Archives For eternal life

“As long as we dwell in time, there will never be more of Him available to us than now. Our walk with Him, our acknowledgment of Him with us, within us, while remaining fully sovereign—all this in the now—is what faith apprehends. God is available to us; Jesus is indeed, we are born again of His Spirit, the living Fountain within. We practice His Presence.”
Leanne Payne

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“Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?”
C.S.Lewis
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Ozymandias
” I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

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New year, new life

January 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

I’m having a very slow start. I’m just now looking ahead to the new year–the one that is already three weeks old. And in today’s instant world, three weeks is so past tense.
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But here I am, waking up from the comfortable hibernation of a family visit and seven hours of jet lag. Like a groundhog, I am looking at this year’s sun for the first time.
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To shift metaphors, I feel like I have missed that starter’s pistol. Everyone else has bolted out of their running blocks and now they are racing down the track.
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I’m yawning and stretching and wondering where I am, let alone where I am going.
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However life is more like a marathon than a sprint so perhaps all is not lost. Before plunging ahead, I’m taking the time to look back on last year [the one that feels like a decade ago], and look ahead to this year [the one the already feels half-gone].
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Because we live in eternity, it’s never too late to re-evaluate the direction we’re taking or to make adjustments or to shed an old cranky habit and take on a different approach. The promise of something new is always here, always now.
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In that spirit, here is a blessing based on Numbers 6:24-26 for the new life that is growing and that is to come:

The Lord bless you.
May you be blessed with blessing from the good and loving Father
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and keep you;
May you know the everlasting arms that hold you, that you can lean on, that will guide you to paths of righteousness and pull you back from danger
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the Lord make His face shine upon you,
May you stay close to your Father, who has brought His light into the world through Jesus. May this life-giving light that shines in the darkness and penetrates through the gray clouds of this world, illuminate your heart.
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and be gracious unto you;
May you walk in the fullness of grace that He has given to you freely
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the Lord lift up his countenance on you
Yes, may you know and live and walk in the Father’s abundance of blessing, as His chosen child, created, redeemed, sustained and comforted, in this life until the world to come.
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and give you peace.”
May you receive the gift of the Lord’s peace, that is, shalom;
of green pastures and calm waters,
guarded by the great Shepherd of the sheep;
whose love overtakes fear and anxiety, and who names you, “Beloved.”
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Be blessed.

The only problem with “Alive,” a song from All Sons and Daughters [on their Season One album] is that it is too short! This video clocks in at 2:17 minutes–and it’s a wonderful complement to the music and lyrics.

“Alive”

“This is a call to all the dead and disappointed
The ones who feel like they are done
This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten
But you are not
Oh you are not

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given
Unchained from all that we have done
Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon
And we’re comin’ home
We’re comin’ home

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shaken
We’re alive alive alive alive in You”

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[I will keep this short so you can take time to watch a contemporary version of the book of Acts.]

Why am I following Jesus?

In a peaceful place where I can live out my faith without being persecuted, it’s read the Acts of the Apostles as events that happened a long time ago. With smartphones, and airplanes, and human rights declarations, our world can seem very different–better–superior than the hostile world that Peter and Stephen, Paul, and the rest of the first Christians lived in:

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.
Acts 7:58-60

They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region… And the disciples were filled with joy and the with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:50, 52

They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city thinking he was dead. Acts 14:19

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged there were thrown into prison. Acts 16:23

This week, however, I watched a contemporary version of the book of Acts.* As I listened to the stories of Iraqi Christians who were persecuted by ISIS, I got a glimpse of a world of where people are kidnapped, killed, expelled from their homes, and beaten because of their religion.

These ordinary Christians challenge me to reflect on why I am following Jesus. Is it for comfort? Tradition? Culture? Because it makes me feel good?

They could have escaped if they had given up their faith in Jesus and converted to Islam, but they didn’t. Why did they stand firm?

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:66-69

As I listened to these believers share what happened to them and how they responded, I found myself asking:
Would I too be willing to risk death for eternal life?
Would I too forgive those who caused me to lose my job, my house, my community?
Would I too pray for those who persecuted me?

