When You Have Trouble

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God promised that this life would be hard.
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It is part of what draws us together as humans, this trouble that comes to us all.
Whether the trouble is harming you directly or whether you are hurting while you watch one you love suffer, trouble is promised to us all.
Trouble is promised, yet Christ asked us to take up our cross if we want to come with Him, implying that we have a choice.
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If trouble is not our cross, if we are guaranteed trouble no matter what, then what does it mean to take up our cross?
What does it mean to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Paul encourages us to do several times in his writings, and how can that bring us joy? This is, after all, trouble we’re talking about, not fun and relaxation.
As I read through the Bible, God seems to tell us that we have a choice. That when trouble arrives, as it invariably will, we have a choice of how to respond.
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If we look to Jesus as showing us how to live life as we were created to live, we can see Him having to make the same choice and showing us which choice to make.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is telling the disciples that He will have to die in order to be honored and glorified.
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Do you see His choice?
His heart is troubled as He looks ahead a few days to His crucifixion and He sees His choice clearly.
It is the same choice you have.
Will you run away from your trouble, trying your best to escape it?
Or.
Will you make the incredibly hard choice to accept your trouble, asking God to glorify His name in it?
Will you try to escape your cross or will you take it up?
Now, I certainly don’t mean that it is wrong to pray that God will take your trouble away. Jesus asked that of God in the garden when He asked for this cup to be taken away from Him.
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I do believe, though, that the greater portion of peace and joy can be ours if we ask for God to be glorified in whatever we are facing.
This is what it means to be partners with Christ by sharing in His sufferings. This is what brings beauty and meaning to our own suffering. Suffering that will happen regardless of how we choose to respond.
It is hard to wrap our minds around this idea that suffering can be redemptive, bringing hope and healing to the world. Our world reacts so strongly against any kind of discomfort at all. Yet the entire life of Jesus shows us how grace and suffering can fit together.
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This language that combines suffering and joy is all over Scripture. Jesus endured the cross for the sake of joy, Peter tells us to rejoice as we share Christ’s suffering.
Trouble comes to us all. The astounding piece of this is that God chooses to use us, if we will allow Him, for the greater good, for the healing of all around us.
So for you who don’t know how you will pay your bills next month, for you who lost a child, for you who can’t imagine an evening without a fight, for you whose heart just broke in two, for you who are walking through the crippling loneliness, depression, physical pain, doubt,
ask God to help you make the choice that will bring the most peace and joy, the choice that will bring healing to those around you.
Ask God to glorify His name through your trouble.
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In this, you will be like Jesus. And God will grant you what you ask.

Art credit: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

God’s Law

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

My youngest is in that cute-right-now-but-not-so-cute-in-3-years sort of stage where she will turn and make sure she has my attention just before she does something wrong. She wants to be sure I know she is breaking the rules.
Testing the Law
There is something about breaking the rules that makes all of us more conscious of who is around us. As grownups, we probably want to be sure that no one is watching rather than making sure that the rule-enforcer is paying attention; regardless, we want to know who can see us.
When I make rules for our kids, I am really just describing to them how life works.
Don’t touch that stove because fire is hot and will burn you.
Don’t hit people because then no one will want to play with you.
Upset Mad Angry
I’m sure my girls often feel as though I am just trying to ruin everything they want to do, but the truth is that I understand better than they do how life works best and I want to teach them how to navigate life in a way that will make them content.
Ever wonder why God gave the Ten Commandments? Why He gave over six hundred laws in the Old Testament or why more than one thousand in the New?
Is it because He loves rules? Is it because He enjoys watching His children stay restrained and unable to enjoy their lives?
If God did indeed create this world and everything in it, then this has consequences for every realm of human life. It’s not just about being moral, it’s about metaphysics. It’s about the nature of things.
In simpler terms, God knows better than anyone else how this life works.
If God knows how life works best, it would be cruel to withhold that information from those He loves.
Thus, He gave us His laws.
Rembrandt Moses with the Ten Commandments
Not as a way to restrain us, rather as a way to help us navigate life in a way that will help us to be most content, that will bring us the most peace and joy, that will make us most like Him.
Asking us to obey, then, becomes not a way to keep us far away from Him, but a way to bring us close. A way to prove His love for us by making us fit for His presence.
The next time you are chafing under His rules, remember who created this life and thus knows it best. Trust in His love, obey Him, and reap the benefits.
The next time you hesitate to bring your faith into the public realm, remembering that Christ’s rule has public ramifications may be the most generous and loving service you can offer to your neighbors.
A life of consistent obedience leads to ever-increasing joy.
Put it to the test and you’ll see.

Art Credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

Not About Me

It is not about me.

What?!

No way!

For real?!

This is disappointing. I want it to be all about me.

Please?

Come on!

Are you sure?

I want all that happens to be for the sole purpose of making me happy, comfortable, and a better person.

It's about me!

But it’s not.
When darkness fills my life, when loneliness weights my soul, when grief deadens my heart,
it’s not about me.
Yes, God loves me and wants the best for me, but what is best for me is not that everything (or anything at all!) revolves around me.
When circumstances occur that I don’t like, when hurtful or even ugly things happen, will I try to make it about me or will I let God use it to glorify Himself? Will I be able to let go of my own self long enough to let God use it to bring others to Him and bring His kingdom closer to fulfillment?
Huh. God glorified, loved ones brought to Him, His kingdom brought close to earth? As I think about it, this all benefits me.
Even though it’s not about me.

