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Posts Tagged ‘eternity’

Balancing-Act-001On Facebook recently, I mentioned that I’m in awe of those who (I perceive) are confident in who they are—in their looks, their abilities, etc. When I see confident people who don’t (seem to) struggle with insecurity, I am simply amazed. I just can’t fathom this kind of confidence and suspect I never will this side of heaven.

In response to my statement, some kind souls offered me encouraging words and compliments. Others “got” it by saying they felt the same way. And some responses reminded me that Normals just don’t understand. It’s logical to assume a statement like this is simply fishing for compliments. Honestly, this was the farthest thing from my mind. If you understand insecurity at all, you’d know that compliments do very little for us poor saps. At least with any permanence. The reason being that, at least as far as it applies to me, no amount of compliments or encouraging words can shore up the missing foundation in the insecure person’s life. Compliments we receive are quickly forgotten, because whatever is missing or lacking in our confidence lies far beneath looks, talent, accomplishments, etc. It’s like a black hole, really.

Don’t get me wrong, strokes are always welcome. Isn’t that true for everyone? But it’s just that no amount of compliments or kudos (or money or prestige or accomplishments or beauty or la la la) will ever fill the black hole of self-doubt.

At least, that’s how it feels to me.

The way I see it, insecurity is not a struggle to “like myself” enough to finally find “inner peace,” or the need to inflate my ego until it’s full of enough hot air to float me through life, but it’s more of a constant fear that the ground I’m standing on isn’t solid, the foundation of who I am is sketchy and can crumble with enough wind or opposition. Or maybe it’s more like living life on a tightrope. One slip and I’m toast. I think of insecurity as the constant fear that there’s really nothing solid beneath you.

I’ve whined talked about how it’s taking me a dreadfully long time to grow up, thanks to just the right combination of factors in childhood and my being a bonehead in general. What I’ve learned over the Long Haul is that I’m a mess, you’re a mess, everyone fails, everyone comes up short. It’s in our nature. Only God can be counted on to be steadfast, faithful and true. And he is. Someone at some time or another will crush me by rejecting or dismissing me. This can’t be avoided. At the same time, unfortunately, I know I will wound and offend, though I wish to God I didn’t because I sure don’t want to. 

Enough whining. My point is that I have learned to embrace this weakness of insecurity. I am not looking for strokes (though don’t forget, they are perfectly acceptable much like chocolate—no such thing as too much) and I really, really don’t mean to be a tedious navel-gazer. What I want is to remember is that this life we live on earth is so short and so fleeting, and yet is so full of potential. Whether we are multi-talented or simple-minded, handsome or plain, popular or awkward, we all have a precious opportunity to fill our bank account with treasure that will go with us into eternity.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

I’m reminded that one day, when we pass through heaven’s gate, our lives will pass through a fire of testing, and after our “works” (& all the stuff we based our confidence in) have been burned off, all that will remain will be the lasting gems forged by faith, hope and love. Faith from each moment of surrender to God, Hope from trusting in his goodness, Love from acts of obedience and dying to self.

So as long as I’m looking to find security in my accomplishments or popularity or talents—wood, hay and straw—I will be gathering goods in vain. Not only do I find no lasting security from these things, but none of that stuff is going with me into eternity. And eternity is going to last a lot longer than this little bit of earthly life I’m trying to muddle through right now. 

The only things that we will take with us into eternity are the things that build godly character in us, that make us more like Christ. Instead of inflating our egos with success and accomplishments, or aiming for being the most successful salesman or the most popular girl at school or the coolest mom on the block, we ought to invest our efforts on obedience to God, on trusting his wisdom and power, on complete dependence on his love and mercy. That’s our task, and for me, that’s where solid, lasting security lies.

Q: Do you struggle with insecurity? 

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Does talk of Christian holiness make you squirm?

Or do you think holiness is only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas? Should Christians be striving for lives that please God?

Is pleasing God even possible?

Oops, sorry. I forgot to mention there was going to be a quiz.

In my last post, One-Sided Romance, I offered some cheeky dialogue between a Bride-Groom and his less-than-fully-devoted bride. I sure hope this isn’t the bride Jesus sees in me. But I must confess it wasn’t hard to come up with some of those cheeky lines.

