Knocked Down But Not Destroyed: Earthly Days, Eternal Impact

Eternity is impossible for the human mind to grasp.

We talk about it even though we can’t really understand what it means because it’s so far outside our experience and imagination.

But it’s a fact and it matters.

The life I live on earth, made up of days, years and decades is but a blip on the screen of God’s eternal timeline.

Yet what I do here and now will ripple throughout forever.

Taking hold of that fact, clinging tightly to that truth can help me make choices that will make a real difference.

To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears.

I Corinthians 9:25 TL

I remember one particularly grueling semester in college.  I had foolishly stacked five upper level political science classes on top of one another thinking that taking them together would be easier.

That was a dumb idea.

The end of semester assignments included 200 pages of written term papers along with essay tests and other random bits.  For two weeks I fell asleep on my bedroom floor, pen in hand, legal pad underneath my head and surrounded by dozens of open books I used for reference.

After composing the papers, I had to type them, add footnotes and bibliography and deliver them. All back before computers and word processing programs made it easy and electronic!

Oh, how I wanted to give up and give in!  I was certain that I was not going to make it.  I just knew that my body or mind or both would give out before I completed the task.

But they didn’t and I did manage to make it through.

I was willing to put forth the effort and pay the price for a letter grade!

No one cares what I made on those essays.  No one asks me about my college classes or grades.  At 56 I can’t even remember what I wrote about.

Now I face a much more challenging task:  Living without the companionship of one of my precious children.  The “grade” I make on this effort has eternal impact.  

This is the Valley of Weeping, yet Christ promises it will become a place of refreshing.

“When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains!”

Psalm 84:6 TLB

I can’t see an end for this grueling work.  There’s no “semester break” circled on my calendar.

But there will be an end to this toil and pain-just as surely as there was an end those many years ago.

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.

Hebrews 12:1-2

And the reward for faithfully completing this assignment is so much more valuable than a good grade.

Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.

Phillipians 3:12-16

This reward is eternal-a never-ending supply of God’s grace and love and joy that will overwhelm the toil and pain I’ve endured.

Reunion.

Redemption.

Restoration.

So while I wait, I encourage my heart with this truth:

We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despairWe are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed10 We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. 11 For while we live, we are constantly handed over to death on account ]f Jesus so that His life may be revealed even in our mortal bodies of flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:8 VOICE

God invites me to join Him in the work He is doing. 

Isn’t that mind-blowing? 

He could announce the Gospel from the mountaintops or have angels declare it from the heavens, but He doesn’t. 

He has ordained that these fragile bodies of ours, these fickle hearts, these often disobedient hands carry the Good News to the ends of the earth.

Image result for how beautiful the feet of those

The God of Heaven entrusts me with His love, empowers me with His strength and commissions me as an ambassador of reconciliation to reach a world longing for reconciliation-with Him and with one another. 

So when I look up and say, “I don’t have time”.  He says, “Get your priorities straight.” 

When I whine, “I don’t know what to do”.  He says, “I’ve got that covered.  Just look around and do what’s at hand.” 

When I groan, “It won’t make a difference anyway”.  He says, “Do you doubt the power of obedience to the Gospel to change the world?”

My life makes a difference.

Your life makes a difference.

Eternity is shaped, in part, by how we spend it.

Image result for matthew 28:20 image

This post is the second in a series I began writing for a presentation I gave last Saturday entitled “Don’t Grow Weary In Doing Well: Making Kingdom Work a Priority”.

This is post is the third in a series I wrote for a presentation entitled “Don’t Grow Weary In Doing Well: Making Kingdom Work a Priority”.

If you want to read the first post, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2020/02/07/today-is-a-gift/

The second is here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2020/02/11/life-has-limits-i-want-my-legacy-to-last/

Sorrow Will Not Have The Last Word

If you find your heart limping through Scripture instead of gaining strength, may I suggest you try a different Bible translation for a bit? Sometimes familiar words-even the words of God or His prophets-just fall flat.