These everyday saints encourage me to say yes.

 

[*It takes just a half hour to hear what it can mean to follow Jesus in our world today.]

“We are invited to make a pilgrimage into the life and heart of God. God’s desire is that we should live in Him. He sends among us the Way to Himself…

“Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life…
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“Jesus matters because of what He brought and what He still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. And sharing our weakness He gives us strength and imparts through His companionship a life that has the quality of eternity. He comes where we are, and He brings us the life we hunger for.”
Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy

Recently I have been lamenting [and what an apt word that is] the deep pain and hurt I have caused in someone’s life. The damage rose out of my selfishness which, like ordinary mold, comes in thousands upon thousands of varieties. In its myriad forms, my selfishness generates both sins of commission and sins of omission. On a daily basis, I caused hurt by my unloving actions as much as by my unloving failure to act.

This morning as I lamented, I turned to the day’s entry in “God the Enough”, a little devotional guide by Selwyn Hughes. There was God’s incredible response to my lament:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21

Hughes goes on to ask:
“Is there enough grace in the heart of God to meet and overcome the difficulties created by evil?”

That is a question I have been wrestling with on a personal level. Is there enough grace to meet the difficulties of *my* evil?

The answer is “Yes, in Christ.” And three weeks into Lent seems a good time to ponder how God brought this grace into our world. Hughes explains it like this:

“Sin is without a doubt the biggest problem God has ever had to deal with. When we read the four gospels we see something of the pain God has gone through in order to defeat sin and its consequences. They spell out in terms that are crystal clear how much anguish sin brought to the heart of the Deity. The theologian Martin Kahler worded it like this: ‘The four Gospels are shaped as passion narratives with long introductions. At the heart of each Gospel is a pool of pain.’

Throughout the centuries, Christians have always evaluated the horror of sin by the suffering needed to atone for it. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, spells out the issue in these poignant words:

‘The ripping and writhing of a body on a cross, the bizarre metaphysical maneuver of using death to defeat death, the urgency of the summons to human beings to ally themselves with the events of Christ and with the Person of those events, and then to make that Person and those events the center of their lives—these tell us the main human trouble is desperately difficult to fix, even for God, and that sin is the longest running of all human emergencies.’”

I was struck by the idea that sin is not just my problem, it is God’s problem too. I think I’ve viewed my sin akin to losing at musical chairs. I tried, I failed, and I had to leave the game.

But God viewed my wrongdoing [and everyone else’s] as a problem for Himself. Not only did I suffer the loss of His fellowship, He suffered the loss of mine because the loss brought on by sin goes both ways.

His love for me is not all about me. It’s about Him. Why else would He want to make things right again? Only Love would be willing to sacrifice in order to rescue the lost beloved.

This brings me back to my lament. I see that God is able to sympathize with my sorrow over sin because He also experienced this. But His “pain of searing loss” was on a different level. His sorrow over the suffering of Jesus was pure, undeserved, gracious. He knew beforehand how exquisitely painful the experience would be, yet He was still willing to endure it. Not only for my sake, but also for His.

I am more than ever in awe of His amazing, holy love for me. For this love generates grace abounding, grace all-sufficient, grace increasing without end. Amen.

Not just a name

February 6, 2015 — 2 Comments

Recently I have been feeling the weight of my sinfulness and the many ways I go off God’s path, following my petty selfish desires. Even my righteous acts don’t make the grade:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:4

Thankfully, at the same time I have been aware that Jesus can wash me clean and restore my relationship with Him. With Peter, I’ve been praying, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [John 13:9] I am finding it helpful to follow a personal liturgy for confessionadapted from The Book of Common Prayer, with commentary by David Powlison on each phrase in the prayer.

He begins:
“Even when your thoughts and feelings are chaotic, these words can serve as your guide. They are a channel for honesty. Instead of wallowing in misery and failure, these words help you to plan how you will walk in the direction of honesty, mercy, gratitude, and freedom.”

