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Eden's Mirror

Looking into the mirror of God's story

Pandemic Ponderings

“Is this virus Gods consequence for people who don’t love Him?” My five year old’s beady little eyes gazed at me with genuine interest.

The virus hasn’t taken as much from our family as it has from many many others. My husband is still employed. My kids were already homeschooled. And we live in a small apartment complex where the three families with kids all agreed to the risk of letting them continue to play together in the gated courtyard. We really can’t complain.

But it has affected my children in small ways. No more play dates, no more going to church and Sunday School, no more visiting with their Great-Grandma. And three times, a scare of being sick with COVID kept our family inside isolated by ourselves for a few days in fear of coming down with the sickness, and the fear of spreading it to others. Most recently, our month-long trip to visit family in another state was threatened to be postponed or cancelled due to one of these scares. So it’s been enough of an effect for my five year old to wonder why this invisible germ keeps dragging on and interfering with her life in these ways.

Her question had me reeling in its brute honesty. There have been times my heart has asked the same. Is this hurricane, this earthquake, these wild fires – are they judgment from God? How do I answer her question? So much is loaded into it: how do we understand God and current events? Is God just watching from above but not interfering? Or is He madly throwing hailstones down on us like He did with Egypt so long ago during the 10 Plagues? We don’t have a prophet interpreting the times for us. Or do we?

In all the stories of Scripture, we see a theme of God bringing about earthly hardship for the purpose of drawing people back to Himself.

In Deuteronomy 28-29, when God is outlining His covenant with His people, He provides the sequence of events they can expect if they continue to disregard their part of the covenant. From droughts and famines, to being overtaken by enemy nations, ending with a 70 year exile, God warns them ahead of time of the judgements that may come if they disobey His rules for them.

In the book of Judges, we see that promise begin to be fulfilled: the people disregarded God, judgement came through another nation overtaking them, and then repentance occurred – they cried out to God to save them. God answered by sending a deliverer.

The judgement cycle continued on the charted course when Israel continued to disregard their promise to God to do what He says. True to His Word, eventually they are hauled off into exile as the “ultimate” punishment. But 70 year later, just as He promised, God raised up a Persian king who returned them to their land. The punishment of exile had been completed.

In this way, we see how God gave a warning of judgment, how all that was required of Gods people to receive deliverance was to confess their need of Him, and how He faithfully and consistently gave them chance after chance to remain steadfast in living out their need and love for Him.

So it seems clear that at least for Gods people, judgment came in a concrete form, and only with warnings and ample opportunity to repent before and after the fact.

But what about the other nations? This is where we see the role of the prophets. In Scripture, the minor prophets (such as Joel, Obadiah, Amos) tell the story of times where God is warning His people AND other nations of judgement to come. The familiar story of Jonah is a perfect example of this: God wanted to warn Nineveh of His coming judgment for their refusal to repent and follow Him, so He sends the reluctant prophet Jonah. In this story, Jonah’s reluctance is juxtaposed beautifully with Gods eagerness towards Nineveh. It’s Jonah that is hesitant to want to offer them a chance — Jonah who wants to see them suffer Gods judgment for all those years of disregarding Him. But God is so bent on being just, fair and compassionate, that He pursues Jonah to the depths of the sea, to make sure that both Jonah and Nineveh know His willingness to withhold suffering if only Nineveh confesses her need of Him. And once Jonah finally gets it, and does what God asked of him, Nineveh repents and God relents from sending His judgment.

This story and others in the Minor Prophet books of Scripture reveal Gods heart toward the world. He is truly slow to anger and compassionate towards people in their sin. He wants them to turn back to Him as their deliverer, and He is not silent in inviting them to this.

How does all this answer my little five year olds question? It addresses her concern this way:

1) God never sends judgment and punishment for sin without giving ample warnings and opportunities for people to repent. God is slow to anger. And His warnings come to us in the voices of Scripture that warn of a coming day of judgment, a final day of judgment, where there will be ultimate exile of those who refuse His offer of love and relationship.

2) The only repentance required is for people to confess their need of Him. God is not expecting people to fix their lives up, to pretty themselves first so that He will hear their prayer. He is so ready to forgive, all we have to do is ask.

3) Since we don’t have a prophet announcing Gods judgment, we can never be certain that any kind of natural disaster or world event is God punishing the world. But we can be certain that it is an opportunity for any who are not relying on God, to turn to Him and ask for His loving protection.

But what about when bad things happen to people who love God already?

