Category Archives: Fighting for Joy

Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds :)

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Last week

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This week. Hello world! What’s for dinner?

And new flowers – 20140424_101018

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New babies

Elisabeth Grace

Aww … Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m excitedly introducing a new blog today. From now on, I’ll be writing here – @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

If you’ve subscribed to Dimly Burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith. These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I  have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

 April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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“Helicopters” or “whirligigs”

These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding).  As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

“The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.

Hope Wins

Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.

I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.

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As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.

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And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.

Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:

Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;

From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.

Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.

One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;

No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.

More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.

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She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.

My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Alternative Crucifiction Location

Photo credit – Wikimedia Commons

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Picture of the Place of the Skull. Taken by my Dad in 1983.

“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”

My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.

Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.

Only Jesus can receive an offering and deem it beautiful when others judge it as either too extravagant or too meager.

Only Jesus’ torn body could tear the veil.

Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.

Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.

One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers.  The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.

But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.

Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.

She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

Love is stronger than death.

Hope wins.

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This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”

The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/

 

 

 

 

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.

 

 

 

 

 

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 3

Yesterday, our pastor’s message was birthed out of the second chapter of Matthew – a Scripture that we usually study as we are merrily remembering Jesus’ birth and singing “We Three Kings.” Yet, in the midst of February (not the merriest time of year) I found it all the more meaningful to remember the pure earnestness of the wise men’s adoration for Jesus.

What better time than a February morning – after edgy days of cabin fever, after January’s resolutions are just a memory and December’s expenses have come due – to worship?

These are the days when I remind myself that worship is a response, not to changeable circumstances, but to an unchanging God.

And later in the morning our Bible study lesson came from John 20, when Jesus rose from the grave, appeared to His disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

These are the days when my heart longs for worship to be as natural and consistent as breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praise. Not boastful of my own worth. Not matched to my own preferences (or favorite songs). Not limited to a time or place or style. Not conformed to my mood. Not arising only from the mountain top experiences.

If my worship depends upon any of these things, then resurrection power and freedom are sucked right out of my spirit. Worship becomes another joyless load heaped on a weary, self-sufficient soul. What my heart needs instead is for the weight of God’s worth to be breathed out of the limitless, liberating, life-sustaining gift and expression of the Holy Spirit…

And so yesterday, later in the day, while thinking about Jesus’ birth and resurrection, the realization hit me that we are almost halfway between Christmas and Easter. I thought of this after walking away from Daddy’s grave.

What better place than the cemetery to cling to the incarnation message of God with us and the resurrection truth of us with God, eternally?

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This is a rainbow charm that I chose to be a part of my “living locket.” * At last week’s jewelry party, I looked over hundreds of charms that could have been chosen. To me, this rainbow is a tiny representation of the mysterious ways of God and of a journey of faith that began almost two years ago when we learned that Daddy’s cancer had returned.

The Fourth of July fell a few days after the scan showed the unmistakable spot on his spine. Despite the stormy evening, my parents, husband, daughter, and I continued tradition, hoping that the clouds would break in time for the fireworks. Our usual spot was the top of a tall parking deck in the center of our city, not far from where the fireworks were ignited. We rode the elevator to the top, and as we exited to the parking deck, before us was the fullest, brightest rainbow I had ever seen. Immediately my heart leapt with hope. Taking that brilliant rainbow as a sign, I locked arms with Daddy.

“Look, Daddy! Everything is going to be alright.”

Many months later, I look at a rainbow charm perched on my finger and I think of Daddy. You and I know how things turned out. How could I have said that everything would be alright? How would I know that? How could I claim that? I was just a Daddy’s girl who, wanting more than anything at that moment for that ugly spot to vanish, grasped for any promise of hope.

My Daddy is alright. He is. The cancer IS vanished. No, this is not the way I wanted. Heaven wasn’t the healing I hoped for at the time. Now it’s February. My feelings are not merry but my mind is made up. It has to be. This is the only way I know how to do faith. Perhaps it’s not always natural and consistent. But the Holy Spirit fills my spiritual lungs with grace and mercy every single day. This is the air that travels to the deepest parts of my soul and resurrects trust within my heart and mind.

One day the storms will pass, the clouds will part, rainbow colors will spill through, and hope will be fulfilled. Whether a particular hope is realized on this side of Heaven or not is not up to us, but God does what is right and good. His faithfulness is as sure as the star in the Bethlehem sky and the scars on Jesus’ hands.

