God’s Gracious Gifts

IMG_2554“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:8-10

At the end of our life what will we have to boast in? May our boast be in the amazing saving work of Christ from the moment of our birth to till our last breath.  Coming up on 33 years ago, my lovely young mom celebrated her 20th birthday in a hospital room receiving a gift that at that moment may not have seemed like a bonus as she labored in pain and birthed me into this world.  As I contemplated the celebrations we will enjoy together now and the receiving of gifts on this occasion.  I think to myself, “I don’t do anything to earn birthday gifts, I get them simply for being.”  I was struck my how we are celebrated for something that really is not of our own doing.  God is the one who deserves all the praise for bringing us into this world.  Every year that we are granted to live, we can celebrate and thank God for allowing us more time on this earth.  The truth is that none of us is guaranteed another day.  God has all our days numbered before we are even given one (Ps 139:16.) Our life and health are a stewardship; but, what’s more, they are gifts from God.  This reality may help us live each day with a sense of seeking to make each day count in light of eternity.

The greatest gift of all is the one of salvation.   We can do nothing to earn it—that is why it’s a gift.  It is available to all for free.  Our creator God made us in His image and gave us everything in the Garden of Eden.  When Adam & Eve sinned, the entire human race fell into the cruse of sin and death.  Thus, we are born with a sinful and selfish bent.  However, God being rich in love and mercy made a way for us to be forgiven and made anew.  He sent His only son into this world of suffering and pain to pour on him the wrath that was reserved for us.  Jesus being God all-power overcame the grave and rose on the third day; so all who place their faith on him could be saved.  Faith is a gift yet it asks to be reciprocated.  “Faith is simply breathing the breath that God’s grace supplies.  Yet, the paradox is that we must exercise it and bear the responsibility if we do not.” (MacArthur)   If we place our faith in Christ, turn away from our sin and live for him, this life will no longer be lived for ourselves nor by our own strength.   With God though, we will accomplish more with a short life consecrated to him than a thousand years without him.

What do we want to be remembered for on the day of our death? Memorial services are sobering, because they remind us of the frailty of our lives.  Yet, they also impress upon us the need to live this life for a purpose higher than ourselves as we see what will be our end sooner or later.  In Ecclesiastes 7:1, God says that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth.  When we are born we don’t have many experiences, or life lived yet; we have no story to tell.  The day of our death is bright if we anticipate an eternal future with God and have a story to tell about Christ’s redemption that proclaims His glory.  Our name and legacy should live on to tell of God’s wonderful faithfulness and His saving and perfecting work.  We Hope to have left an imprint on this world and gone on to live for eternity with a sense of awe at what our amazing Savior has done!

 

Just Look!

IMG_2375“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

One hero of the faith from the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon. It’s noteworthy to remember what God used to capture his soul to live wholly for Christ…  He was caught in a terrible snowstorm and ducked into a small church.  The sermon he heard was not eloquent but it was a simple message from Isaiah 45:22 that stressed an imperative verb: look, “Look unto me, and be ye saved…”  Spergeon was held captive by the thought, “anyone can look.” The Spirit caused that word to carry weight on his soul and it changed Spergeon’s life that day.

Life may seem impossible for us at times; yet as Christ-followers we can endure any obstacle if we simply look to Jesus.  One of the most difficult things a woman is called to do is to labor and give birth to a child.  When it was time for my youngest to be born, I kept repeating Hebrews 12:2 to myself out loud during labor as I strived to set my focus not on the immediate pain, but on the baby that I’d soon embrace.  While I did this, I was reminded of Jesus agonizing pain on the cross that he bore for the forgiveness of sins to all who would look to Him and be saved.  Whatever pain and suffering we may face in our lifetime, it is nothing compared with what Christ suffered on the cross.  As we face challenging tasks, may we us look to Jesus as our ultimate example, and see Christ’s glory as our highest reward.

