Scripture Journal Challenge: Closing Argument

I was a debater and raised my kids as debaters.

There’s unique beauty in crafting an argument so it crescendos to an irrefutable conclusion.

For the the master orator, nothing is more satisfying than watching her audience lean in and anticipate the glorious finale.

Paul has been leading us to these verses since he began laying the foundation in chapter one of Romans.

So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? 32 If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? 33 Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty”verdict is already declared. 34 Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. 35 So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.

Romans 8: 31-35 VOICE

In today’s vernacular (Melanie’s paraphrase):

“So here’s the deal, guys. What else is there to say? If God has provided for our salvation through His own Son-bought and paid for us-who else can make a claim? And if He was willing to pay that high a price for us, what is He going to withhold from us? No one can overrule God. No one can deny the evidence that the sin debt has been paid. The only thing that could separate us from God’s love is sin and that’s been handled. So, yeah, life can be really hard. We might even have to face death before we come into our full inheritance. But we don’t have to worry. It’s handled. It’s settled. It’s done.”

Paul’s closing argument is simple.

Remember, this is no contest of equals. There is no yin/yang dual universe where darkness has power enough to overcome the light. God has the devil on a chain. Sin mars creation and wreaks havoc but even all that awful is being woven together into a tapestry of beauty and usefulness that one day will display the glory of God and His love for us.

God is for us. REALLY for us.

So who can be against us? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

No one.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that “God is on your side”?
  • Are you ever afraid? Why or why not?
  • What do you do with that fear?
  • Consider writing these (and any other verses we’ve looked at) in your own words. When we make them personal, they are easier to remember.
  • Do you agree that Paul has made an iron-clad case for the supreme authority of God? Why or why not?
  • What makes it hard for you to believe that nothing separates us from the love of God? Can you bring that to the Throne of Grace and lay it down?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I think the world is like a giant tug-of-war and I can only hope and pray You win. It’s hard to remember that You are still in control when so many things seem out of control.

Help my heart rest on the rock of Your sovereignty and goodness. Open my spiritual eyes to see how You are working all these things-the good, the bad and the heartbreaking-into Your plan of redemption and restoration. Give me strength to believe when my own is fading. Make Your Word my guide. Thwart the schemes of the enemy to tear down my faith and breach my wall of hope.

Thank You for grace, mercy, love and courage.

Amen

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: I’m Not The Only One Waiting

We’ve all waited for something.

For those of us who carried a tiny life inside as it grew larger and larger and thought we might just burst open before he or she made an exit from the womb into the wide world, we know exactly how hard waiting can be.

We also know how fast waiting goes from “I’m not sure just when” to “it’s happening RIGHT NOW”.

Some of the most painful waiting is the hours of intense labor.

Before the blessed culmination, it hurts! A lot!

And then the beautiful fruit of all that pain, struggle and patience is in our arms.

Paul says that the whole creation (every single thing on the planet) is waiting in much the same way. Waiting, waiting, waiting for God’s perfect plan to reach fullness and be revealed in all its excellent glory.

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8: 22-25 PHILLIPS

Just as a pregnant mama feels first the tiny flutter and then full-forced kicks of the baby in her womb, our spirits feel the promise of life as it should be. The closer we walk with Jesus, the more we fill our hearts and minds with His living word, the more our lives diverge from the world we see and long for the one we haven’t yet laid eyes on.

Yearning is the word.

It can make my heart impatient.

Sending one of the precious lives I’ve carried inside me on to Heaven makes me even more impatient for the perfect promise to be made perfect reality.

Paul is right-knowing and tasting is both a blessing and a challenge.

I know, know, know that this life is not all there is. I am utterly and irrevocably convinced that one day the broken world I live in will be recreated into the perfect world God intends it to be. So I hold onto hope with both hands like the lifeline it is.

Sometimes I get tired of holding on.

Sometimes I want to let go and just say, “What difference does it make?”

But I don’t.

Because at the moment of my weakness, the Spirit speaks courage to my spirit. Jesus whispers, “You can do it” to my heart. The Father sings sweet consolation over my soul.

So I tighten my grip and wait. ❤

QUESTIONS

  • What evidence do you see that “all creation” groans? (If you back up a couple verses, Paul goes into a little more detail.) Does it encourage your heart that the whole world is somehow waiting too?
  • If you’ve carried a child, think back to how quickly (assuming you weren’t scheduled for delivery) things went from “I’m not sure when” to “We need to go now!”. Does that help your heart imagine how very quickly all this waiting might end?
  • What part of waiting is hardest for you? (Any kind of waiting.)
  • How do you help your heart hold onto hope as you wait?
  • People say don’t pray for patience because the only true path to patience is trial. Are you more patient now than you used to be? Why or why not?

PRAYER

Lord,

Waiting is hard. No way around it. And waiting in painful anticipation of blessed relief is even harder. So, so many things are not right in this world. Death is everywhere. How I long for the Day when death is a totally defeated foe! How I long for the Day when all things are made right!

Thank You for the witness of the Spirit who continues to speak courage to my own spirit. Thank You for your word which breathes life into my soul. Thank You that no matter how hard it is to hold onto hope, You will give me the strength not to let go.

You have not abandoned me or the world You created. Your plans are sure. I will wait with hope because I know You never fail.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Incomparable Glory

Aspen trees.

Truly glorious.

By Famartin – Own work

I was blessed to live several years in Colorado and it never got old to head off in the mountains, round a curve and come upon a grove of trembling golden aspen. They demanded I step outside the car and drink them in.

