Suffering for Eternity

Suffering.

None of us want to hear it, experience it or talk about it. But the truth is, everyone of us hears it, experiences it and talks about it. Think about your last conversation with someone. I’m sure in the midst of that conversation of catching up, some form of suffering was brought up within that time. Whether it was about your suffering or someone else’s, suffering is something that each and everyone one of us hate.

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As a follower of Jesus, I have been raised to know that suffering is a part of our walk with Christ. All the scripture we read, the church services we attend and the prayers we offer up are to equip us when the days of suffering come. However, all of that does not ward off suffering. Suffering does not pick and choose who it affects, it just happens.

When I think of suffering in Scripture, I think of many men and women that endured a lot of suffering but one man was not on my radar until I came across this passage in 1 Peter,

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”

1 Peter 12: 12-13

When I read those verses, my first response is to say “Who are you Peter that you tell me to not be surprised?”

Our first response when suffering comes is to be surprised. We are caught off guard, unprepared and in disbelief. So, why does Peter tell us to not be surprised?

Peter starts his journey as a man chasing after Christ upon meeting him. Peter walked with Jesus on a daily basis, saw Jesus perform miracles right before his eyes but yet, he still denied Christ. He still had a faith shaking experience even after seeing Jesus. However, his message to us was to not be surprised when sufferings come. Not simply that sufferings were going to come, but that when they come do not be surprised. As Christians, our response to situations should be vastly different than that of the world. However, it is easy to say that when we aren’t going through a struggle ourselves.

How can we not be surprised when suffering knocks on our door?

I know when I found out I was having a miscarriage, surprised is the feeling that rushed over me. However, I went back to what I knew about God to be true. I have watched God work in the lives of those around me through suffering. I never thought I was going to struggle with pregnancy but isn’t the art of suffering the same for all of us? Not matter the suffering, we all have the same choice to make.

  1. Are we going to let our suffering surprise us?
  2. Or, are we going to choose to let God surprise us?

God can surprise us through our suffering and create something amazing out of a time when amazing seems so far away.

Are we going to let Him?

We need to look past the first few words in 1 Peter 12:12-13,

“…but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”

You see we could never share in a suffering so great that it surpasses the degree of sufferings our Christ endured for us. Because of that, we should keep rejoicing! For the same Jesus that conquered death itself and shared in far more sufferings is on our side! He is fighting for us in the suffering and giving us strength to help us through it.

So like Peter, let us allow God to surprise us as we rejoice in knowing He endured it all so that we can endure it with Him.

God’s surprises have an eternal reward.

 

 

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My Masterpiece…Still in Progress…

Life is ironic.

As some look at their lives, they see an ever changing work of art with all it’s many shades and colors that often times mean nothing to you if you are not the artist.

As Christians, we know the Painter who’s perfecting our work of art.

However, we may look at our life and feel the work of art is portraying a painting that is very different than we would have imagined.

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February 6th, 2017.

A day I will never forget.

The day I received a positive on a test that would change the course of my husband and I’s journey.

With excitement we looked into each others’ eyes as our hearts raced with each glance of those two small lines.

A day I had been anticipating for my entire life.

A day that I had dreamed about.

Growing up, I was often seen with a child attached to my hip or children flocking to my side. It was ingrained in me to be a mother. A trait God wove into my innermost being before I was conceived.

Therefore, I anticipated and longed for the day when I would hold, care for, and tend to my own child’s needs. Although this was the picture I thought my work of art would display, my masterpiece is looking a little bit different today.

The week of February 6th was filled with excitement, plans, goals and dreams that were being fulfilled right before my eyes and my husband’s. We could see the expressions on our parents faces as we told them the news that they were going to be grandparents. The expressions on our siblings faces as they were going to be aunts and uncles. However, the next stroke of the paintbrush looked a little bit different than we had imagined.

The week of February 12th is a week I will also never forget. A week of shattered hopes, dreams and goals.

You see, that week beyond all other weeks, my hope to become a mother in a few short months ended just as soon as it had begun.

Although I never saw a miscarriage in my work of art, I know that my God was not caught off guard by any of it.

At the time, I was in a fog of denial and grief. It was a time when no one understood and no one seemed to help.

But God…

You see, He saw it coming and looked at me with hope-filled eyes and hoped that this shattering news would lead me straight to Him.

He saw His children, my husband and I, grieving and waited for us to turn to Him instead of to the fear and questions that would meet us in our heartbreak.

There were days and still are days when fear meets me when I wake, but there is also a God who meets me with encouraging words and calming whispers that quiet my heart and cast out the fear that was ready to tangle me up.

It was in those times, spent with my Father that I realized this trial can either define me or my God can define me through the trial.

One February morning, I sat with my Bible opened praying that God would speak to me so clearly and give me “something”. Have you ever been there?

“Just give me something Lord?”

