Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Different … Better (for the New Year)

A few days ago, my family made a special trip to a grocery store. On the way, we passed at least five stores where we usually shop for groceries. My daughter couldn’t understand why we were doing this, especially when picking up a little food wasn’t our primary goal. The reason behind our special trip was to check out a store which is brand new to our area. We like new grocery stores around here. A few years ago, Trader Joe’s came to town, and we couldn’t even get close to the parking lot for weeks. And on Whole Foods’ opening day, we were literally shoulder to shoulder with our fellow shoppers, but I don’t remember if we actually purchased a single thing.

We’re drawn to the new. “New” offers a possibility of different, perhaps better. Advertisers hope a “new and improved” product will capture our attention (and money). This week, many people will expectantly welcome the arrival of the New Year and the possibilities of different, perhaps better. Admittedly I’m really not into making the yearly list of “more” or “less” – as in “more Scripture memorization” and “less junk food.” (Yesterday we passed a church sign that I found amusing – ‘May your New Year’s troubles be as short-lived as your resolutions.’)

Of course, I’d love to be more organized, exercise more consistently, have more verses committed to memory, and eat more fruit, but what I really need is newness in my attitudes and not just in my actions.

Ezekiel 36:26 ~ “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

2 Corinthians 5: 17 ~ “… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Ephesians 4: 23 – 24 ~ “… let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

Romans 12: 2 ~ “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Each of these Scriptures indicates that transformation is God’s doing. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is alive and real and lives in me! He cuts to the heart of the matter and gives me power not merely for annual resolutions but for daily renewal.

My part is to be the offering. Of course that means tangible steps – making time to be in the Word, attending worship with the Body of believers, participating in Bible study, choosing to honor God with my choices in eating and exercise, living by the convictions He has placed in my heart. But these actions arise out an attitude (humility) and an approach (dependence).

Christ said to His disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Paul later wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (4:13).

Jesus, the Vine, produces new life and new fruit in His followers, the branches. What do my striving, my goodness, and my resolve produce apart from Him? That’s right – nothing. Seems that the key is being made new each day is “abiding.” Some versions of this Scripture use “remain” in place of “abide” – “Those who remain in Me will bear much fruit.” Remaining = renewing.

Personally, I prefer the image of “abiding.” Somehow it gives me a fuller picture of resting in, depending upon God’s grace. In the book Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray describes abiding as “unbroken communion.” Now there’s a vision for the new year!

“A close walk with Me is a life of continual newness. Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek My Face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with Me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young).

All this reflection about “new” has me thinking that while “new” usually means different, it doesn’t always result in better, at least in our limited perspectives. “New” implies transformation (especially in reference to the New Year), but “new” can also refer to transition (which is almost always stressful, if not downright difficult). Take divorce. Or widowhood. A new town or new school.

Sometimes we find ourselves in new situations because of events beyond our control. Here is where we have to rest in the One who is in control. What is new to us is not new to Him.

And sometimes we find ourselves in a place where change is truly necessary for our good. Going back to Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Vine, He spoke of times when the branches, through pruning, take on a new shape. Something that inhibits the growth of the branch has to be taken away. I’m thinking bitterness. Holding on to unhealthy habits. Needing another’s approval.

Pruning is painful. But through the process of pruning, branches are better able to produce new flowers or fruit.

I don’t know what 2013 holds for me in way of transformations and transitions. All I know is that each day is a new day of God’s mercy (Lamentations 3:23 – 24). Sometimes my actions will correspond nicely with New Year’s resolutions (more of the right stuff, less of the bad stuff). Sometimes they won’t. Pruning will come. But I pray that my focus this year will be on abiding.

Depending on Christ, for different, certainly better.

Romans 12: 1 – 2 ~ “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 ~ “This is what the LORD says— who makes a way in the sea, and a path through surging waters, ‘Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”


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Purposes Unfolding and Promises Coming

(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.


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A Prayer for the New Year

We hear Your call to go – go and make disciples,

Identify with strangers, walk on shifting sands, and

Build a kingdom church.

“Go” is not a comfortable word.

Teach us how to depend on You again;

We need Your initiative, Your boldness, Your blessing,

Your plan.

Make us unafraid to break new ground,

To take new steps of faith with You.

Do a new thing, Father…

Give a new passion for worship, a new love

For the lost,

A new unity in purpose, a new strength in our resolve,

A new heart of repentance, a new humanity of spirit,

A new pulse for the people, a new heart laid bare,

And send us out.

