Friday, August 31, 2012

Triumph Over Troubles

"...Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? In all this Job did not sin with his lips."  ~ Job 2:10 

Perhaps you can relate if you have lost someone you love greatly. 

I have accumulated several dreaded "special" dates!  Most of these days on the calendar were ones that I once celebrated with great happiness...and is marked by my husband’s death. 
Ever since Brad died...I have assigned these dates a place of sorrow in my heart instead of a song. 

March 1 ~ Our Wedding  Anniversary
May 25 -        Brad's Birthday
June 12 -         My Birthday
September 1-         Brad Died

 I am usually a pretty optimistic and cheerful person. So, to be honest with you...I’ve grown tired of “dreading” when these dates show up on the calendar. It wears me out!

The last four years during these days mentioned above, I have had the tendency to remember and dwell on only the bad and setting aside the good. I focus on the troubles of my heart and not the triumph God has given me over them. 

So starting with this 4th anniversary of my husband’s death I wanted to try something different! I prayed and asked the Lord to help me "re-train" my thoughts when recalling Brad's last days...and especially the day he died. I knew I needed to focus on the journey through the trials which has lead to triumph over troubles instead of the bad which befell Brad and I in them! 

I went to the Scriptures to find some encouragement for this new mindset. I easily found exactly what I needed in the Book of Job. As someone who has experienced some pretty devastating circumstances...they are only a fraction of what Job experienced. I have to say...I admire Job! 

He suffered the most devastating losses in his life. He lost all his children, his fortune, and even his friends. When Satan attempted to destroy Job's faith and trust in God...we find a grieving Job responding to the greatness of God, reflecting on the goodness of God, and refusing to assign guilt to God.  Job in all of his pain and heartache kept his integrity intact. How? He knew that God was enough for him ~ with or without all he valued.

When I recall Brad's responses as he battled cancer...I see in Brad so many of the same attributes Job had. Brad grieved his loss of health, his limited ability to lead our church family in worshiping Jesus, and knowing he was about to be separated from me by his death. Yet...Brad responded to God in trusting His greatness, reflecting on the goodness of God, and refusing to assign blame to God. Brad's integrity, like Job’s, remained intact. God was enough for him...with or without the things or people he valued and loved.

Unfortunately... I fell a bit short in all of these things during Brad's last days and after his death. I became doubtful of God’s goodness and I blamed Him for not saving my husband from such suffering...for I knew He had the power to have spared him from such pain. my brokenness...I also knew that God was the only One I could turn to and trust.  I still believed He loved me and I believed He was the only One who could truly help me. For I had learned through so many earlier trials and troubles that when all was said and done...God alone was enough for me. What I own and even the people I love often failed in one way or another but...God never does. 

So I prayed and prayed...asking Him to reveal to my shattered heart that His love and faithfulness would fill my soul and give me a new heart that desired above all things...only Him. God is faithful..and He gave me this desire of my heart to love him more...

Job is a good model for the kind of believer I can also be. In Brad...I saw this kind of faith and trust in God being lived out.  I know I can trust God in the midst of severe and unexplainable circumstances. Job, express my grief to God...for He wants to hear the cries of my heart too. There is healing in our tears when given into God’s care.

As I look back on the weeks and days leading up to Brad’s death, I recall how praising God in the storms brought relief to my troubling thoughts, and how trusting God’s goodness instilled hope, no matter what was to come.

These past few days leading up to September 1st, God has shown me I can choose to recall the past with dread...or remember the triumph I experienced through my testing with Jesus by my side.

I choose to remember the victories past.. and the victories yet to come. May the Lord open my eyes always to the absolute, all-sufficiency of Almighty God. He has brought beauty from the ashes of my despair. He is enough!

"He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."
- C. S. Lewis



Monday, August 27, 2012

Hard Days...

"You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" ~ Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Reflecting on this time of year 4 years ago... these were some "hard days" on my heart and soul. 

However...some things have changed in how I reflect back. Instead of dwelling only on the “dark stuff” of Brad’s last days...I more often reflect on his death this way....

Brad was received victoriously into Heaven September 1st 2008. 

It blesses my heart to imagine his first moments of utter astonishment and awe in seeing the absolute beauty of Heaven!  As the crowds of people welcome him...they step aside...

Brad at first hears...then sees his Grandmas... Mills, and McGuire...both are excitedly calling out his name as they embrace him with tears of joy! Oh how Brad loved his grandmas! 

I imagine my dad there too...being as patient as he possibly can...not wanting to interrupt this beautiful reunion (one he easily recalls having with his mom and dad, his brother and grandparents when he arrived nearly 20 years ago). 

And then...Brad sees him! Both their faces light up into the biggest grins as they reach out to embrace each other with hearts filled with sweet relief and joy that their parting has finally ended. (I have a feeling they made some plans to go fishing together!)

I imagine...while all of this reunion is going on...that Jesus is right there standing next to my husband smiling and laughing and delighting in Brad’s joy!  Of course, Jesus has been by Brad’s side long before this time of reunion. Jesus was with Brad every moment during his last struggles inside his earthly body...Jesus was there with Brad when he breathed his last breath on earth and took his first breath of Heaven! 

