Comfort

Hard Pressed

2 Corinthians 4: 8-9

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

I’ll never forget when I first learned how to use color crayons. I was in junior high—7th grade, I believe. I know what you’re thinking, that this should be a kindergarten-level skill. And you would be correct, if I were referring to the neat and tidy, gentle, inside-the-lines kind of coloring that we tend to value so much. But in 7th grade art class, I learned how crayons were “meant” to be used. Our teacher knew that she would have an uphill battle trying to change the beliefs and behaviors that had been ingrained in us for some 12 years by that point. But she also knew from experience that there was good to come from all of this re-learning.

She taught us that we needed to press HARD on the crayons. What?! Wasn’t that wasting them? I mean, they would wear out so much faster. That is, if they didn’t break in half from the weight of the pressure. And why?! My coloring up until that point had already earned me high praise throughout my childhood. But I trusted my teacher, and I learned a technique that yielded absolutely beautiful results—vibrant, bold, attention-grabbing.

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I know that Paul wasn’t referring to crayons in his letter to the Corinthians. His analogy above relates more to an active-duty soldier, presumably in battle. Nevertheless, I believe this present analogy holds. The point is that what seems harsh and painful now may yield some great benefit later. Paul continues,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away,
yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Will we do this also? When we face challenges, hardships, and heartache. When we experience loss, grief, and sadness. Will we trust that our God will not allow us to be crushed or destroyed, that He will not forsake us, even during the most difficult or painful of times? I hope so—for the reward is great.

Dear Lord,

Please comfort those who are mourning, strengthen those who are weak, and work all things together in an intricate and vibrant work of art that declares, “His glory, my good.”

Amen.

 

In THIS Day

John 11: 21-27

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Prayer is a funny thing—and it tends to confuse a lot of people. There’s this obvious dichotomy between praying for what we think we want, while knowing that God’s will is perfect, and that His vision is infinite. So I’ve found that I often pray like Martha—with a future focus. Now, sometimes I think Martha gets a bad rap, because of her OCD and all, and because of her tendency to try to boss Jesus around. But think about it. After Lazarus dies, Martha has no trouble at all believing that he will be resurrected with the saints at the last day. At this point, there’s no precedent for that. Jesus hasn’t even died yet, let alone risen from the dead—and yet she believes. She’s like Noah, believing for rain! But she doesn’t ask Jesus outright for what she really wants—her brother back. Somehow that’s too audacious to even want, much less ask for. But Jesus clearly wants her to ask, and He wants to give her what she desires most—in more ways than one.

I confess that I often find myself in her shoes—praying that God would redeem my circumstances in the end, that He would somehow reconcile my unfulfilled desires, and that He would ultimately use it all for His glory…someday. I guess that’s why my thought life often leads me to an imaginary distant future wherein He brings it all to pass. And because I know that His infinite wisdom and perfect will are so much greater than mine, I hesitate to tell Him what I really want now. But it’s in bearing my heart to Him that He gives me more of the Holy Spirit, which is after all Whom I truly desire.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago. I had already developed a deep desire to donate a kidney to someone in need, but I had recently begun to question whether I would be medically able to do it. I told my dad that, If I couldn’t do it, I would intensely grieve the lost opportunity. “Really?” He asked. “But you would know that it wasn’t God’s will.”

“I know,” I said. “And I believe that, I really do. But I would still be sad.” Telling him that let him know my heart, to draw closer to me, to counsel and comfort me. If I can share that honestly with my earthly and imperfect father, then why in the world shouldn’t I be able to honestly share my heart—however finite and imperfect it may be—with my perfect and all-powerful Heavenly Father?

Of course we can, and we should. Jesus Himself gives us this permission when He prays in the garden that the cup might somehow pass from Him. We can pray likewise if we pray with God’s promises in mind. One promise brings me particular comfort when I pray for what I think I want. It comes from Luke 11: 5-8.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you goes to his friend at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And the one inside answers, ‘Do not bother me. My door is already shut and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

I don’t think I ever noticed before how this story ends—He will surely give you what you “need.” I think I’ve always thought of this passage as somehow saying that by my persistence, like that of a nagging child, I could wear down God’s resistance, causing Him to give me what I am asking for—even if He knows that it will bring with it a wasting disease (Psalm 106:13-15). But no—this passage promises that no matter what I pray for, no matter what I want, God will give me what I NEED.

Selah.

Thank you, God! Thank you that you can be trusted with every desire—trusted to do what is good, what is right. Thank you for the freedom to ask, not just for resurrection and redemption at the last day, but for resurrection, redemption, and abundance—in THIS day!

Amen.

P.S. Thanks to @jpokluda for the reminder, the challenge, and the permission to pray big!

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Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that we don’t mourn like those who have no hope, because we have the hope of heaven. Most funerals I attend do happen to be for believers, and I LOVE celebrating their lives, but even more so their “home-going.” So many happy tears, even in the midst of sorrow.

