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 Who/How of Love

Firstly, I would like to announce that my regularity of posting is going to have to change due to the unprecedentedly ridiculous nature of my level of busyness this semester. I read all of 1 Thessalonians last night during a much-needed break and realized that I was drinking it in so thirstily because I have been running on too little of the Word! If it comes down to posting twice a month and having time to read the Bible, I’m going to have to choose the Bible. This said, I’m definitely going to aim to still post at least once a month. Follow my blog (by clicking “Follow” towards the top left of the screen) to be sure to catch updates when new posts come out! I would also like to take this time to announce my admiration of “mommy bloggers.” I’m just taking care of myself and I can’t find time to blog while keeping other priorities in order; you all are taking care of yourself plus at least one other person and run amazing blogs!

Now onto today’s order of business: LOVE. I love the month of February for a variety of reasons, but especially because Valentine’s day is coming up. I have been running around singing “V is very, very, extraordinary!!” because it’s combining a favorite love-focused song and my daily search for the extraordinary in my life, but I truly believe that Valentine’s day is much more than gloopy songs or, on the other side, Singles Awareness. I so enjoy a holiday that encourages us to reflect on who we love, why and how we love them, and by whom and how we are loved.

Over the course of this month, I’m going to fill out the following on my Sabbath days as something of a meditation on how love works in my life. You’re welcome to join me! If you really want to get into it, you’ll operationally define love beforehand; what does it mean? My current approach is to just answer with whatever first comes to mind, and I’m interested to see whether this reveals what the definition of love that I live by is.

Who I Love

Why I Love Them

How I Love Them

Who Loves Me

How They Love Me

Just in looking at each area, I can already tell that I am going to be challenged by the “How I Love Them” section; do I live out the love that I claim for others? For Christ?

I’m going to go ahead and answer the beginning of the “Who Loves Me” section. First and foremost, I know that God does. Isaiah 54:10 says:

“’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”

I’m overwhelmed by this passage and I’m sure I’m not even fully absorbing it. God (and what is man that He is mindful of him?) has an unfailing love for me, and it’s accompanied by peace and compassion. All the more, He has sent amazing people who love me in the beautiful imitations of His love. My immediate family (about some of whom I have already carried on) loves me so clearly it brings me to tears sometimes, my uncles and aunts (one of whom sent me one of the sweetest and most thoughtful Valentine’s gifts I have ever received), grandparents, and other extended family are amazing. Then there is, of course, the matter of my family in Christ- the sisters and brothers that I’m going to get to share Heaven with one day and who are so encouraging and enjoyable even right now! And even beyond that, I have some truly wonderful friends who love me so well that it challenges me to love and be better through the model Christ has set for me.

Ah, I so enjoy this month. Happy February, everyone! Know that you are loved.

What We Have Seen Today

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the man who was paralyzed—’I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.'”

Luke 5:18-25

We have seen extraordinary things. I think it is interesting that the people used the plural here. Presumably it was particularly “remarkable,” as another translation says, that the man was able to walk home. It was shocking that Jesus forgave his sins. What else surprised them? Were they caught off guard by the faith of the man’s friends? Or that Jesus knew the Pharisees’ and scribes’ thoughts? Whatever it was, it led them to 1) be amazed, 2) glorify God, and 3) be filled with awe.

These are things towards which I strive as well. I often pray that God will be glorified in different situations, particularly ones that I find incredibly confusing or challenging, but often in less exciting ventures, too! I recently sat down and wrote out some goals for my time in graduate school, which probably fits into all three aforementioned categories and many more. Number one on the list is that “I want to do all things for the glory of God and to show love to others.” I want to know God better, to know how to serve and love Him, and as a result, to serve and love like Him. I want to see and note the extraordinary things that He does every day and to take the time to appreciate them, to be amazed and filled with awe, and then to glorify Him. Even when I’m not feeling completely bowled over by something I’ve seen, I want to be thinking about it and reflecting on it. I want to be a part of His extraordinary.

I’ve been asking myself every day, “What did I take in (see, hear, smell, taste, touch, etc.) that was extraordinary?” Today it was “watching the sun set over water.” A couple of weeks ago, it was “the capacity of human emotion.”

In “The Valley of Vision,” a book of Puritan prayers, there is a prayer called “The Great God.” I highly recommend reading it, and the last portion of the prayer captures the heart of my thinking and hope with my little venture into seeking the everyday extraordinary:

“Nothing exceeds thy power,

Nothing is too great for thee to do,

Nothing too good for thee to give.

Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,

limitless thy grace, glorious thy saving name.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, prodigals restored,

backsliders reclaimed, Satan’s captives released,

blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up,

the despondent cheered, the self-righteous stripped,

the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,

the ignorant enlightened,

the saints built up in their holy faith.

I ask great things of a great God.”

 

 

 

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!