The answer of course is Jesus. This was the word I gave my daughter:

Because Jesus has already received the full punishment from God for our sins, there is no punishment left. That means, no matter what bad things happen in our lives, we can be certain beyond a shadow of doubt that God is not punishing us. Because He has already poured out that punishment on His innocent Son in our place. That is why Paul can say in Romans 8:38-39, that nothing can separate us from His love. No physical, circumstantial hardship, neither death nor life, nor angels or demons, not the present or the future nor any power under all creation… there simply is no hardship we face that can indicate God is punishing and judging us. And so we need not fear, no matter what comes our way. For those who put their trust in Jesus, God is on our side.

Soul Searching

This a very personal post. This is me doing some soul-searching reflections as I make sense of a COVID-19 society right alongside the rest of you. That means my writing might not be as pretty, and it is mostly targeted at sharing quite frankly how I’m making sense of things on my end. I hope however it serves as an opportunity for you to get to know me a little more and also to spur your own thinking as you process this happenstance in your own way. That is my intent in sharing it.

This quarantine has been an upset of some form to everyone. The entire world is dealing with it. Last time the whole world got involved together to this extent was probably WW2, if I understand my history correct.

Yesterday I was scrolling Facebook and came across a video of a dad rising to the challenge from his teenage daughter to do a dance-off. The mom was video recording it and the other sister was MCing the music. The video made me cry. It was so obvious to me that this family had been cooped up for a while together, like the rest of us. They were getting creative. They had gotten past that initial process of reconnecting that has to happen after you’ve been living separate lives for a while. They were having fun together. A dad, who normally worked, and a teenage daughter who normally would prefer her friends, now found a way to enjoy one another. It was stunningly beautiful. Who knows, maybe this family was always that connected? But it made me realize that their story that I imagined in my head was probably closer to reality for a lot of families right now, and that is such a beautiful redemption of this plague that has turned our world upside down.

I know for me, I have been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the extra time at home with my girls. We are already a homeschool family so that has admittedly helped. But we have had time to climb into subjects I’ve been wanting to cover with them for a while: geography, microscope time, read-aloud chapter books, creative writing. And I’ve gotten in more reading lessons with my kindergartener than I have all year, because our days aren’t clogged up by all our extra activities. Granted, we all miss our friends. But I think we’ve been missing each other a little more lately, especially having brought a new baby into the family this hear. So I think we are all finding this time to be a gift for our family. I pray the same is the case for you.

Such a drastic sudden change has given me much pause for thought as I suspect it is for many of you. Why am I enjoying this more than I expected? What should that mean for us moving forward into the future? Do we drop our coops? Do we keep our schedule less cluttered? I mean it’s something a lot of us struggle with in this land of opportunity. We don’t want to miss out. We don’t want our children to miss out either. FOMO is contagious that way.

I’m not making any decisions right now. It’s not the time to plan. But it does make me wonder what perspective God is offering us all through this time.

Are you willing to ask the hard questions? Such as: am I afraid to die?

I asked myself that one last night as I perhaps foolishly read yet another hospital account of the virus. People are dying alone in hospital hallways right now, here in our country, in New York City. Dying alone. I had to ask myself: what if I get it? I have a 5 month old baby who is so attached right now I can’t even set her down for her naps anymore. What would happen to her if I got it, and had to be hospitalized, if I died? She has refused bottles, and can’t do most formulas because of multiple food allergies. What if my hugs today end up being my last with my children because I come down with a fever in the night?

These are honestly terrifying thoughts. One could say I shouldn’t be thinking that way. I would much rather not be thinking that way. Perhaps they are just anxious thoughts. But they are the reality for some of us. And so if I don’t ask those questions, will I be ready if it happens to me? And if it doesn’t happen to me, it may happen to someone else. Am I missing the opportunity of perspective that comes from answering them?

Am I afraid to die? Yes. I don’t want to die alone in a hospital, barely breathing, with limited care available to me.

I am a Christian. So I know that means there is an answer for that fear. I must bring my heart towards that answer, for Hebrews 2:14-15 says “that through death Jesus might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Scripture is clear when it says that Christ has disempowered Satan by removing the fear of death. So I know I don’t have to be afraid, not really afraid. And that’s because the kind of fear of death Jesus has delivered me from is the fear of the judgment that comes on the other side of it. Hebrews 9:17 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” We are all going to die some day, whether by the corona virus or something else. That judgement won’t assess how many good and bad things we’ve done. Ultimately it will assess whether we received or rejected the incredible free gift of forgiveness of any eternal consequences we rightly deserve for the bad things we all HAVE done. If I receive that Christ has taken that consequence upon Himself in my stead, and I have thus submitted to Him, I do not need to be afraid of the judgment that comes on the other side of death. Because I know regardless of what happens to me here, I am safe on the other side.

But are you? Could you confidently say that you will be spending eternity with God?

If you can’t, why not?