The ways of God are mysterious alright, but would I want it any other way? I can barely comprehend all the features on my phone, so if I’m honest, I don’t want a God that I can figure out. This God, who is beyond my understanding, is able to do beyond what I can see or put into prayers or claim for this life. And while that can be frustrating, it ultimately is my comfort. Because if hope were for this life only, it would be a mocking burden beyond what I could bear.

The Apostle Paul spoke of burden – or weight – in 2 Corinthians. The Greek word “baros” means anything pressing physically or spiritually upon oneself. In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul used the verb form of “baros” when he wrote “We don’t want you to be unaware, brethren, of the affliction which came to us in Asia … we were burdened (bareo) excessively beyond our strength so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

While Paul was heavily, frequently burdened by all kinds of persecution and weaknesses, his story includes many physical and spiritual deliverances. But not always. It was through dangers and darkness where Paul found Christ’s strength in weakness and imperishable hope in a perishing body.

So later in 2 Corinthians, Paul used the Greek noun “baros” when he wrote:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight (baros) of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18).

In months of suffering, there was nothing “light” about Daddy’s illness. There’s nothing “light” about our present grief. Except that “light” is not meant in terms of importance to us in the here and now but in comparison to the glory, victory, and freedom that we will know then.

In this passage, it’s clear that Paul’s mind is made up. His hope and his worship don’t arise from his feelings but from his focus upon God with us and us with God, eternally. The glory to come will be so momentous, so weighty that words to describe it are mere wisps in the air.

Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

In the words of theologian A.W. Pink – “One breath of Paradise will extinguish all the adverse winds of earth.”

Lord Jesus, breathe on me. Breathe faith into me so I can trust that all my burdens are as light and momentary as a human breath in comparison with the glorious joy and healing of Heaven. Breathe worship into me. Let all my hopelessness, pride, distractions, and idols be crushed by the weight of Your worth and eternal glory. Thank You for the promise that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. I am so grateful for signs of Your love and Your power — the star in the Bethlehem sky, the nail-pierced hands. And rainbows. In You, Lord, everything is going to be alright.

Amen and Come, Lord Jesus.

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“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Resources –

John MacArthur, Comfort in Trouble – http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/47-4

A.W. Pink, Affliction and Glory – http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=1147

W.E. Vine – Reflections on Words of the New Testament

* “Living Lockets” and Origami Owl custom jewelry – http://jccollins.origamiowl.com/parties/jennifercollins169479/how-to-build.ashx

Have Second Thoughts about Marriage

I noticed in Walmart on Tuesday, before the snowstorm that has paralyzed the South arrived, that just as many (well, almost as many) people were hunting the greeting card aisle as the bread aisle. Because no one, especially a Southerner, wants to be unprepared when the first flakes fall and the forecaster predicts that this is going to be a BIG one, right before the BIG day. Yet I imagine, especially if we’re still stuck indoors today, that there will be many homes in which the cards, roses, jewelry, and chocolate don’t arrive by Valentine’s Day.

And, you know, that’s okay … Makes me wonder why we buy in (literally) to the idea that love has to be expressed in these particular ways on one particular day anyway?

Last night, while the clinking of sleet against the window kept me awake, my thoughts wandered to things like love and Valentine’s Day, and how marriage to the man sleeping next to me has been a more unexpected journey than I could have ever imagined.

This April, it will be twenty years since the day we stood before God and spoke words from the second chapter of Philippians to each other.

And while it’s been a struggle sometimes, our vows to God and to one another are still intact even as the initial dreams that we had for our marriage are not.

So, I would advise any starry-eyed couple who is nearly married to have second thoughts.

I know, without a doubt, that my husband did.

Like on the days into the second year of marriage when he had to pick me up off of the floor because my legs (and my soul) were too weakened to stand. Who could blame a young man for having second thoughts when his wife is buried under failure, depression, and shame?

In the midst of this mess, when our marriage was severely tested, my husband made up his mind. Or perhaps I should say that he chose the mind of Christ:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …”

My husband committed himself to the promises that he made, based upon the second chapter of Philippians. And he purposed in his heart that his personal ambitions, needs, and desires would be second.

And twenty years later, he and I know that enduring marriages are based upon second thoughts.

Our union is not perfect now. We still live in the consequences of that most painful time, but we don’t regret it – not for a single second. Because we had to learn early that not every day is Valentine’s Day. Yes, there are moments of romance, but the days of roses are limited. Real love is expressed in the ordinariness of taking out the trash, getting the kids in the bath, clearing the toilet, and paying the bills.