The awesome thing about our God is that He holds and hears every prayer and every tear.

This is where The Painter cleans His brush and knows He isn’t finished yet…

In my state of grief, He met me and this is what He said….

1.Give up everything (Luke 14:33)

Yes, the cost of being a disciple. Now there are two things that Jesus meant when he tells His followers to “give up everything”. In one instance, yes we must give up any material possessions that are hindering us from Christ. But also, there is the call to give up everything in our hearts that also keep us from fully following Him. These are the things that try to fill our hearts when our hearts are meant to be filled with Him. In my case, I needed to give up my hopes, dreams and goals that I held onto so tightly my entire life and let Him be my hope, dream and goal.

2. Be still, It’s time to say “Enough!”  (Psalm 46:10; 1 Samuel 15:16)

So often my mind runs so fast that I forget it is in the stillness, when I quiet my soul that I am able to hear God speak. I am reminded through these verses that it is time to say “enough!” to the world and all its noise and be still before the Lord. Too long have I let the world’s noise run rampant in my mind and in my life and it’s time to say enough and just be still….

3. Step out of the traffic (Psalm 46:10 MSG)

In my bible, I have a split reference from the NIV to The Message. In referencing Psalm 46:10, I glanced over to The Message reference only to find these words in my quiet time with the Lord that day,

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long loving look at me, your High God’ above politics, above everything.”

Wow, what clear and powerful words those were and are to my heart. This world gets us wrapped up into all of it’s traffic that we forget to stop and just see/experience God for who He truly is! The traffic of life is so busy that we fail to realize that we’re swept up into it. As Christians, we are supposed to be the “different” the world is looking for. And until we step out of the traffic our lives are going to look just like their lives. So, what about that looks different?

On that day, my painting that could have turned dark, began to reflect gladness and joy. I can picture God cleaning His brush, smiling as He added some yellows and oranges bursting with happiness as His daughter listened to His still, small voice.

You see, life, as ironic as it may seem, is not ironic at all.

Because God doesn’t see irony, He sees opportunity.

In this trial, I saw His strength in my weakness.

I saw His joy take over my mourning.

I saw His gladness wrap around my sorrow.

It is in these moments that God’s jealous love is more evident than ever.

Not that I am glad this trial was brought into my life, but I am glad that I experienced His love in a moment that seemed so dark to get out alone.

I am so glad God had His paintbrush cleaned, and ready to place yellows where there were blacks.

I can say that I am a work of art, not because “I” have painted anything but because God is still the Painter and I am His canvas.

In Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn

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Fall.

Everything about it makes me want to consume every moment, experience and product. I can honestly say, it is my most favorite time of the year. This is for several reasons but one of the top on the list is the breathtaking views.

Recently, as I was teaching my students about the various happenings of fall, we discussed the scientific reason behind why the leaves change colors. We talked about the green pigment called chlorophyll and how green leaves signify the tree is still living. However we also mentioned that as much as we love the colorful leaves on the trees and as beautiful as they are, it means that the tree has stopped growing for a season.

Today, as I was thinking about this phenomenon and how much I love a colorful fall tree, God spoke. Each one of us find ourselves in the fall season of life. One moment we are vibrant, green and growing and then suddenly, as if we didn’t even notice, our growth comes to a halt.

As I look at my own life, I am humbled by the amount of times I see how God moved in me to act or serve in a way that was beyond myself and how much I have grown from those experiences. However, I also see times where God called me to act and serve but my focus shifted from Him to other priorities or circumstances. My opportunity to grow was overshadowed by my own selfish desire to focus on “more important” to-dos.

Oh to go back and revive those times…

But see that is just it, as much as we would like to go back and relive those moments over, the past is in the past. Forgiveness is where our living starts.

We can only turn full speed ahead and run the race set before us now.

As Paul so wonderfully speaks in Philippians 3:13,

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”

We must strain toward what is ahead, for we only have what is ahead, which is fleeting even as I type this blog.

We are not promised another breath but the great thing about our God is that He gives us our breath and as long as we are still breathing, we have His job to complete.

When we turn from our not so proud moments and turn to Him after a season of stagnant living, that is where true growth begins. It’s not just the 360 degree turn that matters, it’s what we do after that.

Just like the fall tree that goes through an entire season of no growth, we too can get wrapped up in an entire season that we will soon regret. Unless, we choose to make our dark season shorter than it has to be.

One aspect of the fall tree that speaks to us so vividly are the leaves. Just as the leaves turn, fade and die; we too must turn toward Christ and die to ourselves.

Women/Men of God, it’s time for us to turn so that we can die and in the process, making a beautiful and vibrant view for all the world to see.

Christ makes dying just as bright and beautiful as living.

When we die to what we were once holding onto so tightly, Christ can revive the growth in our hearts and our lives.

So, in every season turn, turn, turn toward Christ.