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a Christian brother unlike any I’ve ever known. Val and his wife Laura are humble servants who don’t own anything. They follow God’s lead, traveling from place to place, serving people in any way needed, whether it’s finishing a fence, cleaning gutters, stacking firewood, roofing a house, babysitting—whatever needs done. Graciously and cheerfully, without asking for anything in return. They live each day obeying whatever the Lord asks with sincere hearts that desire to please him. They don’t always know where they will sleep or where the next meal will come from, but they trust God to provide. Someone said that for a guy without anything, Val was the most generous man he’d known. If all Val had was one cracker and was starving, he would find a hungry person to share it with.

And yet, one of the most inspiring things I heard at Val’s funeral was that even this doggedly obedient, selfless saint struggled on occasion to obey. There were times he had to ask God for a willing heart because he just didn’t feel like obeying.

Know the feeling?

I obey God—when it’s comfortable and doesn’t infringe on what I feel/don’t feel like doing. But then, there are . . . those other times. I confess: it’s not in my nature to be generous, hospitable or sacrificial. To offer my coat also when someone asks for my shirt. Go out of my way for a stranger. Forgive people’s idiotic driving. I mean—turn the other cheek when wronged.

It’s not my nature to be like Jesus.

So… is my “natural” bent for willfulness an excuse for giving in to it? I’m pretty sure Val didn’t say, “Look, God, I’ll do what you ask when it’s convenient, but sometimes I’m going to be stingy with my time and energies. It’s how I roll. I’d rather go relax after a long day at work instead of taking groceries to a stranger on a scorching hot day with no AC. You understand, right?”

I don’t know exactly what Val prayed, or why he struggled to obey (probably not out of selfishness but rather some disagreement with the way God was handling something), but I believe he recognized the stubbornness in his heart at those times and asked God to line his heart up with God’s. Why? Perhaps he knew God would love to answer a prayer like that. Perhaps God knew others would hear of this humble servant struggling with obedience and be encouraged. I know I was. I was not only encouraged, I was reminded that I have also prayed for the willingness to do God’s will instead of my own, and he gave it to me.

For a whole day.

*sigh*

If becoming a 100% obedient, deeply devoted saint isn’t something I can picture myself becoming overnight, that’s okay. All I need to worry about is today. God can give me a willing heart and the strength to follow through. Like manna in the desert, one day at a time.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

Striving to be a more obedient Christian isn’t about meeting somebody’s standards or proving that I’m holy. It’s about responding to the unwavering love and costly grace God has given me with a heart that longs to please him, out of love.

No, it’s not in my nature to be like Jesus. But it is his nature to empower me by his grace to become more like him. And he’s totally okay with me asking for help being willing to obey.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, for a heart that longs to please You, Lord. And the willingness to follow through.

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Ever make life plans and then wonder when God will exert a little elbow grease and shoulder some of the load?

Come on, be honest.

I woke to find a blog post entitled Man Plans While God Laughs by author Athol Dickson in my mail today and had to laugh. I have no doubt it’s politely sitting in my inbox by a quiet (and amused) act of Providence.

How odd is it (but sadly typical) that I would tell God what I’m going to do with this life he redeemed, the life I “gave” him when I “accepted” Christ as Savior, and then wonder why things aren’t falling into place as planned.

This is not rocket science.

I’ve headed in the direction I think he’s leading me in and smacked my face into a closed door, then rubbed my nose and looked back and wondered if I took a wrong turn. Wondered if I’m knocking at the wrong door, or if I’m supposed to stand on the porch and keep knocking.

Or if I’m nuts.

In his blog post, Athol said:

“Man plans; God laughs” as the old Yiddish saying goes. It’s so easy to forget the way of things, so easy to ask God to bless my plan, instead of asking him to reveal the blessings he has planned.

Are my plans just that—mine? Or God’s? How much of what I am striving for has eternal significance? And how much of it will be torched upon exiting earth?

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthains 3

Maybe a closed door or a seemingly lifeless dream is a God’s way of offering us an opportunity to trade in some wood, hay and straw for gold, silver and bronze, the stuff that will go with us into eternity. Maybe.

Q: Have you let a closed door or what seems to be a “Dead On Arrival” stamp on your dream make you question your dream, your plans? Or have you looked at it as an opportunity for deepening your trust in God’s grander, unseen, eternal plan for you? When is a closed door actually a gift, the chance to gain deeper trust, hope, a fully surrendered heart—that valuable stuff of eternal significance?

