Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: A Living Hope

We toss the word “hope” around a lot.

I hope it rains. I hope I get the job. I hope it’s a boy!

Most of the time we could exchange “wish” for “hope” because we have no power to make the things we hope for come true.

So when we read “hope” in this passage, it doesn’t necessarily evoke the sure promise Peter is trying to convey in his letter to suffering Christians of the first century.

It would be cold comfort to families as they were forced at sword point to walk off cliffs or thrust into the arena with lions if Peter’s hope was just a wish.

But it’s not.

Peter opens his letter with a bold declaration based on his eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He’s alive!

And His living Presence means that THIS hope is a promise.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I Peter 1:3-9 NIV

These are some of my favorite verses in the epistles.

Peter packs so much in so few words: I have an inheritance, I have a future and I have joy.

My inheritance in Christ is safe, secure and eternal.

There is no law of diminishing returns in Heaven. Unlike that dress I bought that seemed so wonderful a week ago, I won’t ever get tired of reciting and reviewing all Jesus purchased for me with His blood.

Do you ever fear you might lose your faith?

Peter reminds us we are shielded by God in Christ until the full glory of our salvation is revealed at the Last Day. Jesus Himself said that those the Father gives Him cannot be snatched from His hand.

Doubt is not denial.

If you have put your trust in the finished work of Jesus then you are saved.

Trials will come. But they are not the last word.

When we lean on Christ and trust Him to walk with us through them, take the heat and refuse to melt, then we are refined and His glory is purer, clearer and more easily seen in our lives.

And in the midst of trials I have joy because my hope in the living hope of our resurrected Savior sustains me.

Consider Paul’s words: ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). In the ugliness of intensified grief, the Christian is supernaturally enabled to rejoice.

The hallelujahs of joy reverberate on broken heartstrings. My sorrow touches every part of my life, yet I sorrow not as those who have no hope.

My rejoicing is not that of happy feelings; it is triumph in trial and confidence in a supreme God. The true joy of the Lord is divine enablement, not effervescent emotions

James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Sometimes it seems like it’s hardly worth it. Our circle is small and our testimony just a whisper. But we won’t know the full story of how our struggle glorifies Him until all things are revealed.

Our hope is a Living Hope.

It’s no pie-in-the-sky fairy tale.

Your story matters.

It’s being written to be shared as a testimony to God’s goodness, His faithful love and His enabling grace.

Hang on.

You’ll be glad you did.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever thought about the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the promise that we will also be raised? How do Peter’s words about our “living hope” impact your faith?
  • Peter denied Christ and most certainly didn’t ever expect to have a second chance to make that right. Do you feel like you’ve done or said or thought something that puts you outside the love and grace of God?
  • In the midst of a trial are you aware that it’s a refining experience? Do you care?
  • Does the promise that our steadfast endurance will be revealed in the last day as a testimony to God’s glory and grace encourage you? Why or why not?
  • What practical steps do you take to hold onto hope?

PRAYER:

Lord, sometimes I feel hopeless. I forget that the resurrection proves You have conquered death and the grave. I forget I have a Living Hope and that hope is the person of Jesus Christ.

Trials come and the heat is so intense. I want to shrink away, to hide, to find some safe corner where pain and sorrow won’t find me. But that’s not the world we live in. Whether I’m persecuted for my faith or just the target of someone else’s sinful actions or words, it hurts!

Give me the strength to endure regardless of how intense the struggle.

I want to finish strong. I want to be a testimony for Your glory and to Your grace. Thank You for providing every needful thing.

Speak courage to my spirit, breathe life into my faith.

Thank You that I can rest assured that the hope I place in You is not just a fanciful wish but a sure thing.

Amen

HOLY WEEK 2019: Resurrection, Reality and Reassurance

“The worst conceivable thing has happened, and it has been mended…All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich

I’m not sure when I first read this quote, but it came to my mind that awful morning.   And I played it over and over in my head, reassuring my broken heart that indeed, the worst had already happened, and been mended.

Death had died.

Christ was risen-the firstfruits of many brethren.

Read the rest here:  Resurrection: Reality and Reassurance

HOLY WEEK 2019: Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

It is tempting to forget that there were three long days and nights between the crucifixion and the resurrection beause the way we observe this season rushes us past the pain to embrace the promise.

But it’s not hard for me to imagine how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus was dead.  It was neither what they expected nor what they prayed for.

There were many points in the story when things could have gone a different way:

  • When taken by the religious leaders-surely, they thought, He will explain Himself, they will let Him go.
  • When taken before Pilate-Rome will refuse to get involved with our spiritual squabbles, Pilate won’t authorize His death.
  • When presented to the crowd-no Jew would rather have a wicked murderer released instead of a humble, healing Rabbi.

At every turn, every expectation they had for a “happy ending” was dashed to the ground.

Read the rest here:  Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

HOLY WEEK 2019: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

~C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Holy Week 2019: Maundy Thursday

Today is the day on the church calendar when we pause and reflect on the Last Supper, and the last words of Jesus to His disciples.

A year’s worth of sermons is contained in John 13-17 but this week I have been drawn to just one verse:

[Jesus said] “Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”

John 13:34 PHILLIPS

Read the rest here:  Maundy Thursday

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