Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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The change of seasons {and what-ifs, if-onlys, or what-abouts …}

With every waning summer, my daughter eagerly gathers school supplies (yet complains that she must actually use them). While my girl organizes her goods, I work alongside, sorting through dusty boxes of my parents’ possessions. She stacks brightly colored notebooks while I finger through crinkled photos and yellowed letters.

My daughter’s collection is new while mine is old, but our feelings are the same. We’re a little sad, nostalgic, and apprehensive about the unknowns ahead of us.

As we enter a season dotted with yellow leaves and school buses, I realize that the cycles of climate are relatively predictable but the seasons of life are sometimes not so.

These new seasons arrive by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before.

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Of Jesus’ disciples, I relate especially well with Peter (Who doesn’t, right?) From the first, adventurous moment he followed Jesus, Peter’s circumstances were as up-and-down as his impulsive personality.

As part of Jesus’ inner circle, Peter was eyewitness to glorious moments. He was the passionate leader of the twelve, and in Jesus’ eyes, the “Rock.” Even still, he experienced infamous growing pains, had devastating failings, and earned rebuke from his Master.

Although he had expected the Kingdom to come through uprising and triumph, Peter learned that following Christ is revolutionary in that the last will be first, the meek inherit the earth, and a cross precedes a crown.

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Peter must have struggled, as we all do, with “what-ifs,” “if-onlys,” and “what-abouts…” But if we flip between the pages of the Gospels and his epistles (1 & 2 Peter), we discover a man who became firm and faithful.

At first glance, head-strong Peter doesn’t seem the sort to worry with “what ifs …” He sees Jesus walking on the sea; Jesus says, “Come;” and Peter exits the boat. We know, however, that Peter’s faith and feet give way to the water, because he wonders, “What if I heard Him wrong?” “What if He’s not really there?”

In the past two years, I’ve asked the same questions more than I can count. I’ve experienced the strains of caregiving, lost my beloved father, took a new job, traveled on mission, become the mother of a teenager. In better moments, I trust Jesus despite turbulent winds and step forward with him into the mysteries.

But when the waves slap hard, I lose my focus. “What-ifs” take me down. But Jesus, always He is there, saying “It is I; don’t be afraid.” He extends His hand, my lifeline, and pulls me up time and again. And every day I have a choice, like Peter, to look upon what if or what isWhat if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the one who says “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The two equations can’t coexist.

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Every day I make mistakes, and especially when a new situation stresses me out. Learning to navigate role reversals with an aging parent is tough. When I feel inexperienced and unsure, I beat myself up (as in “if only I hadn’t done this” or “if only I had done that …”)

Whenever I mess up, I have a choice to rehearse my “if-onlys” and stay stuck or to receive mercies with each new day and begin again. After a series of missteps and disgrace, Peter resigned himself to a boatload of regret and a lifetime of fishing (for real fish, not men).

But the risen Jesus walked where sand meets water to seek Peter out, to open a new chapter in this fisherman’s story. And Peter “threw himself into the sea” (again) to meet Jesus at the shore and embrace another chance. When we forgive ourselves, we affirm Jesus’ work on the cross. We remember that we are the receivers, not the achievers. We get to partcipate in His story, and His forgiveness and sufficiency cover us. With hearts saturated with grace, we can humbly move forward.

In Acts 3, we find Peter at the “Beautiful Gate” where he heals a lame beggar. As a crowd gathers, Peter proclaims the Gospel, and many who hear come to faith in Jesus.

In this passage of Scripture, the Greek word for “Beautiful” comes from the root “hora” – meaning the right hour or right season; beautiful in its timing.  Peter – emptied of his ego, freed from regret, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit – was finally the right man in the right season to preach at the Beautiful Gate.

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If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name” became the heart’s cry of a transformed man who had once cowered from identification with Christ (1 Peter 4:16).

In one of their final conversations, Jesus gives Peter a startling prophecy that Peter would die as a martyr, apparently by crucifixion (John 21: 18 – 19). But Peter doesn’t even absorb the gravity of the news before he asks about John: “What about this man?” And Jesus’ reply is freeing to anyone who struggles with comparison as I do – “What is that to you? You follow Me.”

Oh, how often I compare myself to people in different, seemingly easier or happier, seasons of life. But Jesus has given me a ministry in this place of life, and although it’s not what I hoped or anticipated, it’s filled with grace. He asks me to simply follow one trusting step at a time, and He produces fruit in due season.

