclusive and that not everyone is able to take a break for the day. But with whatever time we do have for reflection on “what we’re thankful for,” we’re fulfilling the call in the book of Ephesians to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” as part of the larger command to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

I hadn’t previously thought of the two as being connected, but after we’re told to “walk wisely,” we see a “therefore.” Because of this, it says, do things like understand the will of the Lord, be filled with the Spirit, and give thanks always.

So even though you may be reading this when the day is done and the pie is gone, you haven’t missed your chance! There are endless opportunities for gratitude in “always.”

Each year I try to share a little bit of my “gratitude list” or a few things for which I am particularly thankful (see 20092010, 2011, and 2012), and this year I’m going off-script a bit with things that I haven’t added yet!

I’m thankful for:

– regional trees

– the feeling of familiarity that old music brings

– libraries

– the fact that our bodies let us know when something is wrong

– medical personnel who give us more knowledge than our bodies do when something is wrong

– history and a knowledge of it

– favorite foods

– the way it sounds when my mother and sister are laughing together

– gratitude, and the research base supporting it

– faith, hope, and love; the greatest of which is the lattermost

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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.”

A Look Back; A Look Forward

I hope everyone had a delightfully merry Christmas (and happy Boxing Day!)! I’m grateful that the days are creeping by before the New Year actually begins, but (somewhat frighteningly) the next Parakaleo post will be a good two weeks into 2013, so I’m starting my end-of-year reflections now.

Meeting new people and starting something new can help you learn a lot about yourself. I’ve become aware of a good deal of my previously unnoticed mannerisms through the loving laughs and comments of my cohort. Striking out even more on my own than in undergrad was also very revealing of my relationship with Christ. I believe, however, that we don’t necessarily have to go through huge life changes to learn more about ourselves, and this time of days off of work and (hopefully at least a little) holiday rest is an excellent one for taking a step back.

I keep a draft in my email where I copy and paste Bible passages that jump out at me as I read them. It’s handy because then I can access them easily at other times and here at the end of the year, I can look back at which of God’s words really spoke to me during this time in my life, why they did so, and how that is going to impact my later actions and relationship with Him.  Here’s a little selection (and it’s not cleaned up, but rather demonstrative of the hodge-podge way in which it is entered and marked up):

 

2 Timothy 4:2-5

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 Titus 3:3-8, 14 NIV84

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

Hebrews 4:13-16 NIV84

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

1 Peter 2:11-12, 15-16 NIV84

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover‑up for evil; live as servants of God.

1 Peter 2:17 (I feel like the part in bold is extraordinarily epic in a Latin motto kind of way.)

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

 

It’s always interesting to see a) how much of the Bible I have covered in recent months- even small amounts of time add up! and b) how many things I noted that I haven’t noticed before. There are passages that I anticipate (like my constantly-quoted Philippians 3 and Psalm 73), but I love stumbling across “old” passages that take on new meanings as I learn more about myself and the world around me, and consequently, about my God.

This New Year, I pray that these verses grow closer to my heart and that God’s love as demonstrated in His words shows clearly through my words and actions. I look forward to growing closer to the people that God has blessed me with both many years ago and recently and to seeing how He will use me in coming days. Really, this is my constant prayer and isn’t just for the end of the year, but it certainly applies now, as well!

Happy New Year, everyone! May God bless and use you for His glory in this coming year and many to come!