New Mercies

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.

A couple of the verses are ones most of us have seen or heard often:

mercies new every morning

But back up a little bit, and read it in a different version ( the VOICE) and it takes on even greater meaning for those of us walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Jeremiah (the author of Lamentations and known as the “Weeping Prophet”) is overcome with grief.  He uses words I understand to describe how relentless sorrow and despair drag a heart down, down, down. 

He’s bitter, he’s crippled, he can’t move forward or even move at all.

Grievous thoughts of affliction and wandering plagued my mind—
    great bitterness and gall.
Grieving, my soul thinks back;
    these thoughts cripple, and I sink down. 

And, stopped in his tracks, he waits.

He knows he needs hope if he is to get up again.

So he turns his heart to the only One Who can help.

Gaining hope,
    I remember and wait for this thought:

He remembers that God’s love never runs out.  God will never suffer from compassion fatigue because the Lord is loyal, steadfast, inexhaustible.

God’s faithful love is new every morning! 

As reliable and obvious as the light that spreads across the eastern sky and chases the darkness from every corner.

How enduring is God’s loyal love;
    the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.
 Here they are, every morning, new!
    Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day.

Repeating that truth brings a heart courage to face even the most frightening or dismal circumstances. 

No one can stop the sun!

No one can stop the unfailing, loyal love of God from breaking forth!

Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need.
    My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.”

I can boast (make much of, speak boldly about) about my hope in the Lord because He never, ever fails.  I will not be put to shame. 

i am the lord not ashamed who wait for me

I am not left alone to my bitter thoughts and my affliction will not be forever.  When I seek Him with my whole heart, He lifts me up and carries me through the darkest night.

It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him,
    to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly
    for the Eternal to make things right again.

God will not allow injustice to reign forever. 

Sorrow will not have the last word! 

It is good to wait in full confidence, trusting that the Lord I love, loves me and will redeem and restore everything the enemy has stolen.  

“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”

Matt Redman 10,000 Reasons

sunrise trees

Is God Punishing Me?

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

My heart strains to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I sometimes reach for any explanation no matter how far-fetched or theologically inaccurate.

Because truly, child loss is sometimes only the beginning of the pain and sorrow and ongoing drama and trial.   Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, many, many things have gone wrong.

Many,  many things have been hard.  

After Dominic left, life just piled on like that childhood game where one person held the ball and everyone else tried to get it.

I woke up every day expecting another blow and it nearly always came.

I remember begging God to simply make it stop!

He didn’t.

So I began to wonder if I was being punished.  What other explanation could there be?  If God was allowing all these hard things, it must be because I owed Him something.  I hadn’t done enough or wasn’t doing enough.  My spiritual discipline was lagging behind.

Somewhere, somehow I was falling down in my faith.  

But those thoughts weren’t placed in my head by God.  They were fiery darts of the enemy of my soul trying his best to make me doubt and turn away from the Source of my hope.  

God is not punishing me.  

He made provision for all the punishment required when He sent His Son as a complete, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

My Heavenly Father is a good and loving God Who did not leave it to me (or you, or anyone else) to square that debt.  Because it is impossible for us to do it.  Even all the pain I’ve borne is insufficient to pay it.

Jesus paid it ALL.  The debt is no longer outstanding.  

john3-16-17

Now, I may very well (and often do!) have to reap the natural consequences of my own or other peoples’ sin. 

But that is very different than thinking God is doing me harm for the purpose of punishment.  

We live in a fallen world where things do not work as God originally intended.  Human hearts are callous at best and evil at worst and we do things to one another that should never be done.  Sickness, disease and accidents happen.

Sometimes all these things happen at once.  

God can and does intervene.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  I don’t know why in one case and not in another.  That is His wisdom and purpose and beyond my understanding.

But I know that He is not punishing me nor is He punishing you.  

Jesus Himself suffered greatly in His earthly life, yet never sinned.  

That made His sacrifice the perfect, complete and utterly final payment for my own sin debt.   Having received the gift of redemption by His blood, my life is free to be offered back to God as a gift of worship, reverence and faithful obedience.  

But it is not required as payment for sin.  

Neither was my son’s.  

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

Holding On To Hope With Both Hands

I confess that I have not had a wholehearted desire to study Scripture since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

Oh, I nibble on verses every day, but I’ve shied away from the feast that used to fill my heart and soul.  

This year, though, I’m committing to a more diligent approach-choosing to focus on one word per month and writing out corresponding verses.  I am studying them, looking up cross-references, considering context and making personal application in my journal.

So the first word I chose was “Hope” because I think of all the things I’ve struggled most to hold onto in this life I didn’t choose, hope is the hardest.  

In my flesh, I want to give up and give in. 

If Heaven is my ultimate destination and I can’t control the future, why not just coast until the Lord calls me home? Why work so hard to live up to a high standard when grace covers it all?  Why lift my head when head down or head up, I’m assured of eternal joy?

I’m just being honest here.  

But I know, deep in my spirit, that this is not the purpose for which I was created.  I was not made by a loving Father to plod hopelessly through this world.  He breathed life into my soul so that I could fulfill His kingdom purpose in this place, at this time.

So I get back on the proverbial horse every time I’m tossed off and try again.  

Here are just a couple of the verses that are speaking courage to me, helping me hold onto hope with both hands. 