Hooray!

That's great!

Huzzah!!

Funny how God makes that all work out.

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Carol of Joy

Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonelyladenforlorn
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
To you,
A Saviour is born!

Merry Christmas!

(If you are viewing this in an email or reader, click here to view the video of this song)

Hold On

Why do we expect a life free from ugliness?
ugliness
Why do we think that we should ease through life surrounded by comforts?
discomfort
Why do we think that we should be exempt from pain?
pain
hurt
God promised, after all, that life will be hard, that life will be full of trouble.
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And He promised that it would all be okay in the end.
He didn’t promise that we would see the end while still in this world, but He promised that it would be okay.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. ~ John Lennon
So many died while still hoping for Messiah, still believing that He would come.
He came
And He did.
So many of us will die while still hoping for God to come and make everything beautiful again.
He is coming
And He will.
But not only that.
If that weren’t promise enough for you.
Not only has He promised that everything will be okay, but He promised that while it is still not okay, He will never leave us.
So hold on. Be still and hold on to those promises with everything in you and you will find that joy and peace that goes beyond anything that is happening around or inside you.
Hold on.
You who are watching her die before your very eyes.
Hold on.
You who are hurt by the one who should protect.
Hold on.
You who are frightened by all you see around the world.
Hold on.
You who feel like your life doesn’t matter.
Hold on.
Hold on.
He will never leave you. And someday it will be okay.

Art credits: dead rose photo by Deb Knoles; Christ on the Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Tulips in sunlight photo by Kirk Sewell Photography

Nothing More than Feelings

I don’t always feel God’s presence.
In fact, I might even say that I don’t often feel His presence.
He feels far away
I don’t always feel joy and peace.
I can feel lonely and depressed, irritated and angry, and then feel guilty that I feel those things when my life is so good.
I don't feel joyful
Feelings. So fickle.
The question is not whether God is still there when I don’t feel His presence.
The question is not whether God’s peace and joy are still inside me when I can’t feel them.
God promised His presence
He has already promised never to leave me. He has already promised that nothing can separate me from His love.
He has already promised that I can have joy in all circumstances. He has already promised that His peace is beyond understanding.
God promised His joy
Will I believe it?
When darkness closes in, will I believe that the light is still there?
Will I trust God’s Word more than my own heart?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ~ Jeremiah 17.9
It’s hard in a world telling us that feelings are what is real. We are taught that whatever we feel, whatever we think, this is truth.
Regardless of what I think or feel, however, there is Truth that is above all else.
God promised His peace
And that Truth tells me that I am held closely by God no matter what.
Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. ~ Colossians 1.20-22 (Italics mine)
He has already done this, and this will never change. No matter what my feelings tell me.

The First Few Months

These first few months are really hard.
Crying
Smothered
Sleepless nights, hours of crying, lives revolving around nursing and napping, siblings who are desperate for attention…even the bad kind.
These first few months are really beautiful.
Snuggled
Adored
Baby weight snuggled on your chest, satin soft skin wrapped in blankets, warm breath from tented mouth on your cheek, siblings huddled around in adoration.
There is much that is difficult and frustrating, bringing tears and even depression.
And.
There is an obvious beauty, a very clear purpose and reason to the difficulty.
Purpose
It makes me wonder whether this is the way God sees what we call ugly. Whether He can see the obvious beauty, the very clear purpose to the very hard things in life.
Perhaps we struggle only because we feel the sleepless nights and cannot yet see the first toothless smile.
Perhaps we would find more joy in our ugly places if we would trust that God has beauty planned ahead.
Perhaps we would find more peace if we would trust that God can turn even the hardest bits of life into a reason that is adored.
Adored
Even if that reason is not discovered this side of death.
Think of those first few months…
Hope
and hope.

This is Easter

Easter.
Easter
Spring.
Spring
New life.
New life
It is an inevitable part of life that monochromatic winter begins to melt into spaces of bright color. Snow gives way to tulips and crocuses. Perhaps it is our necessary reminder that death is followed by new life. Our reminder of Easter.
It was our first Easter without Kristina.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left the figure of Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”
God made
Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.
On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sang, “The greatest day in history, Death is beaten, You have rescued me. Sing it out, Jesus is alive! Endless joy, perfect peace, Earthly pain finally will cease. Celebrate Jesus is alive! Oh, happy day, happy day…”
During a celebration after tragedy, hearts swell and overflow with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. We feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
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On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!
Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.
We all suffer. We all love and therefore all suffer because in our broken world, love means suffering. Those who do not love much do not suffer much. I would not grieve so deeply had I not loved Kristina so much. God loves our world and therefore God Himself suffers.
Such sorrow was felt over our first Easter without Kristina.
Kristina
We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.
Our rebellion
And so we sorrow.
Our longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. We desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.
Someday
And so we long.
Sorrow and longing.
At second look, we are reassured that these are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
At the end of it all, however, our hearts must return again to gratitude.
On that Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang, “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
Just as we did in the middle of our ugly places, our hearts cry out “Why?” Yet this time, it is a vastly different sort of why.
This time we ask, why do You love me that much?
His love
You went to the cross to allow us to become children of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that we are? Why would You pour so much into molding us into people who look like You?
Let us fall on our knees in joy and with gratitude for such lavish love.
Lavish love
On Easter morning and beyond, let our hearts swell with both sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is truly alive, knowing that He has defeated death.

edited from the archives

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

Blessings

We are delighted to share with you our good news.
New Blessing
New Blessing
We are grateful.