These ARE the questions you should be asking right now. They are even scarier to answer than pondering yourself or a loved one catching the corona virus. Because the answer bears eternal ramifications that cannot be reversed. Death is reversible to God. He did it with Jesus and some day we will all experience that resurrection. It’s just a matter of where you’ll end up on the other side when you do.

My friends. Ask the hard scary questions. Face the reality of what is happening right now. Don’t miss it. This is your opportunity. It could be your last opportunity, for no one knows the day or the hour of his death.

Don’t miss out. Yes, this is me encouraging some FOMO – the right kind of FOMO.

If you don’t know the answers, or you’re too afraid to answer them, let’s talk. I’d love to have a virtual conversation with any of you about this. Because what happens on the other side of our earthly death IS a matter of life and death.

Make Something Beautiful

Everyone seems to have something to say about these strange times of pandemic. I’ve been hesitant to add my voice to the cacophony. But I’m a writer, I can’t help myself, even when it can feel like no one is really listening on the other side.

There is a lot that could be said, has been said, should be said. A lot of you are sharing your quarantine-survival tips, verses that comfort your anxieties amidst uncertainties; even opinions about the drastic measures our state and country is undertaking to stem the tide. These are all well and good and important!

What I have to say is going to fall into one of those general categories too, but if it helps even one person weather this season better, then it’s worth it!

So here’s my ten-day-quarantine challenge: starting Monday, March 23, I invite you to join me in 10 Days of Making Something Beautiful. Here are the guidelines:

1. “Make” = you may be an unpracticed creative person like myself. However, just like with children, certain uncomfortable boundaries create incentive for creativity: like being house-bound, like having less than normal groceries available, or like having no social events to clutter up your calendar. I think in the next few days if you haven’t already, you will find yourself digging in the backs of your closets for all the extra projects you stored up for a rainy day; or taking interest in learning something new. Your kids will feel it, you will feel it. Let’s re-open our creative channels and see what comes of it!

2. “Something” = I use this word quite intentionally. You may not be able to sew or paint, but you can cook! You may not be practiced at music, but you can inspire wonderful creative experiences for your children. When I say Make Something Beautiful for 10 days in a row, I mean make anything!! So long as you make it — and you make it beautiful.

3. “Beautiful” = Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe there is also an agreed upon consensus when something is truly beautiful and when someone is just trying to stretch the word (like the $100,000+ banana on the wall, remember that? Not beautiful, guys. It really wasn’t). So do your best, help us see what you find beautiful, and then help us all to enjoy the something beautiful you have created.

Once you have your daily dose of “something beautiful”, share it on your social media with the tag #makesomethingbeautiful2020 and lets all enjoy bringing extra beauty back to our visual senses. Let’s take our eyes off the worries and the TV and news, and let’s Make Something Beautiful together!

Follow me at Edens Mirror for my 10 days of #makesomethingbeautiful2020.

Death to the self

I’m lying here in my disheveled bed at 5am with my sleepless baby, awake yet again when my body craves sleep like oxygen, and I think I’m finally starting to understand what Jesus meant when He said “Whoever finds his life will lose its and whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it,” Matthew 10:39.

He not just talking about physical death here. There are lots of ways to lose your life.

Take the Jews in the Holocaust for example. It was a slow death for them. Death of their livelihoods when their right to own businesses was stripped from them. Death to their social status and dignity when they were hustled into ghettos like cattle and forced to wear the yellow stars. Death to their sense of security when neighbors were stolen off into the night. And death to their souls when their physical bodies were tortured by starvation, disease, nakedness and cold. Physical death came as a relief to many who had endured so much.

The Holocaust may seem like an anomaly, but we experience tiny deaths like this all the time.

Death to our comfort when the baby wakes up yet again even though she’s slept through the night before. Death to our convenience when the husband has to leave on a work trip the same time our children fall sick again. Death to our security when yet another friend faces cancer or a miscarriage or a child stricken by an autism diagnosis.

Death comes in tiny forms every day – another gray hair, another lost temper at our children, another argument with our spouse, another disappointment to our dreams of a happy life.

But these are the right kinds of deaths, Jesus says. Lose your life here on earth, He says. Let it die. Because this life is not meant to be your paradise.

It hurts doesn’t it? Every day, we wake up in the morning and with blind faith, hope that today we will find the happiness that sticks around a little longer; the relief from our fears and insecurities; the final comforts in our grief. Yet our hope is fixed in all the wrong places.

We must learn to see as Jesus sees: that living comes from dying. We cannot experience the life He has to give us while we are still grasping at the empty promises of life here on earth. We aren’t going to find it here.