Today, I didn’t get further than the prayer’s opening greeting:
“Almighty and most merciful Father”

Here are Powlison’s comments on that simple phrase:

“Notice that you are talking with someone who is both all powerful and most merciful. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is the God of comfort and Father of mercies. God becomes your Father, our Father who art in heaven, through Jesus. He loved you in the exact way you most need help and rescue from outside yourself. He died in your place. He laid down his life for you. He is alive. He pursues you. Someday you will see him face to face. He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit. Turn to him. Call on him for help.
 
Don’t mistake the true God for other things. For example, what if your human father was weak, absent, fickle or harsh? The reason you know that such things are wrong is that you have a God-implanted sense within you: a true father should be strong, involved, faithful, generous and tender. Your true Father welcomes you. He is glad to see you and willingly listens to you. He will protect you. He will hear you. He is merciful. He is generous-hearted. He will help you. He will give you what you truly need.”

In particular, this echoed in my heart:
“He pursues you… He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit.”

God does not wait for me to come to Him. He is pursuing me. He comes to me with life, and welcomes me into His holy of holies. He makes it possible for me to enter into His presence. The work and effort is His.

Because of this, I don’t have to wait until I have cleaned up my act. And I don’t come as a grown-up who has it all together, but as a child, calling out, “Abba–Papa”.

I am not asking forgiveness from some distant, impersonal divine being. I’m approaching my Father who created me in love and with love, to be loved by Him. He is personal, intimate, present with me. He answers back to me, “Yes, I am here for you now. Come. Be washed. Be clean.”

This is my confidence. I can come without any hesitation. ‘Father’ is not just a name. It describes our relationship. It explains why He wants to forgive me. It testifies how His love never runs out on me.

“In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love.”
[One Thing Remains]

Because of this, perhaps the biggest wonder is not that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy God lavishes His love on me, but that it takes me so long to come to Him.

I want to learn to stay closer, to return faster, to delight more in His love. And this is just what my Father wants for me too.

He waits. He beckons. He invites. He whispers, “Come.”

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“The underlying sin behind every sin is treason against the One who made us for love and flourishing. Sin is insanity and destroys what is good, right, and true. Sin makes no sense, is not rational, nor can be reasoned with. Sin thrives in darkness and hates the light. Sin opposes everything God loves and is compelled to ruin God’s plans and purposes to put this world right.

Though the whole human race participates in this defiance, God is unshakably committed to extending his healing grace as far as this deadly curse is found. … He does so, not by acts of military might or zealous terror, but by swallowing the curse like a bitter pill. He enters this fractured world, places himself in our guilty place and endures the strength and horror of evil on a Roman cross until it is fully exhausted through him. He bears the full blast of God’s wrath against all the powers of hell aligned against us.”
David Fairchild

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“The salvation of God … stands on the sacrificial death of Jesus…
Sinful men and women can be changed into new creatures,
not by their repentance or their belief,
but by the marvelous work of God in Christ Jesus which is prior to all experience.”
Oswald Chambers

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“That hand which multiplied the loaves,
which saved sinking Peter,
which upholds afflicted saints,
which crowns believers,
that same hand will touch every seeking sinner,
and in a moment make him or her clean.
The love of Jesus is the source of salvation.
He loves,
He looks,
He touches us,
we live.”
Charles Spurgeon

Worse than Ebola

November 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

These past months, the news has been filled with tragic stories about Ebola and how the deadly virus has moved rapidly through families and communities. We’ve seen how constant vigilance and sometimes drastic measures are required to prevent the virus from spreading further.

Health workers who treat Ebola victims wear ten items of personal protective gear, including inner and outer gloves. They need to follow 14 steps when putting on the gear, and 24 steps when taking it off which they do under the watchful eye of a trained observer.

Step 16:
“Remove the N95 respirator by tilting the head slightly forward, grasping first the bottom tie or elastic strap, then the top tie or elastic strap, and remove without touching the front of the N95 respirator. Discard N95 respirator.” US Center for Disease Control

I imagine brave health workers pay very close attention to these steps. They know that one little slip can result in getting the disease.