Sleepy Songs

This past week, I became rather sick to a temporarily debilitating degree. It was a good lesson in casting my anxieties on the Lord, because I couldn’t even think about school. I just needed to cease the majority of my output of energy and stress (good and bad) and take in a lot of good things, like water and sleep. As such, I haven’t had nearly the time or energy to make a very thoughtful Parakaleo post and would instead like to share with you some of my favorite sleepy songs. One of my favorite genres involves a singer-songwriter with a guitar; I love those simple songs that you can listen to in those quiet moments at 4 in the morning, when you’re the only one awake during a random all-nighter, or when you’re lying in bed overthinking or stressing about something and seeking peace. At some point our bodies and souls just yearn for rest and peace, as they were made to do! I love this image from Isaiah 32:

“And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”

Amen! It’s Christ’s work and perfect righteousness that brings this all about, but it’s such a blessing to be part of the ongoing work (though often messily so) and to be able to reflect Him not only in that, but in our rest as well.

So while my full “Sleepy” playlist includes some Finnish children’s songs, or old favorites that sometimes bring me to tears, here are a few of the ones that calm me down physically while reminding me of the only source of true peace and rest:

You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham

I see Your power in the moonlit night

Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright

We are amazed in the light of the stars

It’s all proclaiming who You are

You’re beautiful

Jesus, Lover of My Soul as recorded by Indelible Grace

Other refuge have I none, 

I helpless, hang on Thee; 

Leave, oh leave me not alone, 

Support and comfort me. 

All my trust on Thee is stayed, 

All help from Thee I bring; 

Cover my defenseless head 

In the shadow of Thy wing.

Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle

What a priceless gift, undeserved life

Have I been given through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death

You’ve called me into life

And I was under Your wrath

Now, through the cross, I’m reconciled

Home by Switchfoot

All that’s in my head is in Your hands

Over, over; over, take me over

I’ve been poison, I’ve been rain

I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes shine like chrome

Someday I’ll see home

 

Sweet and true rest to you all.

Guest Post: Halloween Reflections

I am so excited to introduce my dear friend Hannah as a guest blogger this week! I’ve carried on before about fear and how much I detest anything having to do with scary things, but I have largely disregarded Halloween on Parakaleo. It’s not something that I have ever enjoyed and I typically shuffle on through the 31st waiting impatiently for Pinterest and grocery store aisles to clear their themed items and make room for Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, Hannah has developed some far more thorough thoughts on the day from her perspective and was kind enough to share them. Please enjoy and feel free to leave any comments about what role your faith plays in your activities on October 31.

~ ~ ~

Let us, for a moment, reflect on the nature and characteristics of God. God is…

love (1 John 4:8)

truth (John 17:17)

life (John 14:6)

peaceful (Philippians 4:7)

strong (Isaiah 41:10)

perfect (Matthew 6:26)

patient (Psalm 86:15)

sustenance (Psalm 54:4)

kind and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32)

worthy of all praise (Psalm 150:6).

What God do we serve? How powerful, perfect, and loving is this God after whom we are to model our lives? With every breath, we have been commanded to be an example of Christ to the world as believers. Jesus should be reflected in every moment of our lives. He should be woven into every thread that forms the tapestry of our lives. He should be the center and the focus of every facet of our lives. He should be the water that infiltrates every crevice of our lives.

With this in mind, I ask you to consider Halloween. Take yourself back to your very favorite Halloween night as a child…Do you remember the excitement at school as your friends and you compared costume ideas and conversed about your house-to-house plans while munching on black and orange goodies? What about getting ready for the big night? Remember how mom used to make sure your costume was just right and you even had family themes sometimes? Think about stepping into the chilly October air before your night of spooks and sweets commenced.

When I think of these nights, I have no recollection of the above memories. I have never been trick-or-treating and was raised to recognize Halloween as “just another day on the calendar.” My parents took me to harvest festivals at church and made sure I got plenty of candy so that I didn’t feel left out, but as far as my parents were concerned, Halloween was evil. As I got into college, I wondered whether or not this belief was merited. To form this opinion for yourself, I present to you a very brief history:

Halloween was originally called All Hallows Eve. This night (the night before the fall harvest) was said to be the night when the dead walked the earth. As a Pagan tradition and a celebration of the Celtic festival of Samhain, people would dress up and light bonfires to ward off these ghosts. People also offered the ghosts food and valuables to protect their crops for harvest the next day. Taking advantage of this system, children would dress up as goblins, ghosts, witches, fairies, etc. and go door to door requesting for these offerings while threatening to play “tricks” if they were not appeased (enter trick-or-treating).

In my findings, I decided that, personally, I did not want to participate in this holiday. I do not want my children to participate and I would love to just pretend that it does not exist. “Why?!” You say, “Halloween is so fun! Your kids will miss out!” Honestly, I began learning how to have an identity in Christ through my lack of participation in Halloween as a child. I learned that it is ok to be different and that my identity in Christ made me different from other kids. This identity helped to begin Christ’s transformation of my old self into my new self.

As Christians, we are called to reflect Christ in every aspect of our lives. I ask you now: what aspect of Halloween reflects the character of God? Is it the haunted houses? Is it the disfigured masks? Is it the continuation of a Pagan tradition glorifying a form of, essentially, bullying? Here’s the answer: none of the above. Halloween does not reflect Christ’s character. Christ is not represented in a single aspect of the day. While I don’t expect to turn any firm believers in Halloween’s importance into non-observers, I do challenge you to do your research. Think about whom you represent with every breath you breathe and every action you take. Are you reflecting the holiness of Christ or reflecting the ways of the enemy? There is no middle ground.

Philippians 4:8 ESV

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”