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: 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

Scripture Journal Challenge: Sufficient Grace

Today, before I sat down to write this post, I was out running errands and made a decision due to traffic to go through a parking lot I’ve avoided because of strong memories associated with Dominic.

I was suddenly overwhelmed by grief even after five years on this journey.

The tightness in my chest, tears in my eyes, empty sickness in the pit of my stomach washed over me anew.

Time absolutely does not heal a thing in child loss. It only enables me to develop skills for sublimating the horror enough to walk around among the spared.

But one thing IS better now than way back then: I’m quicker to lean into the strength and grace available to me through Christ Jesus. I’m not as resistant to the idea that my weakness is no impediment to God’s work in and through me.

I’ve stopped asking for relief and now ask for grace to bear up under the pain.

Today’s verses are taken from Paul’s pleading with God to take away what many believe to be a physical ailment-perhaps pain or weakness in his eyes-and God’s refusal to grant miraculous healing.

Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him. 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I can imagine Paul’s conversations with the Lord.

“You know I’m really on fire for You, Lord. Don’t you think I’d be in a better position to minister if You would take this pain away? It’s distracting and, well, painful! If You will heal me, I can focus on the work You’ve sent me to do. “

~ Paul

I know it’s dangerous to put words in God’s mouth but I imagine (based on Paul’s own account) that God answered something like this: “Paul, you don’t understand that part of the ministry I have for you is a demonstration that My strength is what sustains you. I don’t want there to be any doubt about where the power comes from. I’m not going to heal you but I will give you enough grace to bear up under this pain.”

I don’t think Paul really thought that was great idea-at least not at first. But as he continued to walk with the Lord and experience that sufficient grace, he saw God was absolutely right (no kidding!).

I can attest to this in my own life.

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I was afflicted with a number of health problems that forced me to admit I was not capable of meeting every obligation to and certainly not every expectation of those around me.

I didn’t like it one single bit.

As a self-proclaimed overachiever it hurt my pride to ask for help. But God’s grace eventually worked it’s way into my heart and I learned that physical weakness was truly an opportunity to proclaim God’s provision and sufficiency.

When Dom left us, I was struck down in a whole new way.

But the grace I had learned to rely on for the strength needed to endure physical pain proved more than sufficient for even this awful heartache.

It is still enough.

God’s strength IS perfected in my weakness.

Not that my weakness makes God perfect. Instead it is my weakness that makes God’s strength undeniably and unmistakably obvious.

When I choose to reveal my brokenness, unveil my weakness and testify to God’s sustaining and enabling grace, I proclaim His sovereignty, His sufficiency and His love.

QUESTIONS:

  • When have you had to admit weakness?
  • How has God’s grace met you there?
  • Do you sometimes try to hide your brokenness? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think God is glorified when we allow others to see our weakness?
  • Can you list specific instances when you felt too weak to continue and God’s grace enabled you to journey on?

PRAYER:

Lord, my pride makes me loathe to admit my weaknesses and to reveal my brokenness. I would rather people think I’m strong and unbreakable. But that’s just not true.

Help me embrace my own limitations and turn to You for your limitless grace and mercy. Help me quickly acknowledge that it is Your Spirit that breathes life into my heart and soul and strengthens me to carry on.

Strip me of false pride and bravado that might conceal how very much I rely on You. Make my life an open declaration of Your sufficient grace.

Amen.

You think, dear heart, that you are forgotten because of your nothingness and weakness and poverty. This is the very reason you are remembered.

Spurgeon

Scripture Journal Challenge: Unshaken and Unshakeable

If there is one phrase that describes child loss it’s this: Utter destruction.

When that deputy showed up at my door and the words he spoke sank into my brain, my world imploded and exploded at the same time.

There was nothing left that made sense except the hands of the two children who happened to be home that night.

I held on for all I was worth because I was certain if I let go I’d float away into nothingness like an astronaut whose spacesuit tether is cut in two.

Living this side of 2000 plus years of Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Paul probably felt much the same way when the religion he had embraced, had vigorously defended (to the point of putting “heretics” to death) and had trusted to frame his life and understanding of the world was swept away on the Damascus road.

Not only did he endure three days of blindness, he endured three years in the desert as the Lord helped him connect the dots between what the Scriptures (remember-there was no New Testament yet) said and what He was doing in the world through Jesus, His Son.

Then as he took this Gospel-the Good News- to others, he was subjected to prison, beatings and more. Often he despaired even of life ( 2 Corinthians 1:8).

Yet Paul kept on going. He clung to the promises of God that no matter how much he suffered, the comfort of Christ was enough to help his heart hold onto hope.

All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. For even as His suffering continues to flood over us, through the Anointed we experience the wealth of His comfort just the same. If we are afflicted with such trouble and pain, then know it is so that you might ultimately experience comfort and salvation. If we experience comfort, it is to encourage you so that you can hold up while you endure the same sufferings we all share. Remember that our hope for you stands firm, unshaken and unshakable. That’s because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so you will also share in our comfort. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 VOICE

Paul doesn’t simply receive the comfort God offers and hoard it. He doesn’t pile it up in a corner and keep it to himself. No! He declares that the comfort he receives is meant for sharing!

A pastor friend says, “Your misery is your ministry.”

I think he’s right.

Child loss has been my greatest challenge, my deepest pain and my most profound misery.

But is has also been the very place God has met me with the greatest comfort, the deepest compassion and the most profound revelation of Who He is.

So it is with suffering; it never leaves you the same. You run into the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and are left with a cruel harvest in your heart and relationships, or you run toward the comforts of grace, which shine most brightly in the darkness of suffering, and reap a harvest of blessing. Yes, you may continue to suffer, or its effects may remain, but you now live with a changed heart, a sturdier faith, and a joy that suffering cannot take away.

Paul David Tripp, Suffering

The comfort I have received is now mine to give to others.

In spite of everything I’ve endured, my hope remains unshaken and unshakeable.

QUESTIONS:

  • What specific comfort have you received that you could share with others?
  • Is God placing people in your path who need that comfort?
  • How might you do that? Where can you share your story?
  • If you are already sharing, do you edit yourself so that the hard places don’t seem so hard? Why or why not?
  • Are you afraid to share the darkness you felt/feel because you think it undermines God’s reputation?

PRAYER:

Father God, open the eyes of my heart so that even in the darkest place, the most desolate path, I see Your light and feel Your Presence.

You don’t ask me to deny pain or to pretend that things are “just fine” when they aren’t. You only ask that I bring all my broken bits and heartache to You. When I choose to do that, You are faithful to minister love, grace, mercy and comfort to my spirit and renew my strength.

Help me hold onto hope. Help me to lean into love. Teach me to trust Your truth even when it’s hard.

Take my life and turn it into a testimony of Your faithfulness. Make my misery a ministry to others. Give me beauty for ashes.

Amen