God’s drastic measures
In the past when I’ve read Old Testament instructions for dealing with unclean things, they have seemed excessive to my modern sensibilities. But as I’ve learned more about a virus like Ebola, I’ve come to a better appreciation of God’s approach.

I recently read Numbers 19, where God tells the Israelites how to make water of cleansing to purify people who have touched dead bodies. Like the instructions for using Ebola-resistant protective gear, His commands are specific and hard to summarize. Let’s just say they involve blood, burning, and a lot of washing.

And if a person fails to comply? “Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the Lord’s tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel.” Numbers 19:13

When you see how contagious a disease like Ebola is, God’s method of purification suddenly makes a lot more sense. His requirements, whether for physical cleanliness or spiritual holiness, have one goal in mind. He wants to save life. He wants to protect us from death.

Battling spiritual Ebola
And the spiritual virus which infects our world is far more potent and lethal than physical Ebola. Created by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin has spread fast and furious through communities in every age, fueling a spiritual pandemic that thrives from one generation to another.

The sin virus sometimes retreats through moral living. There have been times and places in the world where the deadly effects of the spiritual disease have been reduced. But the virus always comes back, bringing hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy [Galatians 5:19-21].

Deadly serious
In the first months of the current Ebola outbreak, people didn’t always recognize the seriousness of the disease or how deadly it was. We can do the same with sin. We can pretend this spiritual pandemic is a myth, or that we are immune from its effects.

We can think the warnings we hear about it aren’t really true, that they’re just scare tactics. Or that we’re too enlightened to catch it. Or that it’s a problem for someone else, but we’re safe because we’re extra careful. Or that we should be rewarded for decades of good behavior. But sin remains rampant, toxic, and 100% fatal.

The glorious cure
Every person had been infected and there is only one permanent cure. Just like the blood of Ebola survivors is used to save new victims, the blood of Jesus is the ultimate vaccine for the sin virus. In the most drastic measure of all, God had His son die to save us. It was the only way.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people–free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeed. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!” {Ephesians 1:7-8, The Message]

What great news! There’s a cure for all the sin-sick. The scourge of the earth has been beaten back. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” [I Corinthians 14:54] No one has to stay in quarantine. God welcomes each of us back to take our place in His holy household. We’re free forever. Hallelujah!

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things He does for me.
He forgives all my sins
      and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
      and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”
Psalm 103:2-4

As someone who lives overseas, flying is a regular part of my life. Every so often I get an airplane, a nice big safe one, and get ready for another flight.
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I buckle my seat belt, look around for the nearest emergency exit, and settle back. The plane takes off and reaches a comfortable cruising altitude as it flies over mountain ranges and an ocean or two. Occasionally the pilot will give an update or if I’m curious about our progress, I can check the flight path.

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Usually when the plane begins its final descent, I’m in the middle of watching a movie or reading a book. I don’t even notice my gradual return to earth.

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A few months ago, a friend told me about a different kind of flight she once took. She boarded a small plane and flew into a war zone to do humanitarian work. As the plane neared their destination, there was no gradual descent. Instead, to keep out of the range of ground missiles, the plane continued at its cruising altitude until it was almost above the airport. Then it went into an intentional spiral [I would call it a death spiral], making tight circles like a corkscrew as it came down for the landing.

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“During the spiral the crew keeps an eye out for other air traffic, and for anything coming at them from the ground. After several turns, the pilot pulls out of the rotation with careful timing, straightens out, and lands. The whole thing takes seven to 10 minutes, roughly the same as a regular approach, but it all takes place directly overhead, instead of beginning 20 miles from the runway.”

Allan T. Duffin

Listening to my friend’s story, I imagined the plane with its nose pointed down at the ground to avoid being shot down by enemy fire. I could picture me clutching the armrests, my stomach lurching and my mind scrambling as I wondered if the pilot was going to be able to straighten out the plane before it landed splat on the ground. Then I made a ‘note to self’: never volunteer for humanitarian work in a war zone.