Photographs don’t do them justice.

You have to be there, see them, hear their leaves make music in the wind and smell the cool, clear air of the mountains to understand.

When Paul says that the sufferings in this life are incomparable to the glories of the next, I think he had something like this in mind-Heavenly experience is so far outside mortal language and understanding, it’s simply impossible to describe.

Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children. 17 If we are God’s children, that means we are His heirs along with the Anointed, set to inherit everything that is His. If we share His sufferings, we know that we will ultimately share in His glory.
18 Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. 

Romans 8: 16-18 VOICE

It’s no accident Paul tags this assurance on the end of declaring the fullness of my relationship to God the Father through Jesus His Son. If I, like Christ, am a child of God, then I. like Christ am an heir to the promises.

It’s a fact, not a theory.

God doesn’t lie. He will do every thing He says He will do.

I can rest assured in that truth.

We endure many hard things for a guaranteed earthly return on our time, money, energy, strength and tears.

How much more sure are the promises of God?

The glory to come must be some kind of wonderful it if makes the pain of child loss so small there’s no comparison.

Am I willing to trust Him even here, even now?

QUESTIONS:

  • What’s your first impression of these verses? Do they hit a nerve? Make you defensive of your pain and suffering? Are they comforting?
  • What does it mean to you that God is Father? That you are a co-heir with Christ?
  • Have you ever had the last verse tossed at you by a well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) person trying to “cheer you up”? How did you respond (internally or verbally)?
  • Write out your own example of an awe-inspiring experience that stopped you in your tracks? Read it back to yourself aloud. Do you feel like you were able to convey the depth and breadth of your actual experience in words? Why or why not? Does this give you more or less confidence in how amazing Heaven will be?

PRAYER:

Father God,

I am thankful I can call You Father. I am thankful my position in Your family is secured by the blood of Christ. Thank You for the gift of salvation through His sacrifice. Thank You that the Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am Yours.

It’s hard to suffer well sometimes. It’s hard to hold onto hope when pain is so very real and Heaven is somewhere I can’t really picture well. I’m trying to lean into the promises here and throughout Your word.

Strengthen me by Your word and with Your strength. When my heart is overwhelmed, calm me with Your songs of deliverance. When my grip is weak, wrap Your arms around me and help me hold on.

Amen

Keeping Short Accounts: What I’m Learning From My Son’s Sudden Death

This Sunday morning I had to extend and ask for forgiveness all within fifteen minutes.  

One person said something that unintentionally hurt my heart (he had no idea that what he said plunged a knife in it) and then I overstepped in making an event public before making sure it was definitely on the calendar.

It could have meant I walked away offended and upset. 

But I didn’t.  

Instead I was honest with the person who upset me about what he said and why it hurt.  He apologized immediately and I was quick to accept it.  And when I realized I had offended the other person, I asked for her forgiveness and she granted it too.

I find it’s easier for me to do both- ask for and extend forgiveness-this side of child loss for lots of reasons.  

First, I’m learning that I just don’t have the energy to maintain an offense. 

Offenses are like very fragile hot house plants-they need lots of tending, protection from the elements and so much time.  I used to be good at keeping an offense healthy and vibrant.  I would feed it often and refuse to subject it to the harsh winds of real life where it could be shown for what it was-not worth the energy or effort!

It’s so much easier to wipe the slate clean and begin again.  

Second, I’m learning that since grief wears me down in so many ways, I don’t have the resources to maintain my own mask, keep up my own pretense of always being in a good mood, smiling and having the right words to say.  So I make mistakes, step on toes and feelings with a fair degree of regularity and NEED forgiveness often myself.

I can hardly expect others to extend to me what I withhold from them!

Third,  I’m learning that the only thing worse than finding out someone I care about is beyond reach is hearing that news knowing I never made things right when it was within my power to do so.  

When you’re expecting your healthy, vibrant, youthful son to pop over on Saturday morning but instead get a knock on the door before sunrise, it changes everything.

Sometimes I don’t heed my own advice.

But when I’m paying attention, listening to my heart and really present, I work hard to keep short accounts with those I love and even those I don’t.  

Paul wrote: 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

~Romans 13:8

I don’t want to leave this world owing anybody anything except love.  

Love is never satisfied because hearts always need more.

And I am glad to pay it.

If we really want to love must leran to forgive

Grief is Not a Hammer in the Hand of God

I may risk offending some of my fellow believers in Jesus but I will take that risk.

While scripture is plain that God uses the events in our lives to help fashion our hearts, it is also equally plain that God does not act cruelly or spitefully or wantonly.

What Joseph’s brothers did to him was evil.  God redeemed it.

What the crowd did to Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was evil.  God redeemed it.

What Nero did to the early Christians was evil.  God redeemed it.

Death is the ultimate evil, the last enemy. But Jesus overcame it and God will redeem it.

Yes, “all things work together for good for those that love the Lord” but not all things are good.

My son’s death is not a test, a lesson, a trial nor a hammer in the hand of God sent to pound me into the shape He desires for me.

It is an evil that He can and is using for good.

It will one day be absolutely, totally and irrevocably redeemed.

I can’t wait.

grief is not a tool

Bereaved Parents Month Post: The Love of God

God is love.  ~I John 4:8

I don’t remember when I learned this verse.

It’s been part of my understanding of Who God is and how He works in the world as far back as my mind can travel.

But I freely admit:  He may BE love, but I don’t always FEEL loved.

Read the rest here:  Monday Musings: The Love of God