I hope they whet your appetite (as they have mine) for finding more.  

O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
    Why are you so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
    I will believe and praise the One
    who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.

Psalm 43:5 VOICE

“Despite all my emotions” I will hope in God again.  God created me with emotions.  They are a gift (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way!).  But I cannot be ruled by them.

Emotions are changeable. 

Truth is not. 

So I have to turn my heart by an act of will toward the truth that God is my Savior, He is my hope.  

We live with hope in the Eternal. We wait for Him,
    for He is our Divine Help and Impenetrable Shield.
Our hearts erupt with joy in Him
    because we trust His holy name.
O Eternal, drench us with Your endless love,
    even now as we wait for You.

Psalm 33: 20-22 VOICE

I love the phrase from Psalm 33:20 “our hearts erupt with joy” This life is hard and joy is often a distant memory or a fleeting moment, but there will be a Day when my heart will be so full of joy-when every hard and hurtful thing is redeemed-that the joy will overflow like lava from a volcano.

No stopping it!

Now that’s something to hope for! 

If your heart needs help leaning in and holding on, here’s a link to a month’s worth of short verses focused on hope: Think on These Things: Hope

Print it out and tuck it in a journal or your Bible.  You can even look up the verses online and check out different translations.  (Something I love to do because it often reveals things I might overlook!)  Copy them out.  It only takes a few minutes.  Then underline the phrase or phrases that stand out to you.

Make them your own. 

Hide the words in your heart. 

Let the Word of God speak life and love to your soul.  

put our hope in the lord he is our shield

 

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

Something to Hold On To When You Feel Like Letting Go

I have to talk to myself all the time.

Literally.

There are some mornings I open my eyes and would do just about anything to be able to stay in bed, hide under the covers and wish the day away.

But I can’t.

So I recite truth until my heart can hear it.  I speak courage to my own spirit.

If you are feeling weak and weary today, may I share a few of my favorites?

 

blessed is the one who perseveres

I don’t have to arrive at the finish line cute and perky, I only have to complete the course even if I’m barely crawling or dragging myself the last few feet.

Endurance IS the victory and perseverance IS faith.

 

my grace is sufficient

God’s grace is enough.  Sometimes I don’t believe it but that doesn’t make it untrue.  God promises to provide the strength I need when I need it.  When I am weak, He is strong.

lamentations-3-22-23

Even the very WORST day of my life only lasted 24 hours.  All I have to do is live this moment, this hour and this day.  Every morning is a new beginning with new mercy and sufficient grace.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God is still on the throne and still in control.

you keep track of all my tears

What a precious promise that the King of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the God of Heaven is keeping track of MY tears!  Not a single drop hits the ground but that He scoops it up and saves it.  One day every one will be redeemed.

began a good work

God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is working in and through me to conform me to the likeness of Christ.  That work is often painful.  But He is going to use even this most awful, heartbreaking thing.

revelation-21_4

When all else fails and a day is full of tears and sorrow, I remember that there will be a Day-a glorious Day!-when every single tear will be wiped away and, in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every bad thing will come untrue.”

Hallelujah!

Amen!

no evil can conquer grace forever

 

Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

What If I’m Angry* With God?

God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Yes, I know, the commonly touted wisdom in church circles is not to ask, “Why?”

It’s also bad form to admit that you might actually be angry* with God. 

But I can pretty much guarantee that over half of any congregation sitting in the pews on a given Sunday has had at least one moment when, with raised eyes they screamed, “Why?????” to the sky aimed at a God they didn’t understand but believed in anyway.

I know I have.  

David did.

Paul did.

Job did.

So what does a heart do if it’s upset with God?  Stuff it?  Reason it away?  Shame it to silence? Hope it fades on its own?

I think the only thing a heart can do with that anger and doubt and disappointment is take it straight to the Throne of Grace where we are promised to find help in an hour of need.

Hebrews-4_16

That’s what I did.  

I wrote hundreds of pages of journals with my Bible beside me.  When the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to mind as I was writing, I looked it up, read it and usually copied it into my journal right alongside my questions and rambling.

Sometimes I would write the letters large and decorate them or look up the meaning of words in a concordance or dictionary and write the definitions or synonyms out to help me deepen my understanding.

In the end, my heart was finally able to accept the truth of Who God is-my loving, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Heavenly Father-even when I do not like what He is doing.

Reaching a place of accepting His will while still acknowledging the pain it brings me (like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) has given me a measure of peace.

It has freed me to walk on in this life and to take the good, the bad, the painful and the wonderful in stride.

Do I still have moments (days!) when I want to scream?

Absolutely. But I am submitted to God and bow my heart to His.

It took a long time.

The more I read and studied Scripture, the more I found evidence of anguish, tears, and the messiness of human emotion. When we are in pain, the pain we are facing is temporary, even though it never feels temporary. Pain can linger, and it will always be with us, but for the believer in Jesus Christ, pain is never the final destination.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine, p. 134

*I am lumping a lot of strong (often considered “negative”) emotions in with the one word “angry”-for me, it was actually disappointment-God did not live up to my expectations (which is not to say He should or that my expectations were accurate).  For others it might be distrust and for some it might be doubt (does God love me?).  I’m most certainly NOT suggesting that Jesus was angry with God in the garden but it is plainly stated in Scripture that He begged God for another, less painful way that would still accomplish the Father’s plan.