And the truest love – agape love – finds and expresses itself in the laying down of one’s very life, as Jesus did. Yes, it means (in the human experience) that there is morning breath, dirty laundry, harsh words, misunderstanding, and disappointment. But (in the eternal experience) there is a picture of Christ’s devotion for His Church – His unconditional love for His people who are utterly unlovable.

In her advice to young men considering marriage, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:

“Christ is the supreme example … His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him the most manly – responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world.”

“A Christian’s rule of life should be, My life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the love of the Lord.” (Keep A Quiet Heart, page 162).

If God’s plan for my daughter includes marriage, I ask Him to bring this kind of man into her life – the kind of man who has second thoughts. A man whose commitment to her is second only to his steadfastness to the Father. A man whose aspirations and wishes come in second place to whatever gives glory to God in his relationship with his wife and children.

And lest I advise my daughter that second place is for the husbands, I remember that honor and respect is my calling as a wife. Placing myself second may require the setting aside of my pride and my preferences, but to follow God’s intention for my marriage is to lose nothing in the eternal realm. I must believe Jesus when He tells me that those who lose their lives for His sake will find them back again, fuller and richer and better than anything they could have expected. When a wife puts herself second in her marriage, she finds the grit and grace to do so for Jesus’ sake. And the immeasurable gift that she receives in return is way better than perishable roses and chocolate could ever be.

Marriage is not for us. It is for God’s glory, designed in His mind to be the picture of sacrifice and selflessness. Husbands and wives who give Jesus first place in their marriages live in a way such that romance comes second to redemption. There are occasional opportunities for husbands and wives to be flush with romantic feelings. But there are daily opportunities for our marriages to reflect God’s redemptive love for us through continual giving of forgiveness and grace.

Let us have second thoughts about marriage and follow hard after the example of the One who loves us first.

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Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5 -11, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

 

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 2

“The Weight of  My Worth” – The title, in these five words, captured the previous five years of my life. I had the opportunity to share my story with a women’s magazine, and “the weight of my worth” summarized my journey into perfectionism, brokenness, and finally healing.

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After years of taking baby steps forward and giant steps backward in my recovery from an eating disorder, a Christian counselor introduced me to a book that opened a door into freedom. Having absolutely nothing to do with nutritional guidelines or eating habits, it was unlike any book I had been advised to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Anytime we think we can find salvation in our hard work, we are in grave danger. If our hard work fails or (worse yet) if it succeeds, we are stuck with ourselves for a god. That means we have destined ourselves to journeying through life’s wilderness assuming that the solution to every problem is to try harder.” *

If you haven’t struggled with an eating disorder, you may wonder how this statement relates. But I can tell you that it does.  The sense of control, accomplishment, failure, or success is measured by the number on the scale.  That number says:

“Yes – you’ve been good!”

“Uh oh, you haven’t been good.”

When something other than God becomes a gauge for your goodness, it becomes a god.

Besides a set of scales, our culture is filled with other measuring sticks:

  • the number of your social media friends & followers
  • your grade point average
  • your salary
  • a sticker on your car that reads 13.1 or 26.2 (or 0.0, in my case)

And some measuring sticks aren’t attached to numbers, yet they remind you that you’ve come up short (again). The job went to someone else or you missed the cut or the invitation never arrived.

Yet if we will accept by faith that we are loved immeasurably by a limitless God, all the other measures that say “you’ve arrived”/”you’re accepted” or “you’ve not arrived”/”you’re not accepted” are limited in their power to define or dishearten us.

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis – “ … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

While we are preoccupied with making ourselves worthy of love, God has loved us all along.

Are you weary, friend, of trying so hard? The weight of your own worth will exhaust you of any enthusiasm and joy in life. Are you discouraged because you can’t fit your own definition of goodness?

The truth is that God loved you before you could move the scales of goodness or worthiness one single ounce.  Knowing that we can’t do it on our own, He placed the burden of measuring up to His holiness upon His Son.

A gauge that becomes a god says “try harder,” but grace that comes from THE God says “Trust Me.”

The original meaning of the word “glory” is “to be heavy” or “to weigh upon.”  God’s glory is weightier – or more momentous, more powerful, and more significant than any created thing. We see in Scripture that God’s glory knocks people right off of their feet.

The weight of God’s worth knocks away all the props that once held us up.  And when we find ourselves on our faces, we come to realize that trying harder is like putting a band aid on major cracks in the foundation. As one who has been face down in the debris of a broken life, I want my story to remind us that God’s love cannot be achieved.

