Thoughts Matter

So much of this battle has been fought in my mind.

Really, even more than in my heart.

Because you can’t argue with sad or shock or missing or disappointment.

But you can absolutely argue with hopelessness (there is nothing to live for), apathy (there is nothing to do) and distrust (there is no one who can help me).

So I spend a lot of time filling my mind with truth and doing the best I can to empty it of lies.  Some days I’m more successful than others, but I battle on regardless.

dont let anyone rent space in your head toby mac

When hopelessness tries to take up residence I say:

Remember the word to Your servant upon which you have caused me to hope.

~Psalm 119:49

AND

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

~Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

Apathy sits heavy on my chest and makes me want to give up and give in.  Why try if life is random and chaos is rampant? 

I push it off with:

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 8:28-30 VOICE

I remember that I still have work to do:  

“For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. “

~Ephesians 2:10 AMP

The enemy of my soul whispers the same lie he told Eve in the garden, “God really doesn’t have your best interest at heart.  He’s holding out on you.  You can’t trust Him.”

I shout him down and declare:

all the promises of god are yes in christ

The God Who sent His only Son to save me will not let me go.  He will uphold me with His Righteous Right Hand.  Even in the flood of grief, the fire of trial and the darkness of despair, He is with me.  

carry you old age

I have verses and quotes and hymn choruses posted all over my house so that everywhere I turn, my eyes can land on encouragement.

I won’t win any awards with my decorating scheme, but I don’t care.

All of this will be dust one day. 

I’m building an eternal future that won’t rot, rust or decay.  

“3 Blessed is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that will never fade or fail. Through faith, God’s power is standing watch, protecting you for a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.”

~ 1 Peter 1: 3-5 VOICE

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Repost: When You Think You Can’t Hold On-Let Go

So many ways to be reminded of how hard it is to hold on in these days and weeks around Christmas.

If your heart is barely able to beat, the pressure to be “hap-hap-happy” can send you over the edge.

If your home is empty of cheerful voices, the constant barrage of commercials touting family togetherness can leave you feeling oh, so lonely.

Read the rest here:  When You Think You Can’t Hold On

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

 

Hidden Manna

I’ve thought often of what good, if any, can come from child loss.  

I do not think for one minute that God “took” my son to teach me a lesson or to mold me in some way.  

But I do believe with my whole heart that God can USE this circumstance to conform me more closely to the image of Christ Jesus. 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Romans 8: 26-30 MSG

I also cling firmly to the conviction that there are things I can learn, truths I can understand and depths of love and grace I can fathom that are not available to hearts who have not walked the road of sorrow and trod the path of grief.

There are things I know because I have been forced to travel the Valley of the Shadow of Death that those who are spared will never know.  

I truly believe this is some of the “hidden manna” Jesus promises to those who persevere under trial, who resist the lies and lure of the evil one and who persist in holding onto hope in spite of all evidence that screams, “Let go!”

Let everyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven; and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.

Revelation 2:17 TLB

My testimony is not flashy.  But it doesn’t have to be.

You won’t find me doing a victory lap around a defeated foe.  

Instead I cling tenaciously to the truth that God’s faithful love endures forever and that death is no longer the last word.

I swallow every bit of strength the Spirit offers me.  

Resurrection, redemption and resurrection are coming. 

And I wait, in hope, and with assurance that my story does not end in ashes.  

The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God’s divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.

The world didn’t take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.

~Henri Nouwen

 

 

Heritage of Sorrow

I am convinced that one of the main reasons we detest tears, sorrow and lament is because we’ve adopted a cardboard copy of the true gospel message.

When Christ came, He was (in part) missed by many because they were looking for a King who would save them from their physical misery and oppression under Rome. When He offered them the keys to a Kingdom not of this world, a Kingdom that would fill their hearts and souls but not necessarily their bellies, many turned away.

Our tears remind folks that while many in North America (especially) live a life that is relatively peaceful, abundant and overflowing with material blessings, bad things happen.

As a matter of fact, bad things happen with no explanation, no earthly remedy and no way through but through.

Who wants to be reminded of that if your life is so lovely you don’t have to be?

It’s an odd thing. Jesus wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept. They did it openly. Their weeping became a matter of public record. Their weeping sanctioned by inclusion in our Holy Scriptures, a continuing and reliable witness that weeping has an honored place in the life of faith.

But just try it yourself. Even, maybe especially, in church where these tear-soaked Scriptures are provided to shape our souls and form our behavior. Before you know it a half-dozen men and women surround you with handkerchiefs, murmuring reassurances, telling you that it is going to be alright, intent on helping you to ‘get over it.’

Why are Christians, of all people, embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, unpracticed in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly ‘acquainted with grief.’ And our Savior was, as everyone knows, ‘a Man of Sorrows.’

~Eugene Patterson

 

Anchoring Our Hearts In Christ: Faith That Endures

I don’t wish storms on anyone.

They are frightening, often life-shattering and terrible.

But nearly every heart will be battered by the waves of life eventually.

Illuminated Splash

And if a heart isn’t anchored firmly in the promises and Person of Jesus Christ, there’s no telling where the waves might toss them.

Even anchored, I’m battered and bruised, worn and weary, struggling to endure.

The book of Hebrews can be challenging.  It’s full of imagery intended to help early Jewish Christians understand that they no longer needed to cling to the old sacrificial system in addition to believing in Messiah.

But it’s also beautiful-because it weaves a tapestry that helps a heart see how God was working His plan of salvation all the way from Adam through Christ to us.

I love these verses:

16-20 Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.

Hebrews 6:18-20 PHILLIPS

The hope I have in Christ is an “utterly reliable anchor” for my soul!

Let the waves come! 

Let the winds blow! 

I am assured that nothing and no one can rip me from the ultimate safety of my Savior’s arms!

hope the anchor for your soul