Tag Archives: eternal life

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

A Letter to my Sixth-Grade Daughter

Dear C,

I recognized that expression in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had a lot of fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And yes, of course, a motion-activated miniature chandelier.  But we didn’t purchase wallpaper. Or carpet. And I watched you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. You didn’t say it in a whining sort of way. That’s not your style. It was just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target and get that wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer. Because another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things. Pretty things. Expensive things. Desirable things. And relatively speaking, you truly have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students do a lot of looking around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. And when I find myself watching other people with their other things, I have to remind myself of something very important:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Okay, you say ….but what does that mean? If you did a Google search on this quote, you’d find that it’s commonly attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt (and lots of bloggers like your mom write about it. Seems that comparison is a pretty common experience….) But I can’t find where or when or under what circumstances President Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s interesting to me that one of the most powerful and legendary men of his time would make such a remark. Did he often compare himself to other people? Why would he? Was he lacking joy? I don’t know. But I’ve lived plenty of years beyond middle school, and this is what I’m (still) learning about comparison…

Don’t do it!

(Seriously) Caroline, you are truly one of a kind. Beautifully unique and original. Of course I think so, and your dad and your grandparents and aunts and uncles think so, but you know what?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.  (Psalm 139:14) He says that you are HIS workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) He says that He chooses you. (Ephesians 1:4) He says that He has plans specifically for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) That means that God had you in His mind LONG before Daddy and I ever did. He designed you just as He knew best and set your life into motion in this place for this time. You are going to influence lives in your family, in your school, in your church and neighborhood and city in a way that no one else can. There will be things that you do really well and things that you can’t do so well. Some things will come naturally to you (like art and writing and being kind) and some things will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things. So, as you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. It’s natural. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world. But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world. God has created us for eternity, sweetheart.  He has made us to worship Him, and that’s something that will last forever. Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy. It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy. You already know that. There will come many moments of sadness and disappointment in this life. But joy comes from knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you.  There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you. So comparison can’t really steal your joy. But comparison can rob you of a joyful perspective. What does that mean? Perspective is a way of looking at life. It’s keeping your focus on what is most important to you. When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we tend to take our eyes off of what really matters. So, let’s try together, Caroline, to keep a joyful perspective. We are really rich, you know? In the things that matter. Jesus. Joy. Love.  Family. Laughter. By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need carpet in my locker? My books don’t sleep!” That, sweetheart, is perspective! I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mommy

“Many Joys Are Waiting Yet…”

When I finally get there, I’m gonna stay!”

I laughed, but it was okay because Muriel and I have been friends for awhile now. Muriel says lots of things that make me laugh. All these years (and hardships) haven’t diminished her witty sense of humor.

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I had been reading to Muriel a few verses that she had written years earlier (when she could still see) on the front page of her Bible. She remembered most of the verses and said them along with me, especially Psalm 23:6 – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

When I finally get there, I’m gonna stay!”

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Of course you will, my friend. Surely you will receive a beautiful reward from your Lord and you will joyfully lay every crown at His feet.

As we officially welcome summer this weekend, Muriel will celebrate another year on earth even as she longs for heaven. I understand her longing, but I’m thankful for more time with her – to chat and pray and read Scripture and talk about heaven. No matter what kind of day I’m having, time with Muriel changes my perspective. Let me share with you part of her story in her words, and you’ll understand why she is an extraordinary person:

Seventy years ago I set sail for Africa to become a medical missionary. The war (WW II) was still on so the only way to get passage was to go as the ship’s nurse. We sailed in full blackout down the coast of the U.S. to Brazil where we began our trip across the Atlantic. Most ships that were going went in convoy in case of a German submarine attack. Ours was a very fast ship so we went alone. We got across the Atlantic near to the coast of Africa when we were sighted by a submarine. Because of our speed, we were able to outrun it and land safely at the Port of Matadi in the Belgian Congo.