Let’s show the world the breathtaking view of our Savior who’s more beautiful than any fall snapshot can capture.

 

 

Approach with Boldness

Hebrews 13:20-21

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Encouragement.

At what point do we trade in our discouragement for encouragement?

Today as I was reading in the book of Hebrews, God spoke to me and led me into a time of encouragement. Every moment I meet with Jesus is meant to encourage my walk with Him and increase my faith in His perfect plan. Today was another time spent in His Word where I looked up with a new perspective and a new outlook on what this present season of waiting should look like.

In Hebrews chapter 13, Paul writes to encourage fellow believers to stay strong in their faith and encourage them on their road of persecution for the sake of the cross. Throughout the book of Hebrews, he addresses the audience, us as believers, to keep the faith and remember that our present struggles are not any comparison with the struggles of our Savior.

I am so thankful that God spoke through Paul to write these words of wisdom down. Often in our faith journey, we become depressed and weary, in need of some words of encouragement. This is where the book of Hebrews is like a light in the midst of our present weariness. Paul writes of His struggles in the faith and His ability to overcome with the strength that only comes from the Lord. What a powerful man of God!

the throne of grace

Sometimes after reading God’s Word, it is easy to turn away and pick up our lives where we left off before entering into the courts of our King. However, God’s Word should change us and refine us upon entering into His presence. Each time we approach His throne, we are to enter with the mindset that He is about to change us in some way that will not leave us the same.

I can say, honestly, that this is not always my thought when I read the Scriptures. Often, I enter as though my time with Him is like punching in on a time card. I enter and I exit with the same intent. Ouch, that hurt for me to get that out. I hope I’m not alone in this. I would go as far as to say that more often than not, we come to the Lord when our weariness is about to overtake us but on the days when life seems as though He is shining His light the brightest, we fail to come and spend quality and not quantity time with Him.

It’s time we change our whole approach when it comes to spending time, quality time, in the presence of our King. Doesn’t He deserve more that our 10 minute quiet time?

After all, does He not spend all day with us? (Whether we choose to acknowledge Him or not.)

Lord, help us to approach Your throne of grace in reverence and in expectation of what You are about to do in our hearts and lives. It’s time for us to drop our “time” mindset when it comes to entering into your presence. For in You, there is no concept of time or place but just a sanctuary of praise. Forgive us when we enter the sanctity of Your Word without expectation of hearing straight from You. Change our minds, hearts and souls to view our time with You as Sacred and Holy. For You are the Cornerstone on which we build our lives.

Awaiting the storm.

A storm. Rain, hail, high winds and devastating aftermath. The conditions that the storm was about to bring. As I lay in bed awaiting this storm, I thought that if I just went to sleep, I would never know the storm even occurred. However, the storm still awoke me in the middle of the night. Upon waking up this morning, the storm had settled but soon came back for more.

lifes storm

 

God began to speak to me this morning in the midst of the storm, as He has a way of doing quite often. How many times do we see a storm coming and just wish we could go into a deep sleep and miss all the chaos? Often times, we see a storm coming, we know how devastating it is going to be and want to run and hide in a quiet, dark room to escape the fear. It is in those times in our lives that God shows us just how “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). When we rest in the perfect love and restful arms of our Savior, we truly understand the chaos of the storm. No matter the storm, God knows the effects of its devastation; for the good and for the bad.

When we think of storms, we often think of the negative emotions associated with them. However, in our faith journey, the storms of life are what draw us nearer to the arms of our Savior. Without the storms, how can we hold onto His promises? Without the destruction how can we learn He is the Restorer of our soul? Isn’t it just like Jesus, to walk on water and speak through the storms to show us His ultimate love for us?

Just like Peter, we not only need to have faith that overrides our fears, but we need to walk through the storms and among the crashing waves with Jesus. It is in times of fear that our faith finds its foundation. (Matthew 14: 22-33)

Another reality that we see when storms of this life invade us is that storms, often times, do not just end with one strike of lightning. Often, storms continue to rage and sometimes die down only to reappear again just when things began to look up for us. As this occurred this morning as I lay awaiting yet another storm, I realized something. I am thankful for the reemergence of the storm. Yes, I am thankful! You see once a storm passes over and your head seems just above the water, another storm begins to form in the horizon. However, this time you look back and see the storm that just passed and your fear becomes less than your faith. For in looking forward at what is to come, you know that you pushed through the difficulties of the last storm so why not step forward with confidence in Him into the next?

When faith in God becomes greater than the faith we have in ourselves, our lives begin to transform into the life God has intended for us to have. For how can you have faith without feeling the fear? God is the only one that has the power to calm and quiet the storms of this life. No matter the magnitude of the storm, it is in direct observance of The Creator.

Psalm 107: 23-31

“Some went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
    they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the seawere hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Trust the calmer of the storm, for He alone can quiet the roaring waves in our heart.