I have zero desire to ever experience a death spiral like that. That’s also true in my journey through life. I like to keep things even-keeled. I want to cruise above the turbulence and avoid the storms. I prefer to stay out of the way of enemy fire. But sometimes my flight path heads straight into danger and suddenly I’m spinning around and around.

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An illness, a job loss, the death of a close friend, a betrayal, experiences like these can make us feel like our life is doing a death spiral as it plummets to earth. We become anxious and wonder if our pilot is going to be able to pull us out of the spiral before we crash.

That happened a few times to me this past year. I went from a comfortable cruising altitude into what felt like an out-of-control tail spin. It was dizzying and disorienting. At times I felt paralyzed by fear, and other times I wanted to charge into the cockpit and take control of the plane. It was hard to trust God to bring me through the storm and steer me safely home.

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I could identify with the disciples on the boat as they shouted at Jesus to wake him up. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” [Mark 4:38]

After Jesus took care of the storm, He responded to the disciples’ question with one of His own:
Why can’t you trust Me?” [Luke 8:25, The Message]

A pilot’s paraphrase might be: “Don’t worry folks. It may get a little rough out there, but I’ve flown through this kind of turbulence before. And maybe there are guns firing at us, but I know what it’s like to be shot at. Hang on tight and don’t be afraid. I’m with you and I will bring you safely home.”

I need to continually remind myself of this truth because the death spirals I experiences this year won’t be my last ones. Life on this earth is a war zone.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I can have a peace that is beyond all understanding, even in the midst of another death spiral. Jesus, the master of the wind and waves, the conqueror of our worst enemy, is my pilot. I am not alone. And I can trust Him.

Commit your future to the Lord! Trust in Him and He will act on your behalf
Wait patiently for the Lord! Wait confidently for Him.
Psalm 37:5, 7

What has your flight path been like recently?

How do you need to trust God?

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses…

The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’…

‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.
Luke 14:16-18, 21-23

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No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Charles Wesley

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“In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Zechariah 8:23

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Jesus therefore said to them again, “Most assuredly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters in by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture. John 10:7-9

Speaking of being held

August 12, 2014 — 2 Comments

My dear friend, Michael Prewitt, who died one month ago today, wrote often during his illness about his experience of being held by God:

“What I have experienced in this time is a sense of security and being held by the power of a loving God who, whatever the outcome of this, cares for me.”
October 11, 2012, three weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive malignant brain tumor

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“I end this post with the word that remarkably has defined this time for me: Gratitude. For all your thoughts, cards, emails, prayers. For the love and embrace of my family. For the constant protective presence of the mystery we call the God who comes to us in our need. Praise God from who all blessings flow.”
October 27, 2012

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“That restful sleep is the product of a comfort that I cannot explain, that beyond the state of the art medicine and attentive, loving care of family, I am held and protected. It has nothing to do with what I am able to think or do or even pray.”
January 1, 2013

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“More and more, I realize that the gift of healing that I’m looking for, may not involve a physical healing at all. Somehow the healing that I’ve been given, the healing that we are promised by God, is a greater healing that deals with our assurance that we are indeed in God’s hands, and that mystery is a great gift to me, whatever the final outcome of my physical healing.”
September 9, 2013

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“You know that other people probably would get depressed by this state of affairs, but I do not feel that way, and, if anything, the feeling that I’ve had of being held and protected is as strong as it was slightly over a year ago. It all is such an incredible gift. Why have I been given this way of handling this? I don’t know, but I am grateful for it every day.”
October 31, 2013, after landing back in rehab again

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“My spirits are good and I continue to have this feeling that I am being held, and often times, during a day or a week, I feel like I’ve really been able to be in touch with God in a way that does not involve a specific prayer, just this feeling of being held and that is enough.”
May 18, 2014, two months before Michael died

How to make it to December

January 15, 2014 — 4 Comments

This week an acquaintance of mine was bemoaning the struggle to keep a 30-day resolution she had made for January. It has seemed like a good idea from the mountain peak of the new year, but things had quickly turned dull and mundane. Having just begun, she found herself already slogging through the valley and she was wondering if she should bail out now.