So we must first die to that false hope, that idolatrous promise, and then in our desperation, we look up, we cry out, and then, only then, does His peace begin to settle our souls. Then and only then do we taste the sweet nectar of His Presence which cannot be taken away from us, no matter what happens to us circumstantially. It is only in our dying that we taste of the life to come.

But you must turn to Him and believe His promises. You must receive His gift of grace in forgiveness of your divine trespasses. You cannot receive His life-goodness without first dying to your own self-sufficiency.

“In this world you will have trouble,” He says. If you haven’t encountered that reality yet, you will. Whether it be your trouble or someone you love who suffers, this world is fraught with it.

But “take heart,” He says. “I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

He has died the ultimate death so that you can actually one day experience the life you were meant to have: a world where His presence is your oxygen and you don’t have to get it by dying anymore.

The Holy Scriptures

As I have sifted through my social media accounts recently, I’ve been pleasantly encouraged by the reminders to be faithfully reading the Bible this year. Many different reading plans exist and even The Gospel Coalition is urging its readers towards reading through the Bible in its entirety together as the scattered group of followers that we are.

I cannot speak highly enough of the significance of reading the Bible regularly and in community. If you haven’t already, pick a plan and find someone or many someones to read it with. Don’t neglect the Scriptures this year. There is so much more I could say.

But that is not the main reason I write to you tonight.

REFLECTING ON THE SACRED SCRIPTURES

This last year, our church read through the narrative books of the Old Testament. It was possibly one of the most formative seasons I’ve had in Scripture. I am still piecing together all that I learned and observed.

One of the things that stood out to me is how much Israel strayed from the Lord. The entire Old Testament narrative ends with Nehemiah bemoaning the people’s faithlessness yet again. It just seems like they can never hold up their own side of the covenant. And this isn’t just one person’s life. It’s thousands of years of living.

Well, I dove into the Psalms for this year, to accompany our church’s reading plan, and I stumbled across a footnote on an untranslatable word: “Selah”. Interpreters don’t know what it means. They can only guess it’s a musical or liturgical direction.

THE HUMAN SIDE

As I reflected on that simple reality — that even now, our Bible literally has words that have been lost in translation — I don’t feel threatened by it. Unlike many in our world who question the integrity and authority of Scripture, I understand now that much — oh so very much — HAS been lost to us. By the people who have gone before us who were often half-hazard in their faith in following God and at times, half-hazard in what they passed on to us. No one thought that anyone beyond their generation would ever read the Psalms and not be able to understand the word Selah. And can we blame them? I am equally half-hazard in my attempts to pass on truth and values to my own children! It is part of our fallen state that we leave things out in the process of “passing on” to the next generation. (Does this idea make you nervous about my faith in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture? Hang tight, we will get back to this).

More than that, having read the Old Testament story, I see now that there is SO much of Gods story with His people that we don’t get to see. Generations go by without a word from God about them other than the names scattered among the genealogies.

No, the Old Testament story is not a pretty one with a bow on top. It is not a “complete season of episodes” like our favorite TV dramas. It is full of “holes” in the plot line, and words we simply do not know the meaning for. Their culture and way of life, while assumed in the writing of Scripture, is in so many ways lost to us. This is the human side of Scripture.

THE DIVINE SIDE

But the human side in all its weaknesses betrays more clearly the divine side: that Gods Word is sufficient. Just as the Old Testament shows God’s infinite mercy for His people, sovereignly guiding the affairs of His people, so too we can trust that in the Bible’s humanness, it is protected and guarded by its True Author. In this way, the Bible is sufficient. Nothing is really left out that is necessary for our continued faith and obedience. And so Peter assures us that God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness…in His divine promises…” (2 Peter 1:3-4). That means we don’t really need to know the translation of the word “Selah”.

It is equally endlessly meaningful. You can never quite plunge the depths of each chapter. Each of those genealogies and broken-up narratives hold together in an incredible uniformity of thought, despite the “holes” in the story, the untranslatable words, and the historical cultures guiding certain characteristics of its writings. No other book has stood the test of time with such integrity in its diversity. What HAS been faithfully passed on to us is incredibly consistent in its content. There was no iCloud backing up the files. It was intentionally preserved for us today through the painstaking work of God’s fallen people, guarded and protected by God Himself. No. Clearly the Scriptures are guided and driven by the Divine Hand of a Faithful, Merciful God.

WORSHIP HIM

So, as you dive into whatever reading plan you have for yourself this year, lean into the idiosyncrasies of Scripture. Allow those odd confusing parts to reveal the humanness of our heritage so that we may more clearly perceive and thus worship the Divine and Faithful, Gracious God leading us onward into His Beautiful Truth.

“Open the eyes of my heart that I might behold the wonders of your law.” Psalm 119:18

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