This celebratory feel is much more salient when we are (relatively) assured of our loved one’s salvation. But we don’t always have that luxury. Such is the case with my grandmother, who passed away on Friday, at the age of 88. Her quality of life had declined severely, due to complications of COPD and congestive heart failure. We all wanted to see her at rest and in peace, but saw her continued suffering as a gift from God, in his patience, mercy, and compassion. After all, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Perhaps He was just giving her more time.

You see, Grandma was never much into Jesus. She spent her life in the pursuit of self-reliance. She was strong, independent, fiercely opinionated, and proud—and all of the other things that help a person to survive here on earth, but that make it hard to surrender to God, or to admit to needing Him. Nevertheless, her friends and family poured into her the truths of the gospel. She knew the “answers,” even though she staunchly resisted them.

To the best of our knowledge, she never confessed out loud the lordship of Christ, she never verbally acknowledged her sins, her need for forgiveness, or her acceptance of Christ as her savior. BUT…as Grandma’s days grew short—in fact, on the eve of her passing—her daughter sat with her, and prayed a sinner’s prayer over her in intercession. She closed, saying “Amen.” And Grandma, quite surprisingly, echoed a hearty, “Amen!” Could she have finally accepted? We won’t know until we get to heaven, but this moment gives us what we are promised—hope that we may see her again one day.

Interestingly, the next day, as the end drew nearer still, Grandma rolled onto her side, and seemed to be talking to herself—albeit unintelligibly. Could it be, though, that just as the thief on the cross did so long ago, she was looking to Jesus, asking Him to remember and forgive her? If so, His answer would have certainly been the same—“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Again, the gift of hope. Thank you Jesus!

In Memory  of Dolores E. Winget

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Mike

Mike McGregor

Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Where to begin…I guess the best place would be December 10, when I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Victoria in the wee hours of the morning, saying that her stepdad, Mike, had had a massive heart attack the previous afternoon. Her plea was for prayer, and it was clear that she and her family were praying nonstop, and believing for HUGE miracles. I know they prayed without ceasing, and they recruited so many others into this prayer effort, including myself. I found myself logging on to Facebook specifically to check for any updates. Those updates were very specific, as were the prayer requests. I believe that, throughout this trial, Victoria and her family have embodied 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Let me elaborate.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In each of Victoria’s posts, she shared praises and prayer requests. She petitioned for an around-the-clock covering of Mike in prayer. And people responded—family, friends, and strangers. It was beautiful to see just how bathed in prayer he was.

In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, David has learned from Nathaniel that his first child with Bathsheba—the one conceived in sin—would die. Nonetheless, David “pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.” After seven days of this, the child did die. And then, “David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” When asked about his strange behavior, David responded, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” At one point, Victoria shared that the doctors were only giving Mike a 5% chance of living. Her response? “Our God is bigger than 5%!”

Later came the update that: “Our precious Mike is fully healed. He is celebrating his victory in Heaven….Our God is GOOD. He is very good. And while this doesn’t feel good, HE is good. And He did not leave 1 prayer unanswered, down to the very last minute.” Amen. Such faith, such strength in Jesus, such a testimony of what it means to mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This blog is called, Fathoming Heaven: Living a Life Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Victoria and her family are living that out right now. God has set eternity in the hearts of Mike and his family. And that makes a victory of what otherwise would be a tragedy. We pray for comfort, peace, and JOY for Victoria and her family, even in the midst of this great sorrow. God be with you (Psalm 23:4). Amen.

Still

Your promise still stands, great is your faithfulness!
I’m still in your hands, this is my confidence—You’ve never failed me yet!

“Do It Again”
( Elevation Worship)

When I hear these lyrics, they seem designed to comfort someone in the throes of the unexpected—cancer, job loss, infertility, divorce….But for me, they bring to mind a more expected but no less daunting future. It’s no secret that one of my greatest fears is that of growing older. Not like, gray hair and wrinkles older. Not 98, but active and full of life older. So, not Betty White, in other words. No, I mean the kind of older where your mind or your body, or both, begin to decline rapidly, leaving you unable to do the things you once loved, or even the basic things that you once could.

This summer, I’ve found myself with a front row seat to witness such decline. My parents’ elderly neighbor is suffering from dementia, and she seems to have lost so much of her memory and her ability to care for herself, even since I saw her last summer. Watching her struggle with the frustrations of not being able to remember things she knows she should remember is heartbreaking. It must be very frightening. My dad also has a dear friend, a woman he’s worked with for years and who has known me all my life, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. When he visits her now, she doesn’t know who he is. I can only imagine how lonely she must feel. And then recently, even my own grandmother has begun to struggle to maintain her independence, after living her entire life as a strong, resourceful, and self-sufficient woman.

In these times, I remind myself that His promise still stands. What is His promise—or what ARE His promises, rather? Here are just a few that come to mind.

  • “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
  • Our Heavenly Father will give good gifts to those who ask! (Matthew 7:11)
  • “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • “The LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
  • “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I know that a time will likely come when I will need to face this fear myself. God, whatever condition I find my body and mind in at that time, I pray that You will allow me to STILL remember these truths: that your promise still stands, that great is your faithfulness, that I’m still in your hands, that this is my confidence, that you’ve never failed me yet. Amen.

