ALL Things Through Christ

It is kind of a catchy saying to plaster across a Christian school’s gymnasium wall.

I know the one who decided to put it there meant well.  But “I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength” is absolutely NOT about lifting weights, running an extra lap or hitting a ball out of the park.

No. No. NO.

Can we just look at it in context, please?

I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

Phillipians 4::12-14 MSG

Paul was thanking friends for their concern and aid.  But he didn’t want them to think he was desperately needy.  He was assuring them that because he had found utter fulfillment in Christ and through Christ and that he could be content no matter his outward circumstances.

But there is something else here too-another tidbit overlooked in our desire to lift verses out of context.

While Paul was content in his circumstances, while he was at peace and settled in his soul, he was also deeply grateful that his friends had remembered him.  He was encouraged that they had sent aid and lifted prayers and inquired as to his well-being.

Being content does not preclude discouragement.  

I can feel both deep peace and experience confusion over my present circumstances.  

It’s just then that I need faithful friends to remind me that I’m not alone and I’m not abandoned.  That is precisely the moment my spirit cries out for compassionate companionship.

This life is not meant to be lived alone-even in a prison cell.  

It’s meant to be lived in community with others who come alongside and call courage to our hearts.  

word of encouragement is the fuel for hope

 

 

 

Love First, Always and Forever

Usually I write about how child loss has impacted my life and the lives of my family.

Part of the reason I do that is to offer encouragement to other bereaved parents and guidance for people walking with and ministering to them.

Sometimes I address my writing to a broader audience that may include people who do not follow Jesus because some topics have more to do with general situations and less to do with faith-although my faith informs my life in every way.

But today I want to say something directly to the Body of Christ in the world whether or not you have personally suffered tragedy:

If we are gathering in the name of our Blessed Saviour and pushing the wounded to the fringe of our fellowships,

we have got it all wrong.

Jesus came for the broken,

the wounded,

the limping,

the very ones who were unwelcome in the “upstanding community”

of synagogues and the Temple.

He had no where to lay His head, carried no purse full of gold and walked everywhere He went.

He died between two thieves, mocked and naked, bleeding and helpless (in the human sense).

When He met people, He spoke directly to their HEART, regardless of their outward appearance.

He met REAL needs.

He LOVED in ways that made a difference.

We are calledI AM CALLEDto be like Jesus.

If I memorize the entire New Testament and miss this truth, I have missed Him.

We read I Corinthians 13 at weddings and treat it like a marriage survival guide.

But that passage wasn’t written to two young people joining lives and “in love”, it was written to the CHURCH as a guideline for how Christ in us should be present in the world.

I don’t want to be a clanging gong!

I want to sing hope to those I meet by reflecting the love of Jesus everywhere I go.

I’m starting this morning at my own church door.

1Corinthians.13.2_lg have not love am nothing

Bifurcate \ˈbī-(ˌ)fər-ˌkāt, bī-ˈfər-\

Bifurcate:  1. to cause to divide into two branches or parts; 2.  my life.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I led a fairly unified life.  

Our family was unusually close, our goals closely aligned, we shared the same faith, had developed routines and even all liked creamy peanut butter.

That changed when Dom left us-suddenly I was forced to live with one foot HERE and one foot THERE.

I didn’t get to choose, it was decided for me.

Paul’s words took on new meaning and great relevance:

We know that if our earthly house—a mere tent that can easily be taken down—is destroyed, we will then live in an eternal home in the heavens, a building crafted by divine—not human—hands. Currently, in this tent of a house, we continue to groan and ache with a deep desire to be sheltered in our permanent home because then we will be truly clothed and comfortable, protected by a covering for our current nakedness. The fact is that in this tent we anxiously moan, fearing the naked truth of our reality. What we crave above all is to be clothed so that what is temporary and mortal can be wrapped completely in life. The One who has worked and tailored us for this is God Himself, who has gifted His Spirit to us as a pledge toward our permanent home.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 VOICE

GroanYES!

Deep longing can only be expressed with low, gutteral sounds-there are no words!