If we, by faith, look ahead at what God is accomplishing through our sweat and tears we will be encouragement to press on and not give up. While, we may not like the labor, God is birthing a beautiful unshaken faith that makes it all worth it. Heaven is already ours if we have placed our faith in Christ. Yet, our ambition for God’s glory carries us while we wait… “We run for the same prize Jesus ran for, and we achieve it in the same way He did.  We run for the joy of exaltation God promises will be ours if we glorify Him on earth as His Son did.  We glorify God by allowing His attributes to shine through us and by obeying His will in everything we do.” MacArthur

What or who do we look to as an example changes everything.  Some may look up to celebrities, politicians or successful athletes.  Others may look to preachers, authors or famous theologians.   In Hebrews, we get a wonderful list of many heroes of the faith that we should aspire to emulate. However, if we have studied their lives we know that none of them was perfect.  Yet One is perfect and simultaneously is the perfector of our faith—that is Jesus! Christ gave us the greatest example as He poured himself out on the cross as an offering of obedience to God.   Christ faced the worst suffering not only physically for the punishment our sins deserve; but spiritually while being rejected by God the Father in our place, that He could look at us and see Jesus’ and embrace us as his own children.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are Holy and Sovereign.  You are an awesome Savior and promise to make our yoke light if we look to Jesus.  Forgive us when we take our eyes off Christ and get distracted.  Thank you that Jesus endured the worst suffering and left us an example to follow; and that we never will be forsaken by you because Christ was.  Enable us to consistently run with endurance the race you have set for us and be encouraged not only by others who have gone before us, but most powerfully by the One and Only who died on the cross despised its shame and endured to be at your right hard.  May our sin not keep us down, but may we be winged by faith and grace-empowered obedience.  May our faith never for a moment waiver; that we would obey, love and exalt you and receive crowns of righteousness for your name’s sake Lord and your glory.  Be honored in our short life here on earth.  In the mighty name of Jesus.

God Does Not Want to Afflict Us

“For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion, According to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.” Lam 3:32-33 (NASB)

Elisabeth Elliot defined suffering as wanting what you don’t have or having what you don’t want.  I never wanted to lose my beloved husband, my closest friend, the father for my two boys, and my intimate pastor.  I have been given the gift of widowhood and honestly… I don’t want it!  What do you have that you wish you could return or re-gift… What do you want that God seems to withhold?

No matter what suffering we may be experiencing, we can find solace in knowing God’s heart of compassion, and finding contentment, by trusting His perfect love, time and provision for his children.  He is not purposefully making our lives miserable.  God desires us to surrender our cares and cling to Him as we are knit to him in the womb of dependence and trust.  Its in this dark gulf where we find peace and joy from Him alone despite the looming circumstance all around us.  He does not want us to rely on the temporary things of this world, but on our unshakeable source of life—Jesus Christ.

Although it is God’s will for us to suffer that we’d to grow closer to Christ—he is not a cosmic kill joy.  As a loving father, He wants to give us good gifts.  “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Of if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:9-11) Nathan loves to eat cholate chip cookies but since he has an intolerance to dairy, often he can’t have them while the rest of the kids chomp away.   As his parent, my heart breaks for him, so I give him ones without dairy.  He has come to the point where he trusts me when we are out and other kids eat cookies but he simply watches.  I withhold those from him because they hurt his tummy.  However, I am eager to give him the ones that he can not only savor, but ones his body can digest.

In Job’s life, God allowed Satan to inflict much pain and suffering for no apparent reason.  This poor man lost all his children and possessions.  Then, to top it off his body was brutally afflicted from head to toe, and people around him misjudged the situation.  His friends accused him of sin!  The one person he didn’t lose, His wife was not the loving helpmate and grace of life meant to encourage him—she urged him to curse God and die!  Yet in Job’s pain, his faith grew astronomically.  At the end God showed such lovingkinness to not only restore all Job had, but to bless him even more than ever before.