During travels around Albania, friends and I toured a citadel built atop a steep mount. While I took pictures of the sweeping vistas, my friend was drawn to the ancient doors and beautiful gates. Since then, I see a gate as a metaphor for a place in faith where Jesus calls us forward. He doesn’t promise a wide-range view, and sometimes the way ahead is unclear to us. At times it’s painful.

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But I’m learning to receive new, perhaps difficult seasons, as hinges that open to deeper dependence upon God.  Yes, I occasionally stumble along an untried path, but even my fears and failures are stepping stones along an eternal course. Everything else may fall away, but Jesus is forever. His will prevails. His grace holds fast.

Friends, let us swing wide opportunities to place everything into the hands that opened the gates of heaven for us. Let us believe that God is the master of every season and makes everything – every heartache, regret, and transition – beautiful in His time. One certainty remains. Since Jesus secured our eternal destiny, surely He is trustworthy in every path along the way.

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens.

God has made everything beautiful in its time … and has set eternity in our hearts ~ from Ecclesiastes 3.

I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

 

 


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When Trouble Surrounds

I’m sure your social media feed is filled with pictures of kindergarteners, high school seniors, and even a few college students. I posted them too 🙂

Especially with the seniors, I’ve noticed, parents post something like:

It’s the first day of the last year!

It’s the beginning of the end!

And the thought struck me that while the beginning and the end are usually two distinct places in time, sometimes the first and the last are one and the same.

I need to know that today.

Since my father died, I think about heaven a lot. I write about “eternity in our hearts.” And sometimes when I tell people this, maybe it’s just me, but I could swear that their eyes glaze over.

Maybe they think eternity is too distant. Boring. Unfathomable. Irrelevant.

I’m not a girl with a lot of theological thoughts to make sense of transcendent realities, but the thing about eternity that captures my heart is that it’s already here.  From everlasting to everlasting He is God. And so, everything in the physical realm may be finite but my soul, bonded to Jesus, is not.  God’s Kingdom is a divine, eternal reality, and Christ-followers are already its citizens.

But I get that some would say that being heavenly-minded is no earthly good in the face of present trials. On this day, there are bills to pay and treatments to endure and marriages on the brink and bosses to please and disagreements to settle.

Believe me, I know.

So how is eternity comforting – in this present moment?

There are these days when I don’t feel it.

But I believe in Jesus and trust Him when He says He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  Just as alpha and omega are the bookends of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is the One who holds all things together.

I’m encouraged by these words from John Piper: “… since everything comes from God and nothing will outlast God, therefore God has no final competitors.”

To me, this means that eternity is not so much a death-changer as it is a life-changer.

There is no suffering, no terrorist, no grief that can outlast God. No diagnosis nor weakness can supersede His control. No injustice can thwart His ability to work good. No loss will slip outside of His purposes.

If I trust Jesus for my eternal salvation, how is any other concern too much to offer in faith?

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He was, He is, and He is to come.

I find rest in the reality that God was. He, the only Un-Created One, is the author of history (His story).

And I throw the whole weight of my hope upon the anticipation that He is to come. There will be a Day when He completes the history of existence as we know it. The Word in Romans 8 assures us that our present sufferings cannot be compared to the joys that await us in eternity.

But today, this hard day, I am remembering He IS.

“… anyone who comes to God must believe that He is …”

I’m remembering God in the present because I am desperate for His presence. When the pressures of being wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and writer close in, I need to draw close and breathe in grace. Because He is already there.

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God IS with you.

God IS faithful.

God IS the one who goes ahead of you.

God IS for you.

God IS able.

God IS your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.

God is a refuge to protect you and a strength to help you overcome. Both defense AND offense.” *

God hems us in – behind and before. When troubles surround us, friend, may we remember that the eternal arms enclose us.

And because “time” is a concept created by God, He can end a time of trouble any time and any way He wants. But if He chooses to let that time linger, it remains within the constraints of His wisdom and sovereignty.

Because God IS, His promises are ever old, ever new, ever faithful through Christ.

Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever. The First and the Last are One and the Same.

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Linking today with encouragers, Meredith Bernard and Holley Gerth. Their writing reminds me of all the beautiful ways that God IS –

#woman2woman Wednesdays

“A broken heart leads to the true contentment of asking less of this life because more is coming in the next.” Joni Eareckson Tada – Heaven

Revelation 21 –

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death  or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Deuteronomy 33:27 –

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

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Photo credits: Lightstock

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


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A Straight Path

What I remember most from the conversation was the skepticism in his voice.