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I know the feeling. I came back from the holidays wanting to set a new course, desperate to make some changes in my life. But as I blue-skyed possibilities and dreamed up plans, I dreaded coming down from the mountain and actually starting the journey.

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coming down to earth:
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the nitty-gritty on the ground:
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I know it’s not always going to be pretty or pleasant. I’ll get bored. The enthusiasm for change will turn gray. My new habits may get stuck in mud. Old habits will creep back in. The view from the mountaintop will be replaced by tunnel vision.

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So how can I make it to December? How can I keep on the path and not give up? What is the secret to perseverance?

1] Mark your steps
Making progress isn’t hard. It’s simply being faithful day in and day out. Right foot, left foot. But I’m not a robot. I need encouragement along the way. Nothing fancy, just checking off a daily task, or making a week’s tally can give me a sense of accomplishment and keep me going. I’ve done three days of my new ‘read a chapter of the New Testament each day’.

I have a long way to go but I’m getting addicted to the little burst of satisfaction when I check the box. Visual markers–stones in a jar, stars on a calendar–are a great way to spur us on when our interest or desire weakens. Ask anyone in kindergarten.

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2] Make sacred stops
Keeping a habit takes energy, especially when I’m going against my natural tendency or selfish default. I think that’s why often I start to slack off. I stop pushing. Soon, the new habit quietly slinks away. Instead, I need to replace slacking off with coming to a full stop, which is exactly what happens when I keep the Sabbath. It’s a time to pause along the way and get refreshed.
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I take a break from the routine of my life and spend time enjoying God and His creation. It’s a chance for me to remind myself of the big picture too. And when the Sabbath is over, I’m rested and ready to pick up my habit again.

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The year has just begun and there’s a long way to go. But slow and steady like the turtle, I’m getting somewhere.

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What about you? What helps you stay on track and persevere through the year?

Why is not the question

October 2, 2013 — 3 Comments

Today I’m going to visit friends who have suffered a tragic, horrible loss. My natural instinct in these situations has been to figure out what to say. I’ve wanted to be ready to answer the awful questions of ‘why did God allow this to happen?’ and ‘how can this work out for good?’

But in the wonderful timing He uses, last week God brought several reminders my way of what His response is when someone suffers.

2012 11 27 sf la boston 389

It’s not neat theological answers.

It’s not the triumph of strong faith, and the victorious assurance that all is well.

It’s also not a helpless shrug of the shoulders and a murmur of ‘bad things happen to good people.’

God doesn’t come and tell us why or how. His response is much less than that, and yet so much more.

It is Emmanuel. God with us,
sitting with us,
listening to us,
crying with us.

And who is this God with us?

He is someone who suffered Himself; someone deeply and intimately, acquainted with grief.

He is someone who sees when we suffer, in the garden, on the cross. He notices, He pays attention. He does not shun us when we are broken. He does not avoid us when we are in pain.

He is someone who is alongside of us, always, forever; expressing our anguish when our hearts are too raw for words.

This is the one thing I am confident of,
in the darkest, hardest hours and months and years of our lives, the Triune God comes.
He is here, with us.

And so I will go and mourn with those who mourn;
with hope that my presence will be a reminder that they do not grieve alone.

2012 11 27 sf la boston 393

Learning how to count

September 5, 2013 — 5 Comments

I have a problem with math, which is slightly ironic since my father was a math teacher. My biggest trouble with numbers is that I’m lousy at counting. Or perhaps more accurately (!), I don’t stop and figure out:

  • how long will it take me to do something
  • how far is it to get somewhere
  • how much will this activity cost

Probably the most important thing I ignore is time. I know it is precious but you wouldn’t think so, given how I can spend my days frittering away at this and that*. Too often I live as if I have all the time in the world–which I don’t. As the psalmist so bluntly reminds us:
The years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.
and
Look, You make my days short-lived,
and my life span is nothing from Your perspective.
Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.
**

I don’t know about you, but to me reading that feels like a bracing swim in a winter pond.