God’s love is meant to be received.

In return for this priceless gift, God doesn’t ask us to prove that we are worth it. He desires us to worship. And in doing so – in ascribing the highest honor and worth to Him and not ourselves – we are freed to let go of our controlling and striving and let God be God.

When we live as if we truly believe that God delights in us, our load lightens. Instead of grasping for another rung on the status ladder, our hands become offerings of grateful worship and service.

The apostle Paul, who had once been laden with self-righteousness, was transformed – literally knocked off his feet (Acts 9:4) – by the weight of not his own glory but the glory of Christ:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 7).

Paul describes us as jars of clay, and the treasure inside is the precious message of the Gospel. Our credentials, abilities, and winsome personalities are dim flames compared to Jesus’ glorious, dark-dispelling light.

Through the fragility of a clay jar, with its flaws and cracks, the glory of God shines. If we can’t trust that we are accepted, we can’t be authentic. But if we will forget that gauges that once measured us and if we will receive grace, we will be vessels for God’s glory – flawed, perhaps, and fragile, but genuine.  I truly believe that God is glorified when we are genuine – when we authentically share our lives and our struggles and our weaknesses – and allow people to see that we can only press on because inside of us lies a hope and a strength that is not our own.

In the words of Saint Augustine: “When God is our strength, it is strength indeed. When our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”

So when the weight of my worth is based upon what I do, it is weak and unable to withstand the pressure of failure, doubt, and criticism.

But when the weight of my worth is based upon who I am – a jar of clay that contains the light of Christ, it is strong and reinforced by His acceptance.  It doesn’t crumble under the strain of self-reliance but relies on the Light within to radiate God’s glory. It doesn’t need to try harder. It trusts.

So today, remember with me that the weight of our worth is a load we are not meant to bear. That burden was pounded into the ground with the Cross.  Join me there as we exchange this weight for worship.

*********************

(Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4 to speak of suffering in comparison to God’s “eternal weight of glory.” In Part 3, I’ll share why this gives me hope).

“The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand.” ~ Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (entry for February 5).

Resources:

* When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes, pages 157 – 158

C.S Lewis, “Weight of Glory” sermon published in Theology, November 1941. http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

T.M. Moore – “The Weight of Glory,”  http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20387-threads-in-the-tapestry-of-truth-2

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 1

I bet the inventor of the rolling backpack was a parent of a middle school student.  I think about this as I watch my poor kid stagger through the school parking lot to the car. She’s practically bent in half under the Lands’ End cargo on her back.

“Lots of homework tonight?”

“No, not really.”

“Huh? Why all the books?”

“I just didn’t bother to stop by my locker and unload them.”

Hmm …

In a New York Times article about weighty backpacks, a teacher observed that sometimes students carry heavier burdens than necessary: “A lot of kids don’t take much time at their lockers to sort out what they need.”*

(Judging by the blue floral boulder in the back seat, I’d say the teacher’s observation is on point.)

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But according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission,  carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day over the course of a school year puts a cumulative load on a kid’s body of 21,600 pounds. That’s the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.*

Why would anyone carry a heavier burden than necessary?

(The spiritual parallel is pretty obvious, wouldn’t you agree?)

And yet we do. We cripple ourselves with loads we are not meant to bear.

For instance, the burden of anxiety:

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie ten Boom)

Or the burden of performance:

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” (Ann Voskamp)

Take unforgiveness:

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela)

Ever feel burdened by keeping up with the Jones’?

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Jesus in Mark 8:36)

Or regret?

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” (C.S. Lewis)

Those persisting sins?

“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” (Jesus in John 8:36)

Are you weary?

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jesus in Matthew 11: 28 – 29)

Jesus invites us to an exchange, and who wouldn’t accept? His rest … exchanged for our encumbrance. His freedom … swapped for our shame. His gentle peace… traded for our turbulence.

Obedience to His yoke …. offered in place of our oppression.

And yet, oftentimes, I don’t accept.

Why?

The heart of the matter, for me I’ve found, is the weight of my worth and the weight of His worth. Which will I choose to accept?

Would you ponder that with me?  In Part 2, I’ll join you in 2 Corinthians 4 to unpack what this means to me …

Resource: Jane Brody, “Heavy Backpacks Can Spell Chronic Back Pain for Children” – http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/heavy-backpacks-can-spell-chronic-back-pain-for-children/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0