The One Who Holds the Stars

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Are you afraid of the dark?

Or are you not so much afraid of the dark as you are afraid of what could potentially be in the dark? The mystery. The unknown. The uncertain.

The what could be.

In some ways, being afraid of the dark is really being afraid of the future. When we hear a strange noise from the comfort of our bed in the middle of the night, we're afraid of what could happen next. Was it an intruder? Are the kids safe? Is the cat plotting our demise?

For many of us, these are the same fears that prevent us from opening up the book of Revelation. We're afraid of what we'll find in it. Dramatic imagery, startling violence, strange rituals... We stumble through it as though we're in the dark. If these are the things of the future, we want nothing to do with the last book in the Bible.

Revelation may as well not even exist in our Bibles, for all the attention we give it.

Already, before we even crack open our Bibles, we’re approaching Revelation in the wrong way. Darkness can evoke terror, but it can also soothe and comfort. Darkness can be frightening, but it can also evoke feelings of quiet, peace, awe, and wonder.

This is the darkness of Revelation: not to frighten, but to challenge and soothe.

During the time Revelation was written, the early Christians lived in fear of what their future could hold. The signs of the times were pointing toward persecution. They felt threatened by the tyranny of the Roman Empire. The future felt bleak. It was dark.

But in the opening portion of Revelation, John refers to Jesus as the one who holds the "seven stars" (Rev. 1:16; 2:1; 3:1). In John's world, the "seven stars" were the sun and the moon, along with the five planets humans can see with the naked eye (Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, and Mars). These stars were thought to be divine entities that controlled the events occurring on the earth. People in ancient times charted the stars and used them as maps to predict the future. A new star could mean the birth of a king (as exemplified by the magi's interpretation in Matt. 2). A short lunar cycle was a bad omen and could signify death and destruction.

Many scholars believe that Revelation was written during the time of the Roman emperor Domitian's rule. If this is the case, there was a coin in circulation during Domitian's reign that depicted Domitian's son surrounded by seven stars. This was representative of the Roman Empire's belief that their emperors were gods, capable of controlling the present and the future.

But in this passage it is Jesus who holds the stars, not Rome, not Domitian, not Domitian's son. It is Jesus who holds the future.

Revelation, then, is not meant to frighten; it is meant to comfort. For the early Christians, Revelation was not a horror story - it was a lullaby, soothing the believers worries about the future.

Revelation tells us that yes, the bough may break, and yes, the cradle may fall, but Jesus is there to catch us in his loving arms. Revelation challenges us to live faithfully in spite of the terrors of the night, trusting the One who holds the stars in his hand.

We don't need to be afraid of the dark.

P.S. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting a series about how to interpret Revelation in a way that is faithful to its first century context. Check back and join me! In the meantime, what have been your experiences with the book of Revelation - the good, the bad, or the ugly? Tell me about them!

Shabat Shalom

Friday, August 24, 2018

The first time I practiced Sabbath I had no idea what to do with myself (more on that here). You see, I had this misconception that Sabbath meant doing "nothing," a concept that sounded arbitrarily tedious.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Sabbath is a life-giving practice all about enjoying God and the good things he has given us. It's a full-day of doing the things we love so as to be drawn into God's presence.

So what does Sabbath look like? Well, it will be different for each person. 

There is no one-size-fits all for Sabbath. The very last thing we should do is be legalistic and choke out the life-giving things about Sabbath. 

As an example, here's what my Sabbath looked like last weekend. 


I begin my Sabbath on Saturday night. I like to sit at my coffee table and light a candle as a physical signal to myself that my day of rest has begun. My husband and I like to have people over, go for a walk, read, or listen to music together. This past week we had a friend over and played games.


The next morning, I like to sit on my back porch and start the day in God's presence. I'll stay quiet for a while, usually with a cup of tea in hand, and listen/reflect on the ways God was present the past week.

My husband and I then go to church, which has become radically different for us. For the past four years I've been on staff at churches, during which Sunday was another day of work. I've enjoyed this new season where I can enjoy the gathering together of God's people as part of my Sabbath practice.

When I got home from church last week, I spent the rest of the morning in the kitchen making cream-filled donuts. I mean, Sabbath is all about being drawn into God's presence, and what's a better way to do that than through fried sweets? Shout it with me: "Hallelujah!"


In the afternoon, my husband and I head to the park and do some hiking. We love to be in nature. I also really like to draw/paint as part of my Sabbath practice.

As my 24-hour period draws to a close, I start thinking about my work week and doing any preparation I need. I'll make a meal plan/grocery list, write what I need to accomplish in my planner, pack lunches, and pick out an outfit for the next day.

At the close of every Sabbath, I think to myself, "This was my most favorite day!" Seriously. Sabbath is all about taking care of your soul.

Once again, your Sabbath may not look like this, and that's okay. Let's not be legalistic about what Sabbath should look like. It's not a one-size-fits-all.