Oh, what it must have been like when Brad’s shaded eyes were opened and the first thing my precious husband saw was Jesus! Oh...that just had to be the most glorious and overwhelming moment for him! I try to imagine what Brad would do...or say...or feel. 

Whatever it was...I feel certain that at some point...there was some singing going on between to two of them! Yup! Brad and perfect harmony singing a song of victory! Brad singing words of praise and gratefulness...and Jesus...well, I think His voice must have sounded like beautiful music...and then Brad hears Jesus say...”well done, Brad...well done!”

When I keep my thoughts and heart on Jesus...when I keep my heart and thoughts on Heaven...I am comforted when I recall this time of year 4 years ago. I know that one day I will see Brad again and I trust that our reunion will outweigh all my heartache and loneliness I now feel...outweigh this longing of my heart for us to be together again. 

For the record...I absolutely hate not having Brad with me still...I miss him as much today as I did the moment He left our loving home carried in Jesus' arms. I will never stop loving him or missing him as I breath each breath here. 

Friends...time is not something that will remove the ache my heart holds for Brad...time is not the salve that God says will remove my longing for my husband to be with me still.   

What time has it has given me some “distance” from the initial pain I felt when death inflicted it’s cruel cuts. I still have residual pain...and the memory of it is still clear...but, by God’s mercy and love...He has used this distance through teach me many things about Himself that I likely would never have learned otherwise.

I know Jesus loves me (the Bible tells me so!)...but now I know He loves me for I have experienced His love in ways I never did before. I have experienced God’s faithfulness...even when I was not faithful in return. 

God has shown me He keeps His promises...I have also learned that I cannot take one of His promises and transform it into a promise I want it to mean. I have learned His promises are worth holding onto.

I am learning that my dreams may end..but I trust God has even bigger and better dreams for me to experience. I am learning that I have to “let go” order to “take hold” of the plans God has for me. 

Sooo...I’ve decided it’s “ok” that I feel a few sad moments when this time of year rolls around again and it’s “ok” if I shed a few tears too. After all...I still love Brad and I still miss him. 

When a person dies...our love doesn’t lessen. After all...just look at our love for you love Him less because He is not visibly here? Have you not also cried when recalling His painful death on the cross. Is not your heart tender for the love He has for you...and your love for Him? 

Glory! I am so anticipating the day I am with Jesus in is what makes life worth living here and now...knowing that a grand reunion will one day be mine too and I will see Jesus.

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless. 

Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:25-35 NLT


Thursday, August 16, 2012

When A Christian Dies

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”Philippians 1:21

I love these words from Charles Spurgeon:       

Yes, brethren, “To die is gain.” Take away, take away that hearse, remove that shroud; come, put white plumes upon the horses’ heads, and let gilded trappings hang around them. There, take away that fife, that shrill sounding music of the death march. 

Lend me the trumpet and the drum. O hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah; why do we weep the saints to heaven; why need we lament? They are not dead, they are gone before. Stop, stop that mourning, refrain your tears, clap your hands, clap your hands.”

Celebration....not a death march...that is what we should prepare for when a Christian dies. I believe there should be inside each of us who also believe in Jesus...a sense of joy for the one who has left us. 

Joy? Ok... I agree that  joy sounds “out of place” in what most of us feel upon the death of a beloved family member or friend. In fact, just the opposite is what we spontaneously feel. Sorrow and grief are not an option we choose to respond to death with...we just uncontrollably feel it! 

Yet...I believe for the Christian believer, feeling joy for their loved one who has died does not have to  be considered an option either. 

Even in my time of greatest sorrow and grief over Brad's death...I held inside my heart and soul a piece of sweet rejoicing for Brad (and a tinge of jealousy too), that he was in the presence of Jesus and home with God.  How exciting for Brad that the Lord’s great love compelled Him to want Brad with! 

Spurgeon continues;
  What! Weep for heads that are crowned with garlands of heaven? Weep for hands that grasp the harps of gold? What, weep for eyes that see the Redeemer? What, weep for hearts that are washed from sin, and are throbbing with eternal bliss? What, weep for men that are in the Saviour’s bosom? 
Oh, weep not, but rejoice. “If you knew what it was that I have said unto you, and where I have gone, you would rejoice with a joy that no man should take from you.” “To die is gain.”
Although I still and always will miss Brad everyday...I would not want him to have one moment less in Heaven because of my wanting him here with me! 

I love Brad more than I love our life here together...And that my the kind of love that only God can place inside our hearts. 

I heard a voice out of Heaven, "Write this: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!"
"Yes," says the Spirit, "and blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they've done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end."    ~Revelation 14:13 The Message

I am looking forward to the day with anticipated joy of being reunited with Brad in Heaven...walking hand in hand blissfully forever...never to say good-by again...with Jesus as the center of our everlasting  joy!


Suggested Further Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tempting...But No Thanks!

