Five Minute Friday: Overcome

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Golden-hued light streams through the windows across the back of my house. In the front yard, the color of the maple tree shifts from bright yellow to near-orange. Dark green veins on the leaves flicker and fight on, valiantly drawing nutrients from the rough, graying trunk until the last possible moment. Cold, frost-bitten mornings keep the dogs abed later than usual. Their fur grows thicker and fluffier.

Autumn continues to wind itself around the landscape. The view changes daily, a transformation made almost as if by magic. Blink and you’ll miss it. But the animals, they know. They begin slow down. Their Creator whispers that it’s time for them to rest. Gather up sustenance for snowy days ahead, curl up in a ball and drape your tail across your face.

One by one, the birds will stop trilling. The squirrels will stop darting across busy streets. They will hunker down and observe the turning of the seasons, confident and content in the care of the hands that fashioned them.

Kate says: overcome.

Go.

The technician smeared the cold jelly across my abdomen. I closed my eyes, preparing for the onslaught. Down came the probe. She was just doing her job. But I wanted to kick her or bite her or something. I bit my lips and clenched my fists to keep from screaming. A few tears sneaked past the lashes pressed tight against my cheeks. She pressed harder, moving across the long scar, stopping when she reached the spot that hurts the most.

A tumor hunting we will go.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…

I’ve written about Barnabas. I want to be like this dude. Without him, the church leaders in Jerusalem may have never accepted Paul. Without him, John Mark may have never gotten a second chance. He got down there, in the hard stuff with the broken people. He urged them on. He stood his ground. This behind-the-scenes servant of God did all that he could to uplift and encourage.

Part of that, I think, included speaking truth that most of us would rather ignore.

So: Don’t wallow. Don’t make excuses. Don’t whine.

Suffering is real. Pain sucks. Illness is the worst. There’s nothing glamorous about malfunctioning bodies, damaged relationships, empty bank accounts, You’re going to weep and doubt and rage at God sometimes. You’re going to hate all the tests and trials. You’re going to want to slap well-meaning people who say stupid things. You’re going to want to sit down, throw your hands in the air and quit.

Don’t.

Square your shoulders and lift your weary head. God didn’t make you so you could lay down in the dirt and die before your time. Grit your teeth. Press onward. Move forward. Don’t allow victimization to turn you into a perpetual victim. Don’t allow yourself to think that the world owes you anything. Don’t waste your time coveting what others have. Don’t waste your energy on black, soul-eating bitterness.

As Eric Matthews said, “Life’s tough. Get a helmet.”

If there’s still breath in your lungs, your race isn’t done.

By the power of the Holy Spirit within, fight.

Overcome.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

– Romans 8:31-39, 1 John 4:4 (NKJV)

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Jason Briscoe
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Review: Where I End

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Jesus…teaches us to put our question in a way which is meaningful. He tells us that we should not ask ‘Why?’ but ‘To what end?’ … Jesus is a true Pastor. For when we understand the change, we are no longer cloaked with terror. We can breathe again. We can cry and not be weary. We can live by the profound peace in our hearts.

Everything changes under our hands if with our hand in the hand of our Lord we are ready to march forward to the great ends of God. Our conscience is stained and we are guilty. But being in the hand of Jesus,we may ask with fear and trembling, ‘To what end?’ and we may receive the answer of Paul: In order that grace may be mightier, the cross greater, and the Lord dearer to us.

Where I End, p. 194-195, 196; quoting Helmut Thielicke’s Out of the Depths

I am tempted to end this review here, for this quote tells you all that you need to know about Where I End: a Story of Tragedy, Truth and Rebellious Hope, written by Katherine Elizabeth Clark