What does this mean in my life and yours?  I don’t know about you, but for me it means relief.  I must confess that I starting crying when I came across this verse…  it touched my soul to be reassured that God is not willingly afflicting me and that he does not desire for me to camp in my grief.  When my heart is heavy and my faith strains to see beyond the miry fog, I can move forward and trust he will be with me and for me always.

Our new life has had it’s challenges and joys.  The grief class I’m taking has continued to encourage me.  I see that healing comes by continually turning to God as my Refuge.  I’m assured that moving forward does not mean moving on.  I no longer wonder if there’s something wrong with me for having genuine peace and even joy.  My love for Josh is not measured on the way I grieve.  I can rejoice and thank God for who he is continuing to make me and the boys to be, and how much he is having us grow from the trials he’s ordained.  When I sense other’s don’t understand my unique pain or misjudge my joy, I can give it to my heavenly Father and rest in His strong yet gentle  arms.

Light of Love

IMG_1981“On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” 1 John 2:8

Love is not simply a word we utter or a dictionary definition.  Characteristics of love can be seen in actions and known through experiences.  Early one we learn facets of love when we are tiny and our mother sacrifices to nurture us and in our father’s arms we are securely protected and provided for.  As we grow we may learn about love through friendships, marriage, church, family and children.  But what in essence is love?  The Bible tells us that God is love; we even get a detailed description of love in 1Cor 13.  Yet, ever since God gave Moses the ten commandments, it has been His desire to see humanity flourish by giving us instruction on how to love Him and others.  However, time has shown our inability to love by the masses of broken families, wars and rivalries between peoples. When Jesus came into this dark world as a little baby, with his sole purpose to lay his life down for his friends, love was fashioned into wonderful new heights.

The new commandment the Lord gave us was not entirely a new one, yet one based on the principle of the old, with a manifestation made of flesh and bone.  God came down to earth in the most loving and selfless act of history–to suffer pain and death undeservingly to win us over from the eternal death sentence of sin.  He lived out love in its purest and highest forms as he died in our place when it was we that deserved divine punishment.  He  majestically loved us that we’d follow in his steps by dying to ourselves, to sin and live for Him.  He is the Light in this dark and painful world.  Although he died, he also rose and defeated sin & death.  He also didn’t leave us to follow in his lofty footsteps without aide.  He left us with the power of His Holy Spirit.  “the love of God has been poured within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” Romans 5:5

Not only is the new commandment shown to us through Christ, but it also radiates from Christian’s hearts toward one another.  It is then stunningly arrayed for all the world to see!  This love is not a moral achievement of duties but an irresistible overflow oozing from the Spirit that indwells believers.  This super-natural love gets other’s attention because it is hard to replicate in its authenticity.  The testimony of genuine love speaks louder than words.  In my darkest hour of losing my husband; the love of God has shone so bright through the out-pouring of love and financial support from our church family—some of whom I’ve never personally met.  It is a glimpse to us in our dark valley of God’s affectionate light.  “Right now light coexists with the darkness, but the Light and the divine love He bears will increasingly dispel the darkness, shone even brighter during Christ’s millennial reign, and eventually rule supremely through all eternity.” (John MacArthur) One-day love will be fully known as we see Christ face-to face.

It’s now been four months and the Lord has graciously gifted the boys and I with much comfort, love, peace and even joy.  Yet, we are still learning a new life with residual pain, fear and sorrow.  I have to carry tissue in my purse now, because I’ll unexpectedly find tears escape my eyes at times.  I started taking a biblical grief class in hopes to grow my understanding of my own grief as well as others’—mainly the boys but also so I may help others.  Although I don’t usually cry unless I’m alone with the Lord, my leader observed how I teared up at someone else’s sharing of their pain.   It’s truly heart breaking to hear others hurt, especially when able to identify with the weight of the pain.  Please pray for this course to be healing and helpful as I seek to honor God with our earthly loss, and to shepherd the boys through it.