“I think you’ll find in the years to come that your dream will change.”

Huh? I half-smiled and nodded respectfully but it was MY dream, not my professor’s. What did he know?

I had just poured out to my professor the passion that had brought me to seminary. I felt called and eager. Through Christian counseling God delivered me from an eating disorder, and I thought this was the next step – to study Christian counseling in seminary and share the healing. But here was a man with years of counseling and ministry experience telling me that he expected a different plan to unfold.

Irritably I left his office wondering why would he confuse and deflate me like that?

Fast-forward nine years. “A nursing home? That can’t be right.”

I hadn’t applied to a counseling internship at a nursing home. Yes, I had applied to a large healthcare system that included nursing homes, but surely I wouldn’t be placed there, I reasoned.  Internship positions were hard to come by, however, and eventually I accepted the offer with the thought that I just should graduate and then get on the right ministry path.

The nursing home room was hot, and she was covered in blankets from head to toe, lying on the small bed of the last room she would ever occupy on this earth. Her hand, with its almost-transparent skin, touched mine. She whispered, “I really like to hear Proverbs 3: 5 and 6.” “Again?” I wondered.

Every day that I had visited Mrs. Smith, she wanted me to read Proverbs 3: 5 – 6. And now she lay dying, and I thought that I should read something about eternal hope or heaven. But I read “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight,” and she nodded and smiled peacefully. God was leading her straight into the hope of heaven.

While I interned at the nursing home, I thought about my professor everyday. God had given me new dreams that included moments like those I shared with Mrs. Smith. I had thought that a straight path meant progressing from point A to point B to point C in neat, timely fashion to my appointed destination. But my seminary journey turned out to be far from an undeviating progression, with all its delays and surprises.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3: 5 – 6

“Straight,” in God’s eyes, must look different than my linear perspective.

The psalmist in Psalm 107 recalls how God guided His people: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in” (verses 6 – 7).

According to the Reformation Study Bible, “a straight way” is the opposite of what God’s people had been doing; that is, wandering in the wilderness. When the Israelites finally stopped leaning on their own understanding and followed in faith, God led them to the land of promise.

It’s been three years since the day when I finally took hold of a diploma and expected that the promised land for me meant a professional, paying job in ministry. It hasn’t happened that way, for various reasons. Sometimes I get discouraged around graduation season, but I remember that in coinciding ways (that weren’t coincidental) God gave me another Word to lead me onward:

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On the day that I graduated, my husband presented me with a treasured gift. He asked a sweet friend to write Philippians 3:13 – 14  in calligraphy on the inside of my new Bible.

What he didn’t know was that God had pressed on my heart during the week prior to graduation to memorize and meditate upon these verses. And neither of us knew that this Scripture would be imprinted on my graduation program:

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The Word in Philippians 3 doesn’t say “press on to the most logical step” or “press on toward what makes you professional and significant” or “press on toward a job.”  No, the Holy Spirit reminded me that my “straight path” is the prized upward call of Christ.

The prize lies wherever Christ’s love compels us. It may be in a counseling practice or a paid position but it can also be THAT side of town, an orphanage, your kitchen, a Bible study, a mentoring relationship, the yard that connects you with your neighbor, or a nursing home.

When Christ’s love compels you and you go, nothing is wasted. Although these places might look like wilderness to you and me, the calling of Christ is the promised land. If I had gained a paid ministry position, I might have lost the cherished opportunities I’ve had as a stay-at-home mom and a caregiver when my dad had cancer. Our family is in a place in life where we live simply but, compared to most of this world, we have an abundance of material possessions. We are consistently challenged to think about the goals that truly matter.

Perhaps we’ll not see a financial return on the seminary investment, but the times that I have spent with elderly people in their dying moments are so precious to me that I wouldn’t exchange them for any dream that I once thought was so vital to my identity, fulfillment, and wallet. All along, God developed a deeper yearning for eternity in my heart, and I am richer now than I have ever been.

There might be delays and surprises, but they come to sharpen our focus so that we might look straight into what really matters to the Kingdom.

In his commentary on Proverbs 3, Matthew Henry spoke of verses 5 and 6:

“Those who know themselves cannot but find their own understanding to be a broken reed, which, if they lean to, will certainly fail them. In all our conduct we must be confident of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and therefore must follow Providence and not force it.

That often proves best which was least our own doing.”

How are you trusting Him today?