~ A Salvation Army Prayer, printed in It’s Just You & Me, Lord: Prayers for a Woman’s Life by Marion Stroud (2012)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 18 – 20


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You Are Important – A Letter to my Daughter

Dear C:

Do you remember that conversation we had the other night, right before you went to sleep? It went something like this:

You (in a sleepy little whisper): “Mommy has a new job – Mommy is important!”

Me (trying to sound casually curious): “So … I’m important now that I have a job?”

You: “Well … yeah.”

Me: “Honey, it’s not a job that makes a person important.”

You: “Oh, okay …” zzzzz

I know you were only half-awake. But I want to know what you really think about this. And you need to know for yourself –

What makes a person important? Is it a job? Your parents? Friends? Talents? Accomplishments? Possessions?

Who decides whether a person is important – or not?

Because I like to know where words come from, I looked up the origin of the word “important.”

Important(adjective): of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being

This adjective stems from the verb “import” which was first recorded around the early 15th century. Materials that a country could not produce with its own resources were “imported” (brought into port) from another country. Because these imported goods typically became vital to a country’s well-being, they were considered “important.”

So, according to the original meaning of the word, a person is important when he or she delivers or produces something of value:

Can you make this company more profitable?
Can you help this team win?
If I hang out with you, can you make me popular?
Can you cook, do laundry, keep the house clean?
Can you earn a scholarship?

In today’s language, the word “importance” is used in like manner as “worth;” and our culture equates these terms with success, fame, and productivity.  The world says “Your worth is based upon what you do.”

But as followers of Jesus, honey, we must live by the Word and not the world.

The Word says “Your worth is based upon what Jesus did.”

Ultimately, our worth doesn’t come from our ability to bring security or happiness to other people. Our worth comes from what Jesus has brought to us. He has brought us peace with God and freedom from self-righteousness, from the performance-trap, and from the opinions of this world.

You DO bring something, however.

  • As the recipient of God’s love, you bring Him delight and joy – Zephaniah 3:17.
  • As someone who is chosen and adopted into God’s family, you bring Him great pleasure – Ephesians 1:4 – 5.
  • As a child who is being transformed into your Father’s image, you bring Him glory – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

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My child, You ARE important. And as the Father’s child you always will be.

I love you,
Mommy


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You Belong – A Letter to my Daughter

Dear C,

Have you ever noticed how people talk as if they’re a part of their favorite sports team? Like just last week, when Daddy talked about the World Series, he said things like “We’ve got to win tonight!” or “We can’t let them take this game from us.” Obviously Daddy is not a team member of the Boston Red Sox, Carolina Panthers, or the Demon Deacons.  But most people, like Daddy, want to affiliate – or connect – themselves with other people around a common goal.

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People like belonging. Even when a team is good at losing, their fans will unite in common disappointment or armchair quarterbacking. And – ugh, it’s not Christ-like – but fans will also rally around the demise of the archrival. Your mom and dad are so guilty (and Duke is still puke).

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Whether we’re for or we’re against, we’re wired for togetherness. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

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Honey, your desire to belong influences everything about you – like what you think, the friends you choose, the words you speak, how you treat others, how you dress, and how you care for your body.

So, first of all, remember always that you belong to God. He uniquely created you for His purposes (Philippians 1:6, Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:14-16). You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows why you love reading and why writing comes more easily to you than math. God delights in the big heart He gave to you.

And God not only created you, He loves you unconditionally and adopted you into His forever family (Ephesians 1: 4). Because Jesus lives in your heart, there is never, ever anything that will separate you from your Heavenly Father’s love and commitment to you (Romans 8: 38 – 39).

Remember when you were trying SO hard to move up to the next level in swimming? Every time you finished a lap, you raised your head out of the water and immediately looked for the deck manager – the one who makes the decisions. I could see the frustration on your face when she wasn’t watching you.

Honey, God’s not like that. You are never out of His sight. In fact, He says that you are precious in His eyes (Isaiah 43:4) and He keeps up with every little thing about you (Matthew 10: 29 – 31), even swimming!

You know, though, there are going to be times when, like me and Daddy and everyone else, you’ll fall short. God loves you as you are and not as you ought to be. You don’t need to be perfect. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. (Romans 3:23-24). All He asks is that you receive His gift by faith. Because you’ve done that, you bear His seal of ownership and you are “Property of the King” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

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 And you belong in our family. There are special things about “us” – our silly habits, meaningful traditions, and Saturday morning games in our pajamas. These things build camaraderie in a family. You know how lots of cars have, in addition to the team stickers, those stick figure families in the windows? That’s another display of belonging.

Our family isn’t perfect; we make mistakes and learn humbling lessons about grace and forgiveness. As you grow older, Daddy and I are increasingly aware that you don’t belong to us in a possessive kind of way. But you belong to us in a secure kind of way, meaning that we hope to give you the grace, confidence, and freedom to become the young woman that God has created you to be.