I am in this earthly tent but want desperately to be free of it and clothed with the eternal-where joy unspeakable will reign and sorrow and death will be no more.

So this Lenten journey is helpful to me-it acknowledges the struggle between flesh and spirit.  It encourages my heart to walk by faith and not sight, to grab hold of that which counts forever and let go of that which is doomed for destruction.

The truth is, all of us who follow Jesus lead a bifurcated life.

It’s simply that some of us can ignore that truth.  Until death touches our bodies or our families, we can pretend that the earthly tent’s not so bad, that it might be somewhere we’d enjoy staying quite awhile.

I am not at all thankful for Dom’s death.  I will never be thankful my son left us in the prime of life, full of promise and without saying good-bye.

But I am thankful that I am unavoidably confronted with the truth that this life is fleeting, this world is only a moment and this body temporary housing for my eternal soul.

Paul goes on to write:

In light of this [our understanding that our life here is temporary], we live with a daring passion and know that our time spent in this body is also time we are not present with the Lord. The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. There is no doubt that we live with a daring passion, but in the end we prefer to be gone from this body so that we can be at home with the Lord. Ultimately it does not matter whether we are here or gone; our purpose stays fixed, and that is to please Him.

2 Corinthians 5: 6-9 VOICE

My eyes see one thing, but my heart knows another.

walk by faith feet on path

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arguing with God

I don’t expect to win and I don’t think I’ll get an audible answer, but I will tell you I’ve had some rip-roaring, humdinger arguments with God.

Now the pious among us will probably be shocked. They may tell me I’m pushing the envelope of grace or even sinning by asking God what exactly He is doing in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.

That doesn’t deter me-there are plenty of scriptural precedents for asking God, “why” and begging Him for an answer to the pain of this broken world.

Moses wanted to know how come he got stuck leading a bunch of whiny migrants tramping through the desert.

Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his flesh.

Jesus and Job both asked the question.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
‭‭Job‬ ‭13:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬

We usually don’t quote the last half of that verse, do we?

We stop at the affirmation and leave off the doubt-Job’s desperate desire to understand just what God was doing when it seemed unfair and capricious.

Most of the book of Job is full of questions.  Job asking why he was targeted and his friends asking him what sin he was hiding.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 1:18 NRSV

God invites us to ask.  He opens the door to questions.

He is willing to “talk”.

But He doesn’t always answer every question. 

In the end, Job’s mouth was shut not by God giving him assurance of anything except His “otherness” and the fact that He IS God.

A difficult truth to embrace.

One I ponder often.

I hurt, I sorrow, I agonize over the loss that has come into my life. A precious life has been taken away. I feel great grief and pain. It sears my every waking hour and casts a puzzling dreary shadow across my life’s journey.

At a time like this, it is imperative that I remember that God has not promised to keep my life bubbling with pleasing sensations. I must not prostitute God by giving Him the responsibility of being an indulgent Santa Claus in the heavens. God is not my servant. I am His servant.

As I come to grips with my grief, I reject the sentimentalized, sickly religion so popular today. God’s comfort is not insulation from difficulty; it is spiritual fortification sufficient to enable me to stand firm, undefeated in the fiery trials of life. God’s provision is not always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes God leads into the valley of the shadow, but I may walk there with confidence, assured of the love and presence of God.

No longer can I offer a mindless, frivolous assertion that God always measures up to my every expectation of Him and always gives His children goodies. I must declare that some things are beyond my human understanding in the ways of God. Those mysteries have destroyed my comfortable existence, but I proclaim: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I will hurt for years to come. A hundred times a day I feel keenly the void left by death’s cruel blow. That pain, however, must drive me to stronger trust in God whose providence is not always compatible with my desires.

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Prayers I Still Pray, Last Installment

Months ago, in my first post about prayer,  I spoke to the difficulty of praying while experiencing great pain.  In Praying Through the Pain I wrote:

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.

Today’s post is the final in a short series where I am sharing the prayers I still find easy to pray even after burying a child.

