Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!

When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.

Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.

It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.

Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.

Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.

Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.

Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.

And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.

Love will not be denied.

Love wins.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

Nothing!

I am not powerful enough to do it.

Death is not powerful enough to do it.

Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.

Love will reach down and resurrect my son.

On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.

QUESTIONS:

  • When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
  • I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
  • Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.

My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!

Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.

Hallelujah!

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: The God Who Comes Near

If someone asked me to describe Jesus I would say He’s the God who does not turn away.

He’s the God who comes near.

He’s the God who will always, always, always show up and bend down.

That’s what I hold onto in this life I didn’t choose-that my Shepherd Savior sees me, hears me, loves me and will help me.

For the Eternal watches over the righteous,
    and His ears are attuned to their prayers. He is always listening.
16 But He will punish evildoers,
    and nothing they do will last. They will soon be forgotten.
17 When the upright need help and cry to the Eternal, He hears their cries
    and rescues them from all of their troubles.
18 When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close
    and revives him in his pain.

Psalm 34: 15-18 VOICE

Not long after Dominic’s death there was a horrible mass shooting and the perpetrator was in his fifties. I have to admit I literally yelled at God, REALLY???? This guy lives to his fifties only to kill a bunch of innocent people and You didn’t save Dominic from his accident?!!!”

I was angry and frustrated and sad and broken.

If I’m honest I’ve had a few more moments like that since then.

But I’m brought up short when I read these verses and others like them. The wicked do not have God’s ear. They will not know eternal life with Him in Heaven. They may even be worldly successes but nothing they do will last forever. Riches don’t secure immortality.

Only a penitent heart leaning fully on the grace and mercy of God is eternally safe.

Because I am His child. when I’m hurting, God does not run away or turn a blind eye or a deaf ear-He meets me there.

Jesus is the lover of my soul.

He is the Healer of my heart.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you feel heard by God? By others? Why or why not?
  • How do you deal with the fact that sometimes evil seems to win and evil people prosper?
  • How would you describe Jesus? Has grief changed how you describe Him?
  • Is your description consistent with what Scripture tells us about Him?
  • Theology matters-especially when grieving. What I believe about God and Christ either undermine or strengthen my faith. Write down ten things you believe to be true about God and/or Jesus.

PRAYER:

Father God,

I admit that it’s infuriating and feels unfair that sometimes those who don’t love You still prosper. They seem to have a life free from trouble and heartache. And here I am-hurting, deeply harmed and holding on by a thread.

But You are not unjust. You are not ignoring me. You will work all things together for good for those who love you. Help me trust those truths.

You are the God who came near in the stable and on the cross. You are the God who dwells inside those who receive the gift of salvation through Christ. You are not far away.

Hear my cry. Touch my heart.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: The One I Run To

When I read the Psalms I hear human voices.

I hear real people living real lives facing real problems.

Life and death and celebration and devastation-all laid bare for the ages.

They give me courage to speak plainly to God.

They help me frame my own struggles in the context of who God is and not only what I feel.

I love You, Eternal One, source of my power.
The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation;
    He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide,
    my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower.
I call out to the Eternal, who is worthy to be praised—
    that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.
The bonds of death encircled me;
    the currents of destruction tugged at me;
The sorrows of the grave wrap around me;
    the traps of death lay in wait for me.

Psalm 18:1-5 VOICE

David had escaped Saul’s attempt on his life. He could have given credit to his superior battle skills or ability to hide or just plain luck.

But he didn’t. He understood that God alone determined the outcome.

David knew that God was his true stronghold-not the cave or the tower where he might hide.

He is reminding his heart of truth-something I had to do the day Dominic left us.

I have never felt so desolate as the early morning when I was told my son was dead. My physical life wasn’t threatened but the life I knew was shattered.

The “bonds of death” circled my heart and I could feel them squeezing tighter and tighter.

Sorrow swallowed me whole.

There was nowhere to hide from the awful truth that death was on my doorstep.

In the hours between the knock on the door and sunrise I kept assuring myself that God was still God. I kept repeating that He had not abandoned us.

And then (because I didn’t know what else to do as I waited for family to gather) I went out to feed the animals.

Walking toward the rising sun I choked out the words to a favorite song:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul by Matt Redman

There was no moment of divine revelation.

I didn’t feel the burden lift.

But I knew if I didn’t remind my heart of truth, I’d be headed toward a darker path than the one I was already walking.

“I call out to the Eternal who is worthy to be praised-that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.”

QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you think it’s important that even when we experience victory, we acknowledge God as the One who gives it to us?
  • Are you ever tempted not to?
  • Obviously I’m sensitive to the fact that as bereaved parents our child was not physically saved. Does that make it hard for your heart to think of God as a fortress, shelter, safe place? Why or why not?
  • Even though I have not faced my own death, I find David’s description apt for the dark feelings that threatened to undo me after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. Do his words resonate with you?
  • David was a man on the run for years. He spent a lot of time in the rocky wilderness and describes God in ways that reflect his personal experience. If you were going to describe God as a place of safety, what words would you use that reflect yours?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are most certainly worthy of praise simply because You are God. Sometimes I struggle to praise you because You do not always give victory in the here and now and that’s hard to take. You don’t always step in and assure physical safety and that hurts my heart.

But you always invite me to bring that pain to You. You are a stronghold for my heart.

When the enemy of my soul whispers lies in my ear and tries to convince me You don’t care, help my heart refuse to be led astray. When despair tries to drag me down, speak courage to my soul and lift me up.