I can read them and not digest them at all.

So lately I’ve been reading and copying from the VOICE translation and it has helped me see old passages in a new light.

Here’s one of them. I think those of us walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death have a lot in common with Jeremiah.

I love to read familiar verses in different translations or paraphrases.

It helps my heart hear what I might otherwise miss because familiarity DOES breed a form a contempt even when considering the Word of God.

Recently, on my way through verses on HOPE I copied out Lamentations 3: 19-26.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/20/new-mercies/

Repost: What Does God’s Love Look Like?


If, as a believer in Christ, I abide in Him and am filled with His limitless love, why do I portion it out in such a miserly fashion?

I often act as though it were MY personal treasure house and that to give love freely diminishes my supply.

What foolishness!

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/09/16/what-does-gods-love-look-like/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Not Everything IS Good

Romans is a dense book full of quotable verses often taken out of context.

Today’s verses include some of the most hopeful and, frankly, hurtful verses tossed at broken hearts.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ” (Romans 8: 28 NIV)

Often this verse is shared by well-meaning friends who want us to “look on the bright side”. They can’t comprehend that the darkness of child loss is so complete our hearts can’t imagine light still exists.

Joe Amon via Getty Images

But when you see that verse and the ones that follow in context, a heart can find a foothold.

A similar thing happens when we pray. We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words. 27 Don’t you know that He who pursues and explores the human heart intimately knows the Spirit’s mind because He pleads to God for His saints to align their lives with the will of God? 28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. 29-30 From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters. As for those He chose beforehand, He called them to a different destiny so that they would experience what it means to be made right with God and share in His glory.

Romans 8: 26-30 VOICE

Paul has laid a foundation earlier in chapter eight for the Spirit’s work in the life of the redeemed. The Holy Spirit testifies to our sonship, is a down payment on what’s to come, informs us that all creation is waiting for redemption and prays for us when we don’t know how or what to pray for ourselves.

As we align our hearts with the heart of God, our will conforms to His and we are positioned to receive even the hard things of life as having passed through His loving hands.

Not all things are good.

Let’s just get that out of the way right now.

Sin has infected every aspect of life on earth. Disease, genetic mutation, environmental destruction, people’s personal foolishness, sin and cruelty all add up to awful outcomes.

The sting of death has been removed but the fact of death remains.

Frankly, life is hard.

But all those things that are outside the perfect will of God-the pain, the heartache, the destruction, the awful, awful sadness-aren’t outside His power of redemption.

He takes those dark moments, months, years, LIFETIMES and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that ultimately displays His glory and our transformation into the likeness of Jesus.

I am a co-heir with Christ.

One day I will look more like Him than I ever thought I would.

And it will be the pressure of pain and struggle that squeeze me into the mold of His likeness.

Not everything IS good, but everything will work TOWARD good.

You can take that to the bank.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever had “all things work together for good” tossed at you? How did it make you feel?
  • Does seeing that verse in context make it easier to read/digest? Why or why not?
  • I personally find great comfort in this whole chapter. Knowing that even creation is subjected to the effects of sin and decay helps my heart put my own experience into perspective. If you’d like to read more about how I’ve been able to do that read here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/06/10/did-god-take-my-child/
  • Being conformed to the likeness of Christ is painful, regardless of how the pressure comes. Can you see how the pain of child loss has molded your heart into a closer approximation of the heart of Jesus? Why or why not?
  • Why is it important to make a distinction between the idea that everything that happens is good versus the idea that everything that happens (good or bad) can be used by God FOR good?
  • I remember that dark morning just having no words. I think all I could manage was to repeat the names of God. When has the Holy Spirit prayed for you? Are you encouraged by the idea that even if you don’t know what or how to pray, He has you covered?

PRAYER:

Lord, I know people don’t mean to do it but it hurts my heart when they toss Your words at me like a volleyball expecting me to just hit it back and act like nothing’s happened.

My world stopped. My heart was shattered. Child loss is not good. You can use it FOR good, but it is not good.