But if you would like some ideas on how you can keep Sabbath better, this sample from Enough: Celebrating the God of Freedom and Abundance has some practical worksheets to help you access your current rest habits and guide you toward embracing Sabbath as a lifestyle.

Shabat shalom!

Delivered To, Not Just From

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Save me, God!"

We've all uttered these words at some point in our lives -- when we're desperate, when we're at the end of our rope, when we've given up hope.

When we're at this point, we become so focused on what we need deliverance from. Our dire circumstance locks us into tunnel vision so that we can't see anything beyond the present. Foreseeing any sort of future beyond where we are is impossible.

If anyone was in the midst of impossible circumstances where all hope seemed lost, it was the Israelites. Over and over again, the Old Testament tells the story of how God delivered his people and gave them a new future. They cried, "Save me, God!" and he listened. He saved them out of his loving kindness (hesed).

But he didn't stop there.

God delivered his people because he loved them, but God also delivered them because they were his vehicle through which he would bring redemption to the entire world.

God doesn't just deliver us from something; he delivers us for something.

God delivers us from our sin so that we can participate in his kingdom. He delivers us from our addiction to our sinful nature so that we can live lives characterized by his holiness. He delivers us from unhealthy habits, relationships, and situations so that we can experience his full shalom. God desires to deliver us for something.

There have been several times in my life when God delivered me from something and for something. I keep thinking back on all the ways I've seen his faithfulness:
  • When I first decided to follow Christ, I remember feeling a deep sense of belonging and purpose, like God was calling me to a new life in him. 
  • When God delivered me from bondage to my sinful nature (we Wesleyans call this process "sanctification"), I sensed a call to ministry. 
  • When God delivered me from the pressures of fitting into the "Biblical scholar" role forced upon me while I was in seminary, he gave me a job that helped me discover my best self.
This past year, God delivered me in a huge way from a toxic church system. He gave me a way out when the dysfunction was at an all-time high and my hope was at an all-time low. He fought for me, and all I had to do was be still. He gave me the words to say, and the courage to say them. I can't express how grateful I am for his faithful, loving kindness.


While I certainly know what I was delivered from, I'm still not sure what I was delivered for. When we're stuck in sin, abuse, and injustice, it's hard to imagine a future. The tunnel vision persists. Then suddenly we're out on the other side and a big, wide-open future exists.

Even before we can tentatively imagine a future for ourselves beyond the "now," God already has. 

God's grace goes before us and starts preparing a new way. And so in this new season of slowness and quietness I am waiting and listening. I'm trusting that God has a "for" in mind. I'm resisting the urge to rush into something new just for the sake of having "something." Instead, I'm looking for the ways that he is leading me and the quiet ways that he has consistently showed up every day.

God was faithful to deliver me, and he will be faithful to guide me.

Trust in God's goodness with me, dear friend. May our brave act of resistance be imagining new futures with new purposes.

Right Thinking Vs. Right Doing

Thursday, August 2, 2018

I started practicing Sabbath a year ago in response to how much I prioritized my work and achievements. Let me tell you, friends, Sabbath-keeping is a huge game changer when it comes to spiritual maturity.

After keeping Sabbath for as little as a month, I was amazed at how much resting changed how I view every single area of my life.

It changed how I view God.
It changed how I view myself.
It changed how I view my possessions.
It changed how I view others.

I thought that I already viewed all of these relational spaces correctly. If you had asked me about them a year ago, I could have told you the right theological answers. But Sabbath-keeping converted the head-knowledge to heart-knowledge.

You see, we typically abide by Descartes' pattern of reason: I think, therefore I am.

What Sabbath taught me is this: I am, therefore I think.

Before I could think properly, the I AM had to show me who I am.

Sabbath taught me to build my identity upon the relationship that I have with God. By practicing Sabbath, I grew into this identity, which in turn changed how I thought about all the rest of my relationships.

I'm sure the Israelites had to have this same shift in thinking when God first gave them the Sabbath command in the book of Exodus. As a people group who had been enslaved for 400 years, they had been deeply ingrained with the idea that their worth came from how productive they were. They weren't ever permitted to stop and rest, and God's Sabbath command was extremely jarring to them. It challenged their former identity as slaves. It called them to a new way of doing.

But slowly, by keeping the Sabbath command faithfully, the Israelites grew out of their relationship with Egypt and into their relationship with Yahweh. God used the Sabbath to restructure their way of doing, which in turn led to a new way of thinking. Sabbath-keeping helped the Israelites form a new identity in the relationship they had with Yahweh. Through Sabbath, God does the same thing with us today.

Right thinking doesn't always lead to right doing. But right doing often leads to right thinking.

P.S. My friend, Kayla, and I just finished an interactive devotional study on Sabbath that can give you the tools to get started with Sabbath-keeping. This 14-day study will walk you through the book of Exodus and guide you to make Sabbath a part of your everyday life. When you start doing the practice, the right thinking will follow. Purchase the book on August 14 or sign up to receive a sample right now.

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