I was assigned to a station on the border between Congo and Uganda. I was thrust into a place where I knew no French, no native language, and nothing about tropical medicine!  I had to learn the native language, to sew up the wounds of Africans gored by buffalo or torn by lions and leopards, deliver babies, and treat tropical diseases. I was in charge of a dispensary where we treated 50 – 80 patients per day.  Before work began we had a Gospel service that every patient attended.

At the end of five years I returned to America for a year of furlough. Then I went to Belgium for one year of study in tropical medicine – all in French!

When I returned to Congo I was assigned to a new station up near the border of French Equatorial Africa. There I was in charge of a leprosy colony of about 100 patients. There was no cure for leprosy then, only care of ulcers and making patients as comfortable as possible. I was there for 4 years, then a year of furlough.

About 3 years into my third term at the leper colony, Congo got its independence from Belgium and became a very troubled nation with much fighting among tribes for supremacy.  We were evacuated from the country. I waited four more years, hoping to return, but the situation did not improve, so I resigned from the mission. I was thankful to God for the privilege of serving Him as His ambassador.”

These days, this amazing ambassador who nursed hundreds of broken people depends on nurses herself. While her earthen vessel is weak, Muriel’s spirit is strong. She chooses to be thankful. Some days are better than others, but Muriel chooses to look beyond what she experiences in any given 24 hours.

The lyrics to a song are taped to the door of Muriel’s room in the nursing home. I don’t know where the wrinkled piece of paper came from, but the words there perfectly describe how Muriel has lived.

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Dearest Muriel, I celebrate your life with deep gratitude and rejoice in the eternal joys that are waiting for you. Thank you for your example of courage, sacrifice, faith, and obedience. I can’t see beyond today, but my prayer – if I live to be 95 or just one day older – is to, like you, “cling to Him the more.”

If We Could See Beyond Today – by Norman J. Clayton

If we could see beyond today as God can see;

If all the clouds should roll away, the shadows flee;

O’er present griefs we would not fret,

Each sorrow we would soon forget,

For many joys are waiting yet

For you and me.

If we could know beyond today as God doth know,

Why dearest treasures pass away and tears must flow;

And why the darkness leads to light,

Why dreary days will soon grow bright,

Some day life’s wrongs will be made right.

Faith tells us so.

If we could see, if we could know, we often say,

But God in love a veil doth throw across our way.

We cannot see what lies before,

And so we cling to Him the more.

He leads us till this life is o’er.

Trust and obey.

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A Time to …

(Sigh…) The lights lay in a pile on the floor, as it’s that necessary day in January – the day the Christmas tree leaves the house.  Although I don’t look forward to this annual chore, it always triggers a favorite memory of my sweet girl.

Caroline, a kindergartener, had just finished learning about all of the December holidays in school. A wonderful Christmas had past. My husband and I were relieved that Caroline was too busy playing outside to notice that we were dismantling the tree. After we hauled it to the curb, I went inside to deal with the stray needles. But from the front window, I suddenly noticed Caroline standing over the tree. Alarmed that she was so close to the street, I hurried outside to see what was going on.

As I suspected, my girl was crying, but she caught me completely off guard with what she said.

Tears streaming, Caroline wailed – “We forgot to do Hanukkah!!

Oh, how I tried not to laugh.

Caroline is the sort who rises early every day, even when she doesn’t need to. There are new things to learn, new books to read, new pictures to paint. Caroline is the type of person who decorates for Christmas without muttering about how long it will take to pack the stuff back up (ahem, isn’t that what mom is for?)

Caroline has the innocent, unburdened perspective of a child. I’m grateful that she’s had the kind of childhood that allows her to expect a good day everyday. She sees life through the lens of anticipation.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard several references to the well-known Scripture found in Ecclesiastes 3:

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.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (verses 1 – 11).

This passage offers the wise perspective that a young girl like Caroline does not yet fully possess.  But in small ways, she’s learning. Today will help her understand that there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. The sadness of saying goodbye to this tree will eventually turn into anticipation and appreciation for the next trip to the tree farm.