Thank You that Paul was a faithful scribe and put Your truth in context. Thank You that I can look up all the verses and see that the message You gave him was not that ALL things are good, but rather that even the awful, heartbreaking, terrible things can be USED for good in Your loving, sovereign hands.

Give me the courage to trust You with even this. Help me lean in and take hold of an eternal perspective so I can endure patiently. Give me strength to finish strong. And when the process of conforming me to the image of Christ seems too hard to bear, remind me that You are here and will give me sufficient grace.

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Keep Me Near

I have definitely felt besieged in this grief journey.

I imagined myself holed up in a castle turret, hoping against hope that heartache would stop battering the gates below.

For a long while I was afraid.

I was fearful that if the onslaught didn’t stop my heart would give in to despair, I’d let go of hope, I’d lay down and give up.

I don’t believe for one minute that David was never scared.

Instead, I believe that the words he used when his brothers mocked his step forward to take on Goliath were words God burned in his soul:

The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:37 NIV

David was courageous IN SPITE of the fear because he knew the God he served. He had prior experience with God’s faithfulness. He was confident that the Lord would not allow him to fail.

So we come to today’s verses. They were penned a good while after Goliath, after being anointed king but before he gained the throne.

He was running for his life, fighting enemies on every side.

David had to remind himself of truth, just like me. He needed to sing aloud so his heart could be brave.

When the armies of the enemy surround me,
    I will not be afraid.
When death calls for me in the midst of war,
    my soul is confident and unmoved.
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
    my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
    in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
    in the company of His people.
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
    It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
    He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
God lifts me high above those with thoughts
    of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
    In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.

Psalm 27:3-6 VOICE

His soul was confident and unmoved in the midst of danger because he threw himself on the mercy of the Lord.

His plea was not, “Keep me safe” it was “Keep me near”.

Jesus told the disciples not to fear the one who could kill the body but fear the One who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 1:28)

David got it.

He knew that no matter what happened-if he lived or died-his true shelter and his true life was in the Lord.

He was focused on Who walked with him not what might happen to him.

Truth is, we don’t always experience miraculous deliverance from life’s troubles or dangers. People we love die. People we care about are cast down, carried through hard times and come out the other side battered, bruised and barely holding on.

If I can only praise a God who spares me, I have no songs to sing.

But if I can praise the God who loves me, who offers eternal security through the blood of Christ, the God who will weave ALL the threads of my life-the dark, the light, the ugly and the beautiful-into a masterpiece declaring His glory for all eternity, then I have a song as long as I have breath.

And when breath leaves this body and I am free of my earthly tent, I’ll sing a new song for ever and ever and ever.

This was David’s God.

This was the God of Moses, Isaac, Jacob. Peter and Paul.

This is MY God.

And He longs to be yours too. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • Who do you turn to when you are afraid?
  • When have you felt God’s assurance in the midst of a fearful situation?
  • My family was very involved in worship music ministry for years. Dominic was a talented drummer, among other things. In the first days after his death, music ministered to my soul. But after the funeral I felt the music die within my heart. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a song to sing anymore? Did God meet you there and help you find your song? Are you willing to ask Him to give you a new song, even on this broken road?
  • Eternal hope does not keep us from feeling pain in the here and now. But it can help a heart hold on. What words from this Psalm stand out to you? Are you able to praise God even as you feel pain?
  • Can you ask for God to keep you near even if He doesn’t keep you (or your loved ones) safe?
  • Praise can be as simple as repeating truth aloud or writing it in your journal. If you can’t sing, consider speaking aloud the names of God, His eternal attributes or verses that describe them. Your heart is listening. Give it courage.

PRAYER:

Father God,

So many times I come to You with a list of petitions-do this, do that, solve this, fix that, keep me and mine safe, secure and happy. I’m seeking Your hand and not Your face. And when things don’t turn out the way I want them to I feel betrayed.

What you want is for me to trust Your heart even when I can’t trace Your hand. You have promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Help me, like David to ask you to keep me near, not just to keep me safe.