If you comb through the New Testament looking for prayers, you find that they don’t look like the ones we hear most often in church-most New Testament prayers focused on expanding a believer’s knowledge of who they are in Christ and Who Jesus is to them. 

Based on Scripture, I can ask in faith, speaking God’s words back to Him.

THESE are prayers I can still pray, I hope they are helpful for others in similar circumstances.

II Thessalonians 1: 11-12

God, I pray

  • that You will count____worthy of Your calling,
  • that by Your power You may fulfill every good purpose in ___’s life and every act prommpted by their faith.
  • I pray this so that the name of our Lord may be glorified in ___and they in You, acccording to Your grace.

2_thessalonians_1_11_12_by_ktbdesigns-d5voe0h

I Thessalonian 1:2-9

I always thank You, Father, for ___, as I bring them to You in prayer,

Continue to stir up in them

  • work produced by faith,
  • labor prompted by love, and
  • endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Cause ____to know that they are loved by You and especially chosen of You.

Cause the gospel to take root in their lives and go forth from them

  • not in words only,
  • but also with power,
  • with the Holy Spirit, and
  • with deep conviction.

Cause___

  • to keep their eyes on the Lord Jesus and become imitators of Him,
  • to have joy as only the Holy Spirit can given, and
  • to model Christ with their lives to a wathcing world, that their faith in You might become known to the ends of the earth.

Keep ____actively serving only You, the living and true God.  Keep ___’s heart turned to You so that they will recognize the snare of idols and conciously choose to have noting in their lives that rivals You.

i Thessalonians 1_2

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers I Still Pray, Part II

As I mentioned yesterday, prayer after loss is complicated for me.  I wrote a post months ago The Problem of [Un]Answered Prayer that addressed this.

But I AM able to pray Scripture-especially the prayers of Paul, which are centered on asking God to strengthen others and to expand their understanding of His love, compassion, power and grace.

Here are two more that I find helpful:

Philippians 1:9-11

phil 1_9 feet

I pray

  • that ___’s love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
  • that___may be able to discern what is best, and
  • that____may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,
  • that___will be filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.

 

Colossians 1:9-12

Father, I pray

  • that You will fill___with the knowledge of Your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
  • that___may live a life worthy of You, Lord,
  • that____may please You in every way,
  • that___will bear fruit in every good work,
  • that___will grow in the knowledge of You,
  • that___will be strengthened with all power according to Your glorious might,
  • that___may have great endurance and patience,
  • that___will joyfully give thanks to You, Father, who has qualiied them to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Today by Your Spirit make real all their inheritance in Christ Jesus.

col 1_9

Prayers I Still Pray

Prayer has been difficult for me since burying a child-I’ve written about that struggle in a previous post.

I have yet to find a comprehensible way to think about both the sovereignty of God and His goodness, free will and predestination.

So I find myself incapable of praying for things like safety for my children, freedom from disease or specific outcomes in difficult circumstances.

Instead I pray the prayers of Paul, straight from Scripture-prayers that focus on expanding a person’s understanding of Who God is, how much he or she is loved by God and the development of godly fruit in his or her life.

THESE are prayers I can still pray, I hope they are helpful for others in similar circumstances.

Ephesians 1:17-23

Glorious Father, I thank you for_______, and I bless them. I ask You to give _____the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that ______may know You better.  Enlighten the eyes of ______’s heart, so that they may know

  • the hope to which You have called them,
  • the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints,
  • And Your incomparably great power for them because they believe, the power of the resurrection and the ascension which seated Jesus at Your right hand where He is above all rule and authority, and power and dominion in this world, and all things are under His feet.

Fill ____with all the fullness of Jesus in every way today.

ephesians 1_17

Ephesians 3:15-20

I call You Father, and I pray

  • that from Your glorious riches You will strengthen______with power through Your Spirit in their inner being,
  • that Christ may dwell in ______’s heart through faith,
  • that ____will be rooted and established in love,
  • that____may have power, with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
  • that ____will know this love that surpasses knowledge,
  • that___will be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

I give You all the glory, for You are able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to Your power that is working within us.

ephesian320