Ecclesiastes 3 was fittingly read at a funeral that I attended yesterday. The family grieves this dear lady, but they are comforted by knowing that she had peace with her Lord and Savior and she accepted that it was her time to die. While I didn’t know this sweet woman personally, I came to appreciate, through the lovely words said of her, all the ways that she made life beautiful for her loved ones. According to her son-in-law’s heartfelt tribute, “She lived life fully and with purpose.” Most importantly, she understood that God had made her heart for eternity, and she lived in view of an unending season of fellowship with Him.

Ecclesiastes 3 speaks of closures but also beginnings. In Christ, a passing away is a promise coming.

In the bleakness of January we anticipate the beauty of April. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy. Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny, orderly, and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new appliance. “New” is not necessarily easy. Usually it means an end to something that may have been beautiful or, at least, comfortable.

Daffodils are a spring favorite until they droop, and the messy leaves have to remain in order to feed the bulb and strengthen it for next year’s bloom. Where I live, autumn creates a big, beautiful mess. But throughout winter months, the decomposing leaves provide essential nutrients to the soil.

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. Painful procedures and painful discussions happen behind the fancy exterior. The pain is meant to serve healing purposes. If not healing in the body, perhaps healing in the spirit. It’s the kind of pain that triggers a shift in perspective. 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 even Easter. 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.

Favored One

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During this time of the year, we often think of Mary. As I write, I’m looking around my home at the various nativities where she sits with her baby, her Lord. As I read Advent devotions, I marvel at her faith and willingness to accept this stunning assignment from God. One of my favorite writings about Mary comes from Elisabeth Elliot in “The Mother of the Lord” (http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/nov.dec.1986.pdf)

Elisabeth wrote: “A dazzling stranger stands before her with a puzzling greeting. He calls her ‘most favored one’ and tells her the Lord is with her….Mary is troubled. She discerns at once that this has to do with things infinitely larger than herself, far beyond her understanding. What can it mean?”

When I remember that Gabriel greeted Mary as the “favored one,” (Luke 1:28) I’m instantly intrigued. This past year I did a study on the word “favor” in Scripture. Initially I was curious about the meaning of favor after reading Psalm 84:11, “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” For some reason, it seemed that the Holy Spirit zeroed my attention on “favor,” and I realized that I seldom ever consider its significance. “Grace,” on the other hand, is something that I read about, think about, and sing about fairly often. And while Christians usually define “grace” as “God’s unmerited favor,” I don’t know that I ever considered what that essentially means.

I learned that the standard dictionary definition of “favor” is acceptance, courtesy, or preference, and its synonyms in a Bible dictionary include grace, blessing, or mercy.

When I looked up the word “favor” in my Bible concordance, I was amazed at how it is a thread woven throughout God’s story, throughout the covenants of the Old Testament and the new covenant in Christ.

Genesis 6:8 – “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

In Exodus 33, Moses found favor in God’s sight.

God gave this promise to the Israelites in Leviticus 26 – “I will look on you with favor and I will keep my covenant with you … I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”

Throughout God’s story, in all of His ways with people from biblical times to today, He displays His favor through His covenant and by His presence with those who believe in Him. For us who live on this side of Calvary, God’s favor is shown toward those who have trusted in His Son.

After I researched Bible dictionaries and concordances, I googled the phrase “God’s favor” and found that there are very different perspectives on what the experience of God’s favor looks like.

Some people equate God’s favor with prosperity. I think the Bible would agree, but not in terms of health and wealth. A biblical perspective of God’s favor challenges the Americanized definition of prosperity. What I see about God’s favor in Scripture is that it is NOT directly related to one’s status or station in life nor is it a ticket to a life of ease. Consider….

Noah found favor with God and spent over 100 years building an ark although the earth had never felt a single drop of rain.

Moses found favor with God, and had to lead the Israelites through the desert for more than 40 years.

Esther found favor with God, and risked being killed to save the Jewish people from annihilation.

