Tag Archives: eternity

God’s Grace in the Hard

12 May

20150508_160159I mentioned in my last blog post that I recently read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace. You might not have heard of her, but she just recently passed away after a lengthy battle against breast cancer. She was only 38 and left behind a husband and 4 young kids.

I read the book hoping to gain some insights into how to find peace in the hard circumstances of life. I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet but my mom is waging her own battle against ovarian cancer. Labor Day this year will mark 2 years since she was diagnosed. Without going into the details here, I’ll just say that the continual appointments, surgeries, chemo treatments, nausea, pain, loss of appetite and weight, complications, needle pokes, hospital stays and other challenges have tested not only her and my dad’s faith, but mine as well.

Meanwhile, I hear stories like Kara’s. Or that of the couple that lives on our street and recently lost their 3-year-old daughter to leukemia. Or a friend from church whose son died from brain trauma at birth. Or an acquaintance from Colorado whose daughter’s heart stopped beating the day before she was supposed to be born via c-section. Or strangers I’ve never even met — a young married couple and their 6-month-old child — who were driving when a bridge collapsed on them and killed them.

And I wonder… WHY????

Why does God allow these things to happen? Why does God leave prayers for healing and wholeness unanswered? Why does God take people when they’re young? Why does God leave their loved ones behind to pick up the pieces of a broken life?

I also wonder… HOW???

How do we trust that God is good in circumstances that seem to scream otherwise? How do we hide ourselves under His wing like a baby chick with its mother when He doesn’t seem to be protecting us from the hurt and hardship of disease and death? When it feels like He’s leaving us exposed and bearing the full brunt of this world’s fallenness and depravity?

My mom’s cancer returned in October of last year. The prognosis was not good. We are praying — begging — for a miracle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God’s grace in the hard since then, and have come to the conclusion that…

We trust God is good because He says He is. (Nahum 1:7)

We trust God’s purposes in hardship and disease because He says that His plan is perfect. (Psalm 18:30; Romans 8:28)

We trust God’s promises because He has proven His commitment to and love for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. (2 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 8:32)

We trust God’s love for us because He says nothing can separate us from it in Christ (Romans 8:37-39) and He has demonstrated it tangibly in Christ’s payment for our sins. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to understand WHY or HOW in order to trust God. We trust Him based on His character. We trust Him based on the fact that His ways are higher than ours and if we had a God that we could fully understand, He wouldn’t be big enough.

I’ve also seen the necessity of living with our eyes focused on eternity and the Big Picture that extends beyond this life. Because usually when people talk about the value and importance of suffering and going through hard things, they focus on the growth that results. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” right? Except what if it does kill you or your loved one? What if there is no “after” from which you can look back on the suffering you went through and see the growth or value?

” ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy–we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? … How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” (Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace)

We have to believe that the suffering we endure on this earth is being used for our eternal good. That the battle against cancer, disease or persecution is reaping us growth and rewards that we carry into the next life with Christ. Nothing here is wasted, even if (or when) the battle kills us.

We also have to see the immeasurable good of God’s grace in being concerned first and foremost with our souls. Since my mom’s diagnosis, my parents have started to read the Bible daily, pray earnestly and trust God in a practical way that they hadn’t before, for which I am incredibly thankful to God. Being pushed beyond your limits has a way of getting you down on your knees in humility and dependence. Regardless of whether God causes these hard things or just allows them (that’s an argument for another time), He uses the hard things to accomplish His purposes — even if we can’t see what they are right now.

“God’s purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year, or even in this lifetime. Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not even be known when believers die and go to be with the Lord. Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgment when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts and commends with special honor those who trusted him in hardship even though they could not see the reason for it: they trusted him simply because he was their God and they knew him to be worthy of trust. It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen that trust in God alone seems to be most pure and precious in his sight. Such faith he will not forget, but will store up as a jewel of great value and beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgment (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter).”

It’s hard to trust God in this way, but it’s the only way we’ll have true hope in these kinds of circumstances. I often feel the co-existence of faith and doubt like the father in Mark 9:24 — “I believe; help my unbelief!” God’s grace in the hard is that He meets us where we’re at — in the pain, anger, fear, sadness — and reassures us that He sees and He cares. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Even when our faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, He loves us. And no matter what the outcome is, He will be there for us with grace, compassion, love and goodness. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10)

The Importance of Eternity

12 Nov

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If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably know that I spend a lot of time focusing on accepting the circumstances God allows – true joy comes from surrendering to His plan. It’s waaay easier said than done because to be honest, I often don’t like the circumstances He allows. They’re hard. They hurt. Sometimes they just plain suck. But the truth remains: If I want joy, I must humbly submit myself and my life to God.