IMG_7786 (2)
Looking ahead
It would be nice to slow down time, but I can’t. It keeps flowing on. As summer and its long lazy days passed, I found myself looking ahead to the fall. I knew I would only have so many hours to spend and I thought about what my focus should be:

  • In my relationships
  • In my work
  • In my service
  • In my sabbath-keeping

As I considered these priorities, I realized that I needed to learn how to count, like the psalmist who prayed, “Teach us to number our days.
and
O Lord, help me understand my mortality
and the brevity of life!
Let me realize how quickly my life will pass! ***

Then I discovered God’s response to my dilemma:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust. [Psalm 103:13-14}

That’s right. Compassion. My heavenly Father knows me. He knows my talents, my weaknesses, my human limitations. And instead of asking me to work harder or more efficiently, He offers me His compassion.

He also gives me hope for the future: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” [Psalm 23:6]

I found that the phrases “all the days of my life” and “dwell in the house of the Lord” are also repeated in Psalm 27:
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

Yet when I read that, my first thought was, “I can’t spend all my time gazing on the Lord, there is work to be done.”

Then I remembered Martha in Luke 10 who was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made and asked Jesus to tell her sister to get a move on. His response was, “…only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.

That’s God’s answer to the math problem of my life. One. One thing is needed. My days are dwindling, but there is only one thing I really need to do, and that is focusing on Him.

I confess that’s hard for me to even write, let alone put it into practice. Still that’s what He teaches me. The oughts and shoulds and want-tos in my life do not come from Him. His path is simple and His yoke is easy.

He only desires that I learn to sit quietly before Him,
enjoying His beauty;
listening to His stories;
and receiving water and food and fresh strength as I follow Him home.

What about you? When can you spend some time listening to Jesus?

 

...like a tree planted by streams of water [Psalm 1:3]

…like a tree planted by streams of water [Psalm 1:3]

Notes
*Speaking of frittering: back in the dark ages, my downfall was looking at all the mail order catalogs that flooded our mailbox. Now it’s browsing on the internet.

**Psalm 90:6 and Psalm 39:5

***Psalm 90:12 and Psalm 39:4

Psalm 27:4

Luke 10:38-42

“Heaven goes by favor;
if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
Mark Twain

♦◊♦

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord,
I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,
but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
Turn! Turn from your evil ways!
Why will you die, people of Israel?

Ezekiel 33:11

♦◊♦

“God will certainly let everyone into heaven that can possibly stand it.”
Dallas Willard

God brought you alive—
right along with Christ! Think of it!
All sins forgiven,
the slate wiped clean,
that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross…
So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you
in details of diet, worship services, or holy days.
All those things are mere shadows
cast before what was to come;
the substance is Christ.

Colossians 2:14-17

♦◊♦

Being born again from above is a perennial, perpetual, and eternal beginning,
a freshness all the time
in thinking and in talking and in living
the continual surprise of the life in God.

Being born of the spirit gives us a new vision
and keeps us absolutely fresh for everything.
Oswald Chambers

♦◊♦

If anyone is in Christ,
the new creation has come:
The old has gone,
the new is here!

II Corinthians 5:17

Ten days before my father passed away, Nora Ann Rejoice was welcomed into the world.  Continue Reading…

Your hand on me

November 17, 2012 — 13 Comments

My father passed away peacefully last week at the age of 90. He never regained consciousness after a massive stroke, but I was so thankful I could be with him and the rest of my family as he made his journey home. During the five days, I sometimes read scripture to him. Along with the standard comforting passages, I found Psalm 139 particularly reassuring. Here is part one of a paraphrase I wrote a few years ago: Continue Reading…

Imagine this
I get a phone call from Regis –
he says “Do you want to be a millionaire?” Continue Reading…