Your name is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved-not saved from earthly destruction or trouble but from eternal damnation.

When I lose my song, give me a new one. When I forget that You are with me, make Your Presence undeniably real. When I lose hope, speak courage to my heart. And when I doubt that I can make it one more minute, much less one more day, strengthen me with Your might.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Earth Has No Sorrow That Heaven Can’t Heal

Can we just admit that life is hard?

Can we stop hiding our sorrow and pain and struggles and difficulties and let people in on what’s going on?

I truly believe that if we did, we’d all be better for it.

Because no one-really, truly no one-is spared from some kind of problem. And for many of us, it has nothing to do with our own choices. It’s visited upon us from the outside.

It comes out of nowhere, happens fast and suddenly consumes every aspect of our lives.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you might think you should be immune to these hardships. You might do a quick calculation and decide that, on balance, you’ve led a pretty decent life and certainly God should notice and spare you and yours from awful tragedy.

Or you might look around and notice all those who leave hurt and heartache in their wake and wonder why they seem to live a charmed life while death and destruction have visited yours.

No matter how you try to disguise it, death is a hard pill to swallow.

Jesus didn’t deny that.

Today’s verses are some of the most poignant in His long discourse to the disciples as He was preparing them for His death.

Jesus knew they had questions to ask of Him, so He approached them.
Jesus: Are you trying to figure out what I mean when I say you will see Me in a little while? 20 I tell you the truth, a time is approaching when you will weep and mourn while the world is celebrating. You will grieve, but that grief will give birth to great joy. 21-22 In the same way that a woman labors in great pain during childbirth only to forget the intensity of the pain when she holds her child, when I return, your labored grief will also change into a joy that cannot be stolen.
23 When all this transpires, you will finally have the answers you have been seeking. I tell you the truth, anything you ask of the Father in My name, He will give to you. 24 Until this moment, you have not sought after anything in My name. Ask and you will receive so that you will be filled with joy.

John 16: 19-24 VOICE

Notice that Jesus didn’t wait for his disciples to approach Him with their questions. Out of compassion and love, He approached THEM.

He does the same with us today.

Many of the questions I’ve struggled with since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven are answered in Scripture.

That’s why it is so, so important to read my Bible. Some days I use a concordance to help me find pertinent verses, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. Not every question will be answered this side of eternity. But at the least I am reminded of God’s faithful love and trustworthy character.

Jesus begins by asserting what He knows is true but wants them to affirm: “You’ve got some questions, don’t you?”

Then He acknowledges their pain. He doesn’t shy away from saying that things will feel unfair. It will appear as though evil has won and the Kingdom of God defeated.

But then He offers hope.

Their grief will ultimately turn to joy.

I think this joy is twofold-they had a taste of it when Jesus revealed Himself as Risen Savior during the forty days after the resurrection. But the fullness of that joy for them, like us, is only available in eternity.

Childbirth as analogy for this life leading into the next is so helpful!

When laboring to bring forth a baby, no one knows for sure how long that terrible pain will last. In the middle of it, more than one mama has thought (and sometimes said or screamed), “I don’t want to do this!”

But that same mama, when handed her precious child, often bursts into joyous tears that wash away the memory of how impossible it all seemed just moments before.

How many of us would gladly go through every moment of pain to have our child back in our arms?

No woman is pregnant forever.

Sooner or later that baby will be born.

This life of travail won’t last forever either.

By death or transformation, we will be freed from this earthly tent. The worn out and worn down will be restored and renewed.

One day-one glorious Day-I will have every answer I seek.

Jesus says, “when I return” and “when this transpires” their grief will turn to joy.

I have a foretaste of ultimate joy in the comfort, ministry and companionship of the Holy Spirit. But I cannot know fullness of joy until Jesus returns.

And that joy will overwhelm every heartache.