Knowing the difference is not always going to come easily for us. God has entrusted you to us, and we entrust you daily to Him.

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And you belong in the church. I don’t mean you belong at a church building. More importantly you’re a member of the Body of Christ. It’s way better than Red Sox Nation. It’s an everlasting KINGDOM!

I don’t know if you are an eye or a foot or an arm in this Body. But Scripture promises that you have an important role for an eternal reason (1 Corinthians 12). May you grow into great joy by using the gifts that God has given you.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” said a wise theologian named Frederick Buechner. My prayer, sweetheart, is that God will lead you into this place.

I believe that will happen when you know who you are and Whose you are. One day you’ll understand that deep gladness comes from a place of belonging – not to a club or a set of friends or a team. It’s more than camaraderie – it’s communion.

Your relationship with Him is not restricted by your appearance, popularity, performance, or grade-point average. The presence of Christ is a safe, secure place to rest in His forever love and acceptance. It’s where you belong.

I love you,
Mommy


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Our Refuge and Strength

It’s NFL kickoff week (hooray for fall and football!) I recently attended a Panthers preseason game, and although it was only an exhibition, there was plenty of pre-game activity to excite the crowd. As an announcer with a bellowing voice introduced them, some of the Panthers ran onto the field. When there were no other introductions, I was puzzled.

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These players made up only half of the team – the defense.

Where’s the offense? Are they playing tonight? (Feel free to insert your own sarcasm here).

We don’t go to many games, so maybe this is the way it always is. Perhaps the offense gets the big introduction for the next home game.

I asked my husband, thinking that surely he knows these things. His reply:
“I was kinda wondering myself.

Oh.

Obviously, the offense showed up (not the regular starters – they took the preseason night off). But the reserves played well, and our team won.

I recently read something in my current devotional that I found so reassuring * –
(Based on Psalm 46:1) – “God is your refuge and strength – a refuge to protect you and a strength to help you overcome. Both defense AND offense.”

God is truly our ever-present help in time of trouble. Scripture assures us that He is both behind us and before us (Psalm 139:5). Our Defender and our Fighter. Whenever we feel vulnerable or afraid, we may rely on His certain character as a mighty Fortress.

In the Psalms and Proverbs, “refuge,” “shield,” “fortress,” and “rock” are often used together to describe God:

Psalm 18:2 – My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 62:7 – My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Psalm 71: 3 – You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 94:22 – But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.

Psalm 119:114 – You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in Your Word.

Proverbs 30:5 – Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.

When everything else is insecure and uncertain, our God is immovable and unchangeable. I’ll take His protection over a 300 pound lineman anyday 🙂

Like any battle, offense is essential. In real life there are no preseasons, so Scripture tells us to remain alert and armed (Ephesians 6:17 – 18).

Hear David’s confident readiness in Psalm 18:

“God is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer … He shields all who take refuge in Him … It is God who arms me with strength … He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze … You arm me with strength for battle; You made my adversaries bow at my feet.”

God promises that the weapons that He gives us have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). He arms us with His very Word. The sword of the Spirit is the believer’s surest weapon against –

Accusation – “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Insecurity – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Weakness – “… we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Hopelessness- “I consider that our present sufferings are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Doubt – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Loneliness – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Fear – “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received a spirit of sonship.”

Since all of these “weapons” are found in just one chapter of the Bible (Romans 8), imagine how well-armed we are with all of Scripture! With God’s Word in our hearts and minds, we can stand firm.

But, just being honest, there are times when I am too emotionally, mentally, or physically spent to wear my game face. The battle seems too much. Thankfully, in Romans 8, I find that God understands:

“We don’t know what we should pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (v. 26).

The Holy Spirit fights for me.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read King Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer as the Moabites and Ammonites threatened the people of Judah:

“We have no power to face this army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on You.”

God gave Jehoshaphat words of hope:

“Do not be afraid or discouraged. The battle is not yours but God’s … You will not have to fight this battle … Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

So Jehoshaphat trusted God and commanded men at the head of the army to sing:

“Give thanks to the Lord. His love endures forever.”

Worship was their offensive weapon. The enemy may loom large, and I may be weak, but I can worship. I am called to worship. Praise changes my perspective. It opens my eyes to see Who fights for me.

2 Chronicles 20 ends with verse 30: “And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for God had given him rest on every side.”

On every side. He is behind us and before us. Our defense and our offense.

Here’s to a winning season!

* Experiencing God’s Presence by Chris Tiegreen. Devotion for Oct. 2