Daniel found favor with God, and was thrown into a pit full of lions.

According to Chris Tiegreen in  Fixing Abraham: “God’s favor is a tricky thing. It is poured out on messy lives and it can make certain aspects of life much messier. It should be profoundly comforting that the heroes of Scripture were perceived as flawed and foolish. That makes any of us qualified to fulfill God’s purposes. The amazing thing about their lives was what God did in them, not what they did themselves. Sometimes humility, honesty, and desperate faith were all they had to offer, but those are priceless commodities in the economy of God. He wants us to come to him on those very simple but uncomfortable terms.”

Jesus described these “simple but uncomfortable terms” when He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3).

When I think of what it means to be “poor in spirit” I think of a character that is so unlike the self-assertive, self-sufficient disposition which the world admires and praises. Scripture reveals God’s favor as it was given to humble souls that were poor in spirit yet rich in worship.

Isaiah 66:2 – “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.”

1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

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Luke, in chapters 1 and 2 of his gospel, highlighted God’s favor throughout the incarnation story ~

Luke 1:28 – The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:30 – The angel said to her, “ Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:43 – (Elizabeth’s words): “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 2:24 – (The angelic proclamation to the shepherds): “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:40 – And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of our Savior’s birth is marked with inconveniences. Elizabeth bore a child in advanced age. Mary faced the possibility of losing her husband and her life.  Joseph accepted unforeseen responsiblity and ridicule. The shepherds risked losing their livelihood to see the Messiah. The magi traveled far to give their worship.

And yet, God’s favor with was them. God in the flesh was with them. Mary’s heart was filled with the treasure of her Savior’s presence. The shepherds and wise men were filled with unspeakable joy and matchless wonder.

“Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Favored ones look through a lens of eternal promise.

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But what does God’s favor mean for someone living 2000 years past Jesus’ birth?

God is still with us. When we receive His Son, we receive His acceptance, His covenant, His presence. Here at Christmas, that’s an enormously comforting truth.

God’s favor frees me from the pressure of my own expectations.

“Peace is not a reward for those who wrap everything by December 24. There can be no mad rush, no frantic preparations for the real spirit of Christmas. It simply fills our hearts as we are and where we are. Much the same, Christ did not need us to finish our work before He could save us. God’s salvation has always found us in the most unlikely of places and conditions…” (Ginger Garrett, “The Perfect Christmas” in InTouch magazine – http://www.intouch.org/magazine/content.aspx?topic=The_Perfect_Christmas).

It’s been an emotional day for me. I learned of something that someone I dearly love wants, and it was beyond my financial ability to make it happen. My husband and I have chosen for me to stay at home (having the choice is a wonderful blessing). But in insecure moments, I equate my worth with my ability to contribute. And in the season of giving, it hurts when I can’t contribute (and my husband’s presents come from his own paycheck.)

But God gave me the sweetest gifts today. In the midst of a tearful morning, my husband came home from work to say how much he appreciates me. And this afternoon, dear friends reminded me that this time of motherhood and ministry is a precious season. They helped me realize that my time is worth more than money can ever buy. And my worth lies not in what I contribute but in who (Whose) I am.

And I think about my salvation. I didn’t contribute to it. I can’t add to it. It is a gift of God’s favor. And though this life of faith is sometimes messy, I will choose to look through a lens of eternal promise and take a humble path made rich by His presence.

No good thing does He withhold – Psalm 84:11.

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Glorious

I’m reflecting on autumn in a new way, thanks to one of my favorite authors. In her blog post “How to Handle Loss” (10/22/12), Ann Voskamp ponders the thought that the leafy trees in their full array of color “make dying look glorious.”

Her phrase has stuck with me throughout this season. Every time I take in the reds, oranges, and yellows around my neighborhood, I remember that the colors represent the process of death – a literal and figurative picture of letting go.

Isn’t it interesting that we celebrate Thanksgiving in the midst of a season of loss and letting go?

This year, I am especially thankful for my faith in Christ which enables me to look upon dying as beautiful. Hopeful. Glorious.