QUESTIONS:

  • Can you relate to the disciples’ fear of asking Jesus their questions? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a concordance? Do you know how to use it? Have you ever looked up verses when you had a specific question?
  • Just as it’s really impossible to describe both the intensity of the pain of childbirth and the intensity of the joy of holding your baby, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend how the pain of this life will eventually be swallowed up by joy in eternity. Write 3 ways you think this is a good analogy. How might this help you hold onto hope in the long “labor” of life while waiting for “delivery” on God’s promises?
  • I admit I’m impatient for some of the answers to my questions. I have to remind my heart that no amount of time will seem long in comparison to what waits for me. How do you help your heart make peace with the idea that many, many years may stretch before you without answers?
  • C.S. Lewis was a gifted writer and faithful follower of Jesus. Read the quote above slowly, repeatedly and thoughtfully. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord, You do not despise my questions.

You don’t expect me to transcend my frail human understanding. When I bring my questions to You, you may not give me the answer I seek but You always give me mercy, grace and more of Yourself.

Help me hold onto the word picture You shared with Your disciples. No labor lasts forever. I can rest assured that however long life lasts for me on earth, it will be but the tiniest blip in light of eternity. Agony here-yes, and often more than I think I can bear. But joy unspeakable is waiting!

Thank You for the hope I have in Jesus. Thank You for Your grace.

Give me strength to endure no matter how hard it may become. Help me finish strong and enter Heaven with “Hallelujah!” on my lips.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Groom Is Coming To Get Me!

There was a lovely tradition practiced in Jewish communities when Jesus walked the earth.

After a betrothal and before the final vows, a groom returned to his family home and built an addition to his father’s house in preparation for his bride.

The bride made herself ready and then waited because she didn’t know when her groom would return. What began as hopeful anticipation might sometimes have turned to fear if the groom tarried too long in coming.

But no matter how long it might be, she was expected to maintain that state of hopeful expectation. (The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Matthew 25: 1-13)

What a celebration when he finally showed up, whisked her off and the marriage feast began!

This was the image Jesus evoked when He spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper.

They had questions.

(I can identify.)

They were scared.

(Me too.)

They wondered where He was going and what they were supposed to do when He left.

(Yes, we have the Bible but there are lots of day-to-day situations that aren’t covered.)

He didn’t leave them (or me!) without hope for their anxious hearts. And he used familiar images to help them hold onto what He was telling them.

“You must not let yourselves be distressed—you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going and you know the road I am going to take.” ~ Jesus to His disciples

John 14: 1-4 PHILLIPS

When a groom left his bride, he wasn’t disappearing for good.

He was going away for a little while to make permanent arrangements for their forever home.

Jesus is the great Bridegroom and the church His Bride. Those of us who love Him, follow Him and wait for Him will not be disappointed!

Song: We Will Dance on Streets That Are Golden

I may cast off this earthly tent through death or in an instant at His return.

Either way, He’s got a place all ready for me.

QUESTIONS:

  • Why is waiting so hard?
  • Does the cultural background to this passage help you understand it? Why or why not?
  • Is it difficult for you to wrap your mind around the idea that maybe instead of (as suggested in popular culture and some churches) our own private mansion, we might well live in community with others in smaller rooms or additions? How might that alter our behavior here and now toward other believers?
  • Are you as excited for the Heavenly Wedding and Marriage Supper of the Lamb as you were for your own wedding? Why or why not?
  • If you listened to the song above, how does it make you feel?

PRAYER:

Father God, I’m just going to admit it-waiting is hard! Especially when I don’t know how long I might have to keep waiting. Help me hold onto hope as I look expectantly toward the future You have for me-not only my beautiful Eternal Home but also the earthly future and good works You have prepared in advance for me to do as long as I may live.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving me so well.

You don’t despise our weakness or our questions. Thank You for leaving us with vibrant images that help us imagine (even a little) of what awaits everyone who loves You in the glorious hereafter when every wrong is made right, everything stolen restored and everything lost, redeemed.

I know, know, know in my bones that You do not lie. You cannot fail. I will not be put to shame because I wait on You.

My Groom is coming to get me!

Amen