You have made every provision for our ultimate victory. Death doesn’t get the last word. Life does! Thank You for that promise.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: When I Can’t Trace His Hand I Trust His Heart

No matter how much we love someone, we will eventually fail them somehow.

I know I recite my failure as a mother quite often-usually when I’m tired, weak, stressed and especially burdened with this grief I haul around like a bag of bricks every day.

So it’s hard for me to comprehend the unfailing, faithful, never-ending, compassionate love of God.

But it’s true whether I can wrap my mind around it or not: God’s love never fails.

That’s the message Jeremiah was tasked to deliver to Israel in the midst of some very awful circumstances.

They had really messed up. And they were going to reap the consequences of their sin.

It was going to hurt.

But God had not abandoned them. He had not forgotten them. He had not stopped loving them.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:31-33 NIV

The God I serve and Israel served is a compassionate God.

He is so very compassionate (which means to suffer alongside) that He chose to send His Son to take our sins, to receive our punishment, to pay the penalty and redeem us for Himself.

Grief is part of this life.

Before Jesus lived on earth, suffered, died and was resurrected, grief was part of the ongoing penalty of sin.

So Israel was punished when she turned from her true Husband and ran after idols and foreign gods.

Now, the penalty has been paid. Yet grief remains.

Our enemy the devil works evil in the world. People’s sinful choices result in death and destruction. The whole earth groans under the general burden of sin which means genes mutate, disease runs rampant and our bodies fail.

God does not always intervene.

But He always comes alongside.

He always offers comfort and promises that grief doesn’t last forever.

He takes those evil things, the broken things, the painful things and the hard things and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that will eventually reveal His faithfulness, goodness, love and glory.

QUESTIONS:

  • I’ve written before about whether or not grief and loss is a punishment from God. Yet these verses plainly state, “though He brings grief”. How do you explain them to your own heart? Have you thought through and developed a consistent theology that both acknowledges the truth that in the OT God DID bring grief (punishment) on His people for their sins and that in the NT God, through Christ, has taken all the punishment for every sin? (For more on this, read this post: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • Have you ever felt God was suffering alongside you? Do you think God suffers at all?
  • Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Most of His followers would have firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices a good shepherd makes for his sheep. That’s not something many of us know much about these days. Can you paint your own word picture of unfailing love?
  • Have you confronted the question of why evil exists, why pain is persistent, why death and destruction still reign? Are you afraid to go there? Why or why not?
  • I used to embroider quite a bit and really love the Corrie Ten Boom poem cited above because I understand it well. The top side of my work was lovely (most of the time!) but the underside was awful! Do you have confidence that God is weaving ALL the things in your life into a tapestry that will eventually reveal how even the dark and ugly experiences, feelings and heartache work together to make a beautiful piece of art? (See Ephesians 2:10)

PRAYER:

Father God, Thank you that I live this side of Calvary!

Thank You that although this life is filled with sorrow and pain I can rest assured that if I’ve received Your gift of forgiveness through Christ You are not punishing me for some forgotten sin. Thank You for your unfailing, faithful, compassionate love.

Help me to remember in the darkest moments, the most desolate path, the deepest pit You are there. Over and over and over You remind my heart that I am not alone. When I can’t comprehend how You might weave the next dark thread into the tapestry of my life, help me trust You anyway.

You are the Master Weaver. You are the Potter. Give me a willing heart to yield to Your work in my life.

Amen

I

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

On My Worst Days, Mustard Seed Faith is Enough

I didn’t grow up doing in-depth Bible studies so when I “discovered” the Bible in my early twenties, it was an exciting adventure to dig for treasure in the Word of God.

Along with Scripture itself, I devoured book after book on theology.

I could not get enough.

By my mid-thirties I had developed a fairly well-defined and defensible doctrine. I really thought I understood how God works in the world.

Then my son died.

And all the things I thought I knew, all the absolutes I had marked down in an notebook followed by an underlined verse to support them, didn’t seem so solid or well-defined.

I never questioned certain fundamental truths:

  • God is in control.
  • God is good.
  • God is present and will not abandon me.

But what form His goodness and control might take was unpredictable and many times beyond my understanding.

I’ve learned in the years since is that I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to have my theological ducks in a row. I don’t have to be able to give a defense (to myself or others) of how God works in the world.

I don’t have to have faith that moves mountains.

I only need mustard seed faith and God will do the rest.

I only need to hold onto the hem of His garment, and Jesus will honor my outstretched hand and heart.

Beautifully Broken

God can take what Satan meant for shame and use it for His glory. Just when we think we’ve messed up so badly that our lives are nothing but heaps of ashes, God pours His living water over us and mixes the ashes into clay. He then takes this clay and molds it into a vessel of beauty. After He fills us with His overflowing love, He can use us to pour His love into the hurting lives of others.
― Lysa TerKeurst

Every single heart has a wounded place.

Every. One.

heart with pieces breaking off

 

Don’t cover it up. 

Share it with safe people who can help you shake off the shame.  Let others in.  You may be surprised how many share your own brand of brokenness.   

Heart to heart, hand in hand, walk together toward Home.  

were all just walking each other home

God sees the tears you hide; He has not abandoned you.  

He loves you and will weave these hard and painful things into the tapestry of your life. 

He longs to touch your heart at just the place you need healing and bring beauty from ashes.

And then fill you with love and grace to share the healing hope of Christ with others.  

beautifully broken