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Worse Things

Psalm 34:18

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Today I decided it was time to wash the delicate clothes that had been piling up in my closet for months. In particular, I decided it was time to wash Laredo’s tights and leotard, in which she dresses up like a ballerina almost daily. But as I went to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I noticed that something blue in the load had bled on the pale pink leotard. I said to myself, “Thank God I didn’t put her fancy white Easter dress in this load.”

But then I stopped myself. I realized the fault in my perspective. You see, as Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath continues to cause destruction not two hours from here, I understand that there are worse things that I could have to worry about. There are far worse things that many people are facing at this very moment—even some people I know. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who dwells on silly and inconsequential things, when there are people out there in need of compassion, and prayer, and tangible help.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are most certainly times in life when those worse things will happen TO YOU. I wouldn’t tell those who have lost everything and even loved ones to tell themselves that there are worse things. At some point, you need to recognize that you’ve just lived through the worst day of your life. When you’ve been evacuated from your home by boat in the middle of the night, and been shuttled around from one shelter to another in search of one that will allow your pets to stay with you… Or when you’ve faced some other tragedy, emergency, betrayal…some of you may know this feeling firsthand. You know what it’s like to feel helpless, hopeless, and lost. Be honest about it—let your family, friends, and community come alongside to help you.

But for those of us who aren’t suffering greatly right now, I would encourage us all to take a posture of gratitude, humility, and compassion. Let’s recognize that those little things that frustrate or disappoint us are exactly that—little things. Let’s remember that there are (unfortunately) worse things than what we are facing. And let’s pray that God will give us HIS heart for the brokenhearted. As is so often said, let’s ask Him to break our hearts for what breaks HIS. And I can just about guarantee that what breaks His heart is not a stained leotard, or even a ruined Easter dress.

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

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

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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Hemmed In

Psalm 139:5

“You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.”

If you have ever had back pain, you know how difficult it can be to get comfortable. I know this well. And the other night, I found myself alone in bed, but for several pillows, with my typical lower back discomfort. I decided I would try laying on my side, placing one pillow against my back and one in front of me—and of course, there was one pillow for my head. If you’ve ever seen one of those horseshoe-shaped body pillows, this was kind of like a makeshift version of one of those. The pain didn’t completely subside, but I did feel more comfortable and more secure. As I laid there, Psalm 139:5 kept going through my mind—You hem me in behind and before

In my mind, I thought I recalled hearing a sermon that referenced this as a phrase used by a shepherd. I pictured him carefully protecting and comforting his sheep. But I wanted to learn more, so I looked up the verse, along with a commentary by Albert Barnes (via Godvine.com)…

“Thou hast beset me behind and before – The word rendered “beset” – צור tsûr – means properly to press; to press upon; to compress. It has reference commonly to the siege of a city, or to the pressing on of troops in war; and then it comes to mean to besiege, hem in, closely surround, so that there is no way of escape. “

Hmm. So not about sheep at all. Instead this verse is all about battle, war, and conquest. This is not a phrase that most—in that time or ours—would find comforting. One would be anxious and afraid. And yet, even the Psalmist doesn’t seem to see it that way. We can tell because in verse 6, he states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” You might be thinking, “#StockholmSyndrome”, but you’d be wrong. You see, God is not our enemy. He is not a captor who forces us against our will. He is a loving Father, a righteous judge, and a merciful savior. Thus, if we submit to Him, we can be assured that He will hold onto us, and will act in our best interest. So when you are surrounded by love, peace, and protection, I guess it’s not the same as being surrounded by an enemy. Indeed, that extra layer of protection against any encroaching enemies might bring the greatest peace of all. So God, please continue to hem us in, behind and before, and may we welcome you there.

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Sold!

1 Corinthians 6:20a
“You were bought at a price…”

1 Peter 1:18-19
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

In this day and age, when people keep talking about having great hands, beautiful tax returns, and “the best words,” I have to admit, I have none of those. Well, to be honest, sometimes I actually do have the best words, but that’s only because I have such a love of the English language. But whenever anything like tact or diplomacy are called for, I can be almost guaranteed to NOT have the right words.

Not only that, but I often ask the wrong questions, I seldom have the right answers, I frequently make the wrong choices. And I’m not talking about morally wrong choices (although I’ve made my share of those, too). But I have been known to spend too much on a sweater, or to pass up a pair of pajamas that I absolutely LOVED over a $15 price tag (those Walrus pajamas will haunt me forever). I could go on and on. This may explain why I can spend 15 minutes in the meat aisle at the grocery store, deliberating on which is the right cut of beef for this week’s recipe.

In my shortcomings, though, I have this comfort: for every mistake or misstep I make, for every time I fail or fall short, GOD. NEVER. DOES. He never has. He never will. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was channeling a future Toby Keith—

I don’t want to die for you, but if dying’s asked of me,
I’ll bear that cross with honor, ‘cause freedom don’t come free—

He said yes, and He meant it. He knew everything about you—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He chose you. He bought you, purchased you, redeemed you. He paid the ultimate price for you, because you’re worth it. YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT…to the One who matters most. Don’t ever forget that.

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