I still wholeheartedly believe in this and the book I’m working on is about how I got to that place. But I’ve noticed a potentially bad result of that mindset: forgetting eternity.

Finding joy by accepting what God allows isn’t just about making this life more bearable. The Bible is full of verses about the importance and benefits of trials, suffering, and persecution in a believer’s life. But the reason WHY those are so valuable is eternity.

The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” God is our hope and joy in this life only because He’s our hope and joy in the next. There is no gospel without eternity. We cannot let go of this life and truly trust God with everything unless we are staking our hearts on another life, a better one – one spent face to face with Him. Paul also wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:23b)

It’s good to give thanks for God’s daily, tangible blessings and provision — doing so helps me connect the larger reality of the gospel to my everyday life. But it’s best to give thanks for salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. Only that will never change and never be taken away.

Though Satan should buffet
Though trials should come
Let this blessed assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My body is not who I am.

1 Oct

 

Last Tuesday, I went to the second meeting of our women’s book study at church. The study I chose is Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Even though I had found peace with food back in December of 2009 and I like to think that I have healthy eating all figured out, food and body image are still a struggle for me, and have been for a while.

It started the summer after I graduated from high school. I was bored because I only worked 20 hours, my boyfriend was gone for the summer and all my friends were busy. So to pass the time, I started exercising intentionally and counting calories for the first time in my life.

I took a detour my freshman year of college, when I became a pothead and gained 20 lbs from the munchies. By my sophomore year, I was back down to my previous weight, but more obsessed about diet and exercise than ever.

After becoming a Christian the summer after my sophomore year, things got better but this struggle continued to be a roller coaster.

I tried to dethrone my idol of thinness in 2008.

I swore off counting calories in 2009.

I talked about accepting my body shape in 2010.

I thought I had discovered the solution to emotional eating in March of this year.

But here I am, still struggling. That’s why I signed up for the book study. In all the years of my dealing with this, I had never talked to another Christian woman about it. I advocate vulnerability and transparency in all areas of life. I have been very open in talking about my life before I became a Christian and the body struggles I had then. But I have always conveniently glossed over my current trials.

Because I’m ashamed. This is an ugly sin. It’s judgmental and critical and harsh and unforgiving. It makes me feel superior to some and inferior to others. I have really good days when I think, “Oh, I must be over that struggle.” And then there are bad days when I think, “I’m so fat and disgusting and I feel like a blob.” Then there are days when I wake up and feel good about what I see in the mirror but after eating a little too much at dinner, I swear to never eat again.

I have tried almost everything I can think of to conquer this demon. I’ve reminded myself of truth – that God created me this way and I’m beautiful to Him. I’ve tried to be inspired by other women who are confident in less-than-perfect figures. I’ve ditched the clothes that make me figure-conscious and instead donned clothes that I can feel comfortable in. I’ve traded in my bikini for a tankini. I’ve sworn off sweets for months at a time. I’ve sworn off having rules about eating at all.

And here I still am.

I think this book study will be good for me. I know God wants to change this area of my life (because it is nas-tay) and I have long been trying to fix it myself (like I always do). I think it will not only be good to have other women to talk to about this, but also to have a meeting every two weeks to keep my mind focused on this. And this time, I am not expecting any quick fixes. I am not expecting this problem to be solved overnight, or for me to able to remind myself of truth one morning and have my struggles vanish into thin air. This will take time. This will being reminded of truth over and over and over and over…

The truth that is helping me refocus right now came from John Piper’s sermon called Staying Married is Not About Staying in Love Part 2: Our bodies do not represent who we really are. All along, I have been operating under the purview that I am only as good as I look.

But that’s not the truth – about me or any other person. The truth is that our bodies don’t have the glory they were supposed to have. We lost that glory in the fall. These imperfect bodies remind us that God will someday give us new bodies – bodies that are perfect and beautiful and free of sin. These bodies are vessels that house our souls, which cannot be seen but are precious.

“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

Trials in our lives remind us that we don’t belong on earth and someday, we will be with Christ in perfect joy. In the same way, imperfect bodies can remind us that we will be glorified one day – but not today, and not here. Instead of chasing peace and perfection on earth, I can let these trials redirect my gaze to the greater reality of heaven and a new body.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the eating/body issue iceberg so there will be more to come.

What truth helps you accept your body the way it is?

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Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Death

14 Jul

{This is the third installment of this weekly series.}

A good friend of ours from church recently found out that there’s a mass in his lungs the size of a softball. He got a biopsy on Tuesday and will most likely get the results tomorrow. He has had a very God-centered, realistic perspective on the whole situation — acknowledging that he might not have much longer to live or be entering into a season filled with surgery, chemo, and unpleasant side effects. He’s currently coughing a lot, which is taking its toll as well.