Heavenly Father, you have shown us love—not that we loved you but that you first loved us and died for us.  Thank you for your gift of love through faith in Christ.  All praise is owed to you for the amazing and awesome love that would even sacrifice of your beloved Lamb slain for us! The beauty of heaven will be ours to behold soon, just as our departed loved ones now enjoy your unfiltered glorious light.  We confess that we love so poorly… Please fill us with a real and exclamatory love for you our Lord, for those whom Jesus died for, and for those that are lost in darkness still.  May we shine your love graciously wherever you take us and not matter what you have us walk through, according to your perfect will and foreknowledge.  May we reach your throne unashamed but full of confidence in Christ’s finished work and ready to receive joyful commendation for a life lived to your glory and love.  In Jesus’ name.

Running to our Rescuer

 

“We will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”  Psalm 46:2-3

Hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes… Natural disasters like these rock our world like nothing else.  In the classroom of our own home, I was recollecting memories to my intrigued 6th grade son of the 1994 Northridge earthquake going back to when I was 9 years old and lived in its epicenter.   I remember every detail as though played back in slow motion.  I wake up to the ground shaking all around me, noise like of a train coming full speed, and an overwhelming fear that screamed, “Run out as fast as you can!”  I race to my bedroom door while stumbling upon fallen objects, only the door will not budge.  Then, my daddy comes to the rescue! He opens the door and carries me safely out of danger.

Many victims of the Houston hurricane were left in shambles after being rescued by valiant neighbors and rescue crews.  As we pray for them, we imagine what it’s like to go through something of that magnitude.  We are left distraught merely thinking about it.  When tragedy hits someone else we panic and naturally feel sorrow for them.  Yet, when disaster or tragedy hits close to home, God promises to provide us with grace for our time of need.  It is said that God is not early, nor is he late, he is always on time.

On May 4th, my husband went to heaven at age 37 due to aggressive cancer, leaving behind two young children and a budding church where he pastored.  In one sense, I could say my world was turned upside down.  Simultaneously, I would say that never have I experienced such unexplainable peace and comfort.  If you would have asked me a year ago how I’d respond to a loved one’s death, I would have probably hit the floor in horror.  In fact, when a fellow homeschool mom lost her child, I was distraught for her.  I was not granted the grace to endure tragedy until the moment I personally needed it.

We can become consumed with needless fear; however, the Lord calls us to be the Proverbs 31 women clothed in strength and dignity who can laugh at the future.  How?

As woman, most of us like to plan and be prepared; it gives us a sense of control.  While being prepared is a noble effort, it can never be exhausted to meet every situation.  There is a way, however, to be prepared come what may—that is by forming a habitual pattern of running to the arms of our rescuer in prayer and thanksgiving.  We cannot avert disaster, but we can rest in trusting that God is in control of every day of our lives and every lightning bolt that falls from the sky.  If we make it a practice to abide in the truth of his word we will find rest for our anxious minds and weary hearts in the abundant promises of his deliverance.   The call is to simple child-like faith; to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

Update: We miss our Oregon and our Merlin Church family but have been warmly welcomed in California by so many who have continued to pray for us.  The boys are happy in our new shared home and we are close to family.  Noah is doing very well in homeschool! We just finished week two out of 36.  Sometimes, it can take almost half the year to get Noah dialed in; but he has just plugged right in.  Nathan has surprisingly been sleeping through the night even though my room is on the floor below.  I’m thankful to live with a family that loves Jesus and loves us.  There are some things which we need to get used to, such as having to drive farther to get anywhere.  Also, our new church (where we had previously attended) is like Disneyland…  It’s wonderful, but it’s so big that it may take some time to find our place there again.  There’s been loving people from the church that have reached out to us and a family even sponsored us our way to a retreat next weekend.  God’s provision through others has been an amazing attestation to God’s love displayed through his people.   Thank you for your sustaining prayers that carry us on, the encouragement of your love, and your support through meeting tangible financial needs as well reading the blog.  In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be practicing writing devotions as part of a training and contest for writers with Proverbs 31 Ministries.  If you can, I’d appreciate any input!  Also, please continue to pray for God to open doors for the publication of a book on Josh’s life and writings.