For a similar post, check out And Of Course God Is Nowhere In Sight

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Pastor J began a Heaven series last night and he ended his message with Phil Wickham’s Heaven Song. Have you heard it?

As the song played, I looked around the sanctuary to see if I was the only one fighting tears. I wasn’t. And yet, I think people were being touched by this song in very different, very personal ways.

When Phil first sang, “I want to run on greener pastures, I want to dance on higher hills,” I thought, I don’t even dance now, why would I dance in heaven?

And then I thought, why don’t I dance now?

As the song played, tears came to my eyes as a totally new revelation stung my heart: I’ve lived nearly 50 years a prisoner of humiliation. Easily embarrassed, inhibited by insecurities, imprisoned by self-consciousness and fears. And I will probably spend the rest of my earthly life bound by these things.

But in Heaven . . .

I had never thought of heaven as a place of freedom from shame. I’ve worn shackles and chains so long I’ve learned to live with them—forgotten they’re even there. What would it be like to live without crippling fear? Emotional pain? Humiliation? Without the destructive effects of sin or shame or selfishness or any of the things that limit us here?

Will I dance in heaven?

Yeah. Thanks to the spirit of God speaking to me through a song, I can (almost) see myself dancing with abandon and joy. Without a single self-conscious thought. I’m going to dance with Jesus and we’re going to laugh!

And not at my dancing!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Heaven will be a place of many incredible, unimaginable joys, including freedom from the shackles and chains we’ve been dragging around. Please take a moment to listen to this song. May it help spark and fan into flame whatever your heart quietly longs for.

More on Heaven:

Pastor Jeremy’s Heaven: Looking Forward To Home Series

Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspective’s Ministries

Alcorn’s Life Promises sample chapter

www.heaveniq.com

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“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Psalm 55:6-8

I have heard people say, “If I could just get over this health issue,” or “If only I had more money.” If only I had less stress, more help, less pain, more support, etc, etc.

 

Have you ever been there?

If only . . .

If I could just . . .

 

Between these words, I hear a cry for relief. Not only relief from difficult circumstances, but also from hopelessness. What if I become so sick or anxious or overwhelmed or so deeply in debt that I can’t function? What if my circumstances never change? What if it gets worse?

 

Thanks to our Adamic inheritance, we live in a fallen world, full of sin, disease, dysfunction, injustice, abuse, brokenness—the list is endless. You may be dealing with something that could wreak more damage than a hurricane. Whether from external circumstances or personal struggles within, the weight of constant suffering can be unbearable and make us hopeless for a way out, no end in sight. No hope for relief.

 

I am blown away by my pastor. For too many reasons to list here, but for one in particular: He suffers terrible migraines. These are horribly painful to the point of making him physically sick. He can’t think or do anything but lie still. With a family and a loaded plate of pastoral responsibilities, he doesn’t have time to be sick, and yet he somehow presses on, with the diligence of a faithful, caring shepherd. He asks God for healing and asks others to pray, and yet the headaches continue. When a migraine strikes on a Sunday, we’ve seen God answer prayer many times by giving Pastor enough strength and relief to deliver his sermon. What amazes me is that in spite of this suffering, this man is absolutely unwavering in his faith in Christ. His life is an inspiring example of steadfast confidence in and obedience to God. The fact that God has not yet healed him doesn’t stop him from serving the Lord with his whole heart, with truth and grace, every minute of every day.

 

He continues to ask God for healing. And we should keep asking God to relieve us and others of suffering. I know he can. And many times, he does. But what if immediate relief isn’t part of his plan for us right now? What if God is more interested in how we weather a storm (or an entire hurricane season) than he is in rescuing us from it?

 

The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” I think Paul came to terms with the fact that relief for him would not be coming. I also think he became grateful for the thorn, because it drove him closer Jesus.

 

How does being closer to Jesus help when we face difficult circumstances?

 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

So I’ll never fail to bear fruit. Awesome. But what good is fruit when I’m suffering?

When we turn our lives over to Christ, his Spirit moves in and begins the work of making us more like him. God’s word and presence feed, sustain, and transform us. This transforming work is evident by such “fruit” as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not a pretense pulled down over us like a goody-hoody, but a God-kind of gentleness and peace that springs from the place in our soul where Jesus lives and works on us. This fruit not only lets others see God in us, it reminds and assures us of his sanctifying power and love. This assurance comes from experiencing God in a way that teaches us we can trust in his goodness, his provision, and his constant faithfulness.