Matthew 4: 6-7 CEB
“Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
Satan desired to induce Jesus. He challenged Jesus to apply to Himself the promises made to the Messiah...without abiding in the ways of God! Yet, Jesus had confident trust in God the Father. He was obedient to God in enduring the trials and temptations of His earthy life...because He trusted His Father completely. 
Wow... How easily we can be induced...tempted beyond imagine to apply God’s promises to us...yet want to avoid the “cost” of abiding in the ways of God through trust. While we walk with God through life’s most difficult trials, heartaches and difficulties...God asks us to trust abide in Him. In doing these two and abide...He will ‘prove” to be trustworthy and faithful...He will deliver us through life’s most challenging and devastating circumstances. We will inherit the kingdom of God!
However, there is just this one thing...

In order for us to fulfill our purpose here on earth in the most life-changing way...we must be patient and we must be obedient to God’s will and God and obey Him...and not follow our own strong desires and wants
The enemy would have us to test God (instead of relying on Him while walking in His ways) to see whether He might be trusted in our circumstance. These tests reveal our great need of confidence in God. Oh how we want to have confident trust that God will keep all His promises!
The world’s way (and our sinful nature) agree with Satan in saying there has to be an “easier path” to walk in this life. Satan desires for us as believers in Jesus to accept his offer of “having it all” right here and right now on earth!  
We are offered ungodly means to gain a world. We are often tempted to accept what Satan offers us over what God promises us. Satan knows what to tempt us with... He proudly boast that if we bow to him he will offer in return a life full of good things and good times. He says we can avoid the pain this life brings... we can avoid the sacrifices...and especially avoid that path which God Himself is there...but is also full of troubles and heartaches.  

Satan and his lies tell us we do not have to wait for the things that satisfy the body and mind... and that we do not have to endure hardships. To our starving hearts and spirits Satan tempts us to believe we don't have to wait on God's plan for our lives to be filled with everlasting joy. It sounds too good to be we are tempted to avoid the "cost" of walking with God...but want the results from our lives to remain as if we did. 
Jesus... He was offered by Satan a means to avoid the journey of the cross. Jesus’ response? He spoke God’s Word!  

Jesus used for His guidance the part of the word which contains the divine injunction on this subject, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God". 
Jesus took His eyes and heart off of himself through God’s divine Word ...and placed it on the object of His heart... God Himself, His Father, desiring to glorify Him. 
We can too... Like Jesus we can look at the value of an earthy gift ( home, car, job, money, family and friends) and see it’s true value as being a gift in the One who gave it to us... that is what God would have our hearts prize...Him alone! 



Friday, August 3, 2012

Weary and Burdened...

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28–30
From the time I was a small child I loved to hear the praise of my parents and friends when I accomplished a chore or challenge without any help from them...or at least I thought I’d accomplished it without help!  
Anyway... once I had my first taste of success... I was hooked on doing things “on my own” and only accepted help after I had no energy, strength or patience left to try it one more time alone!  What I saw as my being “strong and independent” ...was likely seen by others at times as sheer stubbornness! 
Although I wasn’t aware of God’s help and provisions during that time...The Lord was very aware of me...and no doubt God saw my Independence for what it really Pride.
In recent years and after rededicating my life in faith to Christ...the Lord has taught me through various difficult circumstances many good and faith strengthening lessons through His Word concerning His desire and my need to “call upon Him” for help! 
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

Too often when I became anxious or worried I allowed my pride to prevail over Jesus’ offer of rest...I thought I should be able to resist these enemies in my own strength because...well... because I trusted God and I had the strength of faith to persevere! So, when worry and anxious thoughts prevailed...weary and tired from the struggle...I would finally turn to the Lord and ask for His strength and His help.
But, it wasn’t until my husband’s battle with cancer did I discover how engaged my pride was in my war with worry and fear. I was living everyday with my beloved’s fight against cancer and it had me in a constant battle with fear and worry... leaving me depleted of all my strength. Feeling weary as I fought every day and night to win over my anxious thoughts...always holding tight to believing in “my strength of faith” instead of letting go and resting in trusting God’s strength. 
I desperately needed rest...yet my pride had me wanting my faith to be counted as true and strong...and so I unwaveringly remained resistant to Jesus’ offer of help.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me...”   
In total brokenness...I finally gave in to follow Jesus’ commandment fully allow Jesus’ yoke to rest on my shoulders...surrendered without resistance...and I finally found the burden I was carrying to be light. 

“...for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Locked into this yoke’s gentle pressure... I was given the strength to walk the path along side of Jesus without becoming weary. 
Imagine...instead of relying on our own strength of faith...instead of fearing what others will see in us...imagine...if we were to just be real about our need for God’s help in every circumstance in life.  
As a Christian...we do not know where our call to discipleship will lead us as we are yoked to Christ. What decisions... and painful separations will it entail? Only Jesus Christ, who bids us to follow him, knows where the path will lead.  Yet...we can be confident of will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. 

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;

   teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
   for you are the God of my salvation;
   for you I wait all day long. Psalm 25:4–5
“Lord Jesus, only you know where my path will lead, but I trust that, even if I do not know either the way or the destination, you are with me and before me, and I follow you...Please bestow upon my heart and place deeply into my very soul...a joy that rises above the weight of all anxious thoughts and shines the light of hope into the darkness of  doubts. Amen.”