While I’ve been reflecting upon these things, I visit with Muriel. Being 94 years old, Muriel thinks and talks about death quite often. I sit and listen. Her acceptance of her eventual passing gives me great comfort. I don’t try to change the subject or pretend that her best days on this earth are ahead.

Sometimes Muriel speaks practically about her death. Just this afternoon, she was sharing with me the details of her own funeral, as she has planned it: “…and after the graveside, we’ll come back and have sandwiches…” Other times, she longs for death as if it is a cracked door just beyond her reach.

At 94 years old, Muriel has lived a full life. Her stories of being a medical missionary in the Congo are rich. She tells me about her obedience to God’s call upon her life, even when it cost her dearly. Today we talked about the fiancee she left behind in the States because he didn’t share her love for the people of Africa. Sometimes she wonders what life would have been like if she had made different choices. But she always says: “God told me to go.” And I remind her of how she served countless people suffering in the leper colony, how she saved a woman’s sight after a viper spit into her eyes, and how her compassion and courage brought many to Christ. Muriel smiles and remembers that it was worth it.

When I visit with Muriel, and she talks about her life and her anticipation of death, I remember that sometimes we experience death in ways beyond the physical. Christ calls His followers to die to self-absorption. Surely Muriel died a thousand deaths to her own comforts and dreams. Her sacrificial life reminds me of a poem by C.T. Studd:

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done.”
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all.
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

I’ve visited Muriel for 3 years.  Muriel was losing her sight due to macular degeneration, and I volunteered to visit with her. Our visits at first, in her assisted-living apartment, were task-oriented. Muriel supported and prayed for missionaries across the globe. She wanted to keep up with their prayer letters, so I read her mail and organized her correspondence in a special file.  Always fascinating, I found Muriel to also be a bit gruff. Many times, she was very focused upon her letters being filed properly, but if I was lucky, I could get a story or two out of her.

This past year, my and Muriel’s relationship has changed. I sit with her as she lies in her bed in a nursing facility. She knows that she will never walk again and, unless the Lord calls her soon, she will be completely blind. Muriel used me to refer to me as her “reader.” Now she calls me her “friend.” We talk about love, life, and loss. Mostly about loss. But I believe that Muriel knows every word of every hymn ever composed. And when I read Scripture, she remembers. She asks for prayer for patience, that even with the loss of her dignity as she has known it, she will be a honorable testimony to her Lord. And patience to stay the course faithfully while she awaits her eternal reward.

When I say goodbye, Muriel says that she is glad that I love her and don’t treat her like “some chore.” I cringe inside because I truthfully felt stressed about taking time for her today. And I leave, and the leaves in the parking lot crunch under my feet. I remember that Muriel is dying, and how could I but be blessed and honored to spend this precious time with such an extraordinary woman?

A woman who makes dying look glorious.

Muriel’s ready anticipation of death is rare, I know. Her longing for Heaven is a reflection of her satisfaction with the life that she’s lived. Most of us aren’t so ready or satisfied. And while it is easy to say that Muriel’s death will be glorious, I can’t so easily say the same when someone is taken unexpectedly or too much soon or in the context of agonizing suffering and grief. Still, I take comfort in knowing that God is the God of all mysteries and the righteousness King. Death will not rob Him or His children of glory and ultimate victory. We trust that to live is Christ and to die cannot be but gain. Glorious.

Lord of heaven and life eternal, thank You for giving us Your Son. Thank You that His shameful death has brought us into a place of glory and everlasting hope.

1 Corinthians 15: 42 & 43 – Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.

2 Timothy 4:7 & 8 – The words of Paul – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

1 Corinthians 15: 54 – 56 So this body that can be destroyed will clothe itself with that which can never be destroyed, and this body that dies will clothe itself with that which can never die. When this happens, this Scripture will be made true:

“Death is destroyed forever in victory.” “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”

Death’s power to hurt is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But we thank God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20 & 21 – But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18- …though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.