 

If storms feel endless and unbearable, maybe we need to stretch our roots deeper in God’s stream. When we make him our Source, nothing can destroy us. No drought, famine, wildfire, (debt, depression, cancer) can steal our love, joy and peace when we are nourished by The Stream. Yes, storms may shred our bark, and our fruit might be knocked off and crushed, but we will never wither. We will sprout new leaves and blossom again. What tremendous hope we have!

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that 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 8:35-39

We might be battered for a season, but God will be our strength and sustenance. If he is allowing us to go through difficulty, he will provide what we need. And he won’t let us weather a storm alone! He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and will stay beside us all the way to the other side, whatever that may be. He will never leave or forsake us!

 

Sometimes, the response we get to “If only” or “If I could just” isn’t the relief we desperately want. I know, not very comforting, I’m sorry. Relief from suffering may come soon, later on, or it may not come at all—in this life. But even if we suffer the sting of some particular thorn for the rest of our lives, we won’t suffer forever. An entire earthly lifetime doesn’t even compare to forever. It may feel like eternity, but no matter how long our suffering lasts, God promises us it will not last forever. He also promises to be with us, strengthening and providing. Let’s set our hope in him, and look forward to a joyful forever yet to come, where all difficulty, sorrow, and suffering will be forgotten.

 

Paul could say this with full assurance, thorn and all.

 

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

Romans 8:18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Are you in a season of suffering? Can you share a time when circumstances felt too unbearable? Have you “reached your roots” into the stream of God’s provision and strength?

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It’s so nice to have an appreciative spouse who thanks me for taking care of the bills or for keeping our kids from playing in the toilets while he’s at work. (Well, mostly when they were toddlers—it’s not so much an issue now that they’re in college.) But for the skills that come naturally to me, I don’t need kudos to stoke my confidence or keep me motivated. It’s the things I sweat and struggle at (like novel-writing) that need affirmation to keep me pushing myself, keep me believing.

I’d like to say I’m skilled at the important things—the kinds of things that will follow me into eternity. Things like beginning every day with Jesus and the Word. Feeding the hungry. Praying faithfully. Sharing the hope I have in Christ and the endless grace he’s shown to my wretched self. Loving other wretched folk.

But I’m not skilled at these things. I try and I fail, I try harder and fail some more. I make some progress too, but I’m not where I’d like to be. Does this mean God wouldn’t want to use me? Or that I’m off the hook?

This passage in Exodus caught my eye this week. After the unfortunate golden calf incident, God instructed his people to build him a tabernacle. Scripture says: “and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD . . .” (35:21)

The passage goes on to list the items people brought. Some brought stuff like gold (guess there was still some left), costly purple linens, and gems; others offered their talents and skills. All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought their freewill offerings for the work of the Lord.  It doesn’t say all who were rock stars or room-lighter-uppers—it says all who were willing. Those who had, brought; those with skills offered their abilities. The cool part I see in this is the people needed each others’ offerings to get the job done.

I wonder if we hesitate to offer God our resources or abilities because ours isn’t a “rock star” kind of offering. Maybe you’re good at crunching numbers. Or car-detailing. Or couponing. Or taking things apart and figuring out how to fix them. Maybe you’re good at scrapbooking, analyzing market trends, baking cookies, people-watching, or keeping toddlers from playing in the toilet. Maybe your ability is to work and earn money.

1 Corinthians 12:14-21 says:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Maybe your abilities may seem random at best, and disconnected from the important work of God’s kingdom. But God sees all this from a very different vantage point. He sees the total package—including you—as the body of Christ functioning together as whole. An intricately woven, masterfully designed whole.

Maybe the real value of our gifts lie not in the gifts themselves, but in our willingness to offer them to the Lord. Like working on a scrapbook with an elderly neighbor who is facing an uncertain eternity.

In faith, the Israelites each came willingly—butchers, bakers, scrapbook makers—and offered their part, just whatever they had.

So share what you have, offer what you know, bring that crazy good thing you do to Jesus. Get a little nuts and think outside the box. This is your offering, your act of worship, holy and pleasing to the Lord.

She who has a willing heart, let her come.

Question: What do you think? Do you have a hard time seeing significant purpose or eternal value in your abilities? Do you believe God gave you your abilities, right down to the quirkiest quirk?

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