Our friend’s reaction to this situation made me think of what the apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:21, 23 — “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul was ready to go home. He would choose dying over life, because it meant being with Christ. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

If Jesus returned this very minute, would I be overjoyed and ready? Or would I say, “Well, this isn’t really a good time. You see, I’ve got my first Olympic triathlon coming up in about a month. And I still haven’t seen Greece or Italy, had a book published about how I became a Christian, or had kids. So can you come back in 10 years or so? I’ll be ready then.”

I have to admit, there are times when I think that if Jesus came back today, I’d be slightly disappointed that I had to miss out on all those things I’m currently looking forward to experiencing. But that’s me being a child making mud pies in the slum, turning down the offer of a holiday at the beach. It’s so easy to turn good things into ultimate things. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, illustrates this with people who are in hell, still maintaining their death grip on what they valued in their earthly lives. And that’s exactly why they’re in hell. Even some of the people who make the journey to heaven turn back because they can’t let go of their earthly treasures.

I think Paul sums up what our approach to these good earthly experiences should be in Colossians 2:17 — “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Think of what your shadow looks like when you’re standing outside in the sun. Distorted. Hard to make out. You can kind of tell what it is.

That’s what these earthly things are: shadows.

Family, achievements, goals, new experiences, beautiful places — all of these are dark blobs of the reality. In light of how enjoyable and amazing these earthly things are, that’s saying a lot about the reality! What is the reality? The gospel — that God has acted through His own Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile a fallen race to Himself, in order that He might live in fellowship with and enjoy us for eternity. That is the reality that He is revealing through this experience and place we call Earth. This is not the final product. This is temporary. This will fall away.

Are we longing for that day? Or are we busying ourselves with “good things” that cause us to lose our edge, soften our convictions and compromise our character? Are we Christian warriors, constantly sharpen our weapons for the day of battle and being constantly vigilant for the return of our King? Or are we so busy with our projects, goals, daily lives, and routines that our weapons and armor are gathering dust and getting rusty?

I’ve heard it said that the Christian life isn’t about choosing between good and bad; it’s about choosing between good and almost good. Satan is sneaky (if you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by My Favorite Author Ever — can you tell? — you totally should) and will use anything he can to deceive us and to foil our relationship with God. Even innocent things, things that God Himself created.

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and natural and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we are always trying to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It’s more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return — that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.” (The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis)

If you want to read more about the idea of good things vs. ultimate things, I recommend reading Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. It’s a very good book.

Happy Freedom Day!

1 Jul

I will be leaving early tomorrow morning to go backpacking with Travis, the pooches, and two friends and their pooch. So I won’t be blogging (until next week when I’ll post pics of our adventures!).

But have a GREAT weekend and enjoy yourself (safely)! Go watch some fireworks, which is my most favorite thing about this holiday (though my husband does not share that fondness)!

I can tend to get wrapped up in the fact that it’s a 3-day weekend filled with fun festivities that I forget what we’re actually celebrating: being a free country. It is such a huge blessing to live here and be able to walk down the street without fear, attend church publicly every Sunday, and not worry about where I’m going to sleep or what I’m going to eat.

This day of freedom also makes me think of the Ultimate Liberator: Jesus Christ. Without His death on the cross, we would all still be captive to sin and Satan, destined for an eternity in hell. But because of His sacrifice, we can have freedom when we trust in Him for salvation! Freedom from sin, self, this world. Freedom to love God with all our hearts, enjoy fellowship with Him and one another, and do fun things like watching fireworks, all the while knowing that this world is temporary and the real celebration will happen someday soon in heaven.

How do you use holidays to remind yourself of the gospel?

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

30 Jun

This is the first installment of a weekly series I am going to start on my blog called Keeping an Eternal Perspective. Ever since I started back to work full-time at the beginning of May, God has been reminding me to keep my focus on eternity and the rewards He has promised to me there, as well as the blessings I receive by living a life that glorifies Him here.

I wanted to share a story I read in my Girlfriends in God devotion this morning:

A wealthy man prayed and asked for permission to take his earthly wealth with him when he died and went to heaven. An angel appeared to the man and said, “We heard your prayer, but I am sorry. You simply cannot take it with you.” The man pleaded so passionately that the angel said, “Let me see what I can do.” When the angel returned, he reported, “Good news! God has made an exception for you. You may bring one suitcase with you when it is your time to go.” Delighted, the man packed his one suitcase and went on with life. Several years later, he died and appeared at the Pearly Gates where he was met by St. Peter who took one look at the suitcase and said, “I am sorry, sir, but you cannot bring that in with you.” The man protested, “But I received special permission.” Just then, the angel appeared and said, “Peter, it is true. He has special permission to bring one suitcase in with him.” Curious, Peter said, “Do you mind showing me what is in the bag that is so important to you?” With a smile, the man replied, “Not at all” and proceeded to open the suitcase to reveal stacks of gold bricks. Peter’s face said it all, “Pavement? You brought pavement with you?” 

I loved that story because it shows how skewed our view of reality is. To echo one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are not aware of the immensity of the joys to be given us in heaven: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We don’t often focus on the joys that come to us in this life as a result of living for God’s glory and not for our own: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Throughout my Christian walk, God has called me to give up good things (like shopping) for greater things, even if that greater thing is only my own personal sanctification. My time reading through 2 Corinthians has reminded me that not only are those sacrifices worth it because they are an outworking of obedience, they are also producing “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” I am not fully aware of the work God is doing in my life through these circumstances but the promise that He is using these things to sanctify me and glorify Himself through me is everywhere in the Bible.

So that is where my heart is resting today.

Maintaining the Balance.

14 Jun

When I trained for my first triathlon back in 2009, I went all in. In addition to three workouts of each discipline a week, I was doing two days of full-body strength training. I still remember one night when I did a workout consisting of: 6 mile bike, 2 mile run, 6 mile bike, 2 mile run. While it got me into great shape and I was running faster than ever before, after that race was over, I realized that it was just too much.

I had started making frozen pizzas and macaroni and cheese for dinner, stopped cleaning my house and reading books, and felt exhausted constantly. So I cut my training back to two of each discipline a week and no weight training. It was amazing the difference it made in my energy levels, specifically dropping the weight training. I was slower in my second triathlon but I had recovered my life and my sanity.

So that’s where my philosophy of endurance training comes from. I am not willing to sacrifice my life just to be a little faster. I need time to relax. I want to eat homemade meals. I like a clean house. I want to spend time with my husband and pooches. I need time with God every day.

But I also realize that with a longer distance comes longer training times. If I want to race an Olympic distance, I have to train for one.

Like almost everything in life, there must be a balance.

After thinking about this quite a bit over the past couple of weeks and getting Travis’ blessing for me to spend more hours training (I want to make sure that my training isn’t going to be a sore spot in our marriage), I have decided to commit to training for the longer distance – with a caveat: I have to keep my priorities straight.

And those priorities (in order) are:

1. God (daily time in the Word, prayer)

2. Husband

3. Church / Fellowship

4. Job

5. Taking care of our dogs

6. Taking care of my home (cooking, cleaning, laundry)

7. Triathlon training

At times, I have felt guilty for spending so much time training. Should I spend this time helping others? Being less selfish? Should I give the money that I spend on race fees to homeless kids in Africa? That’s my never-good-enough fears kicking in. But I believe that God has given me my love and passion for endurance sports and that when people do things that they thoroughly enjoy, they showcase the glory of God because they are living according to how they were created. So I do believe that I can glorify God and train for triathlons.

But like I said earlier, there must be a balance. That balance can be summed up in two words: God first.

As I discovered earlier this year when I was unemployed, walking in fellowship with God makes all the other things in life fall into their proper places and gives everything the balance its supposed to have. Since I started back to work full-time, I have been letting training usurp my time with God. And I noticed things unraveling. I was dealing with the same problems I had been dealing with a year ago; struggling with materialism, jealousy, and anger; and feeling far from God.

No more!

I am committing to a daily 30 minutes (at least) with God and if I have to skip a workout to make that happen, so be it. Triathlons are transient; God is eternal.

Practically, I am planning my daily time with God to be in the morning, when I am most alert and in need of a reminder of eternity. I think I will still be able to fit in my whole workout (when I’m just doing one discipline) or part of my workout (when I’m doing more than one) in the morning as well. But I might be switching to night workouts anyway because Travis has agreed to do a triathlon! We haven’t decided on a race yet but it will be in August or September. I’m very excited to be able to share this passion of mine with him and to have a new training partner!

I am also going to start listening to sermons and worship music while I run and bike. I used to do this all the time but lately have been listening to Lady Gaga instead (total extremes, huh?).

I am planning on giving a training update every Monday (so that I don’t inundate this blog with training updates) and while I’m doing that, I’m also going to give a spiritual update. How is my relationship with God? Am I growing in being a servant to others and being a light in the workplace? Or am I sliding easily into worldliness, thinking only of new clothes, fitness goals, and vanity? Working in a secular environment is definitely a challenge – to both keep myself from being pulled into the worldly mentality of expensive things, big houses and nice cars as well as be bold in sharing the truth of the gospel. But I have found that its much easier to rise to that challenge when I’m reminding myself of truth daily by reading the Bible.

So that’s my training (and life) philosophy. We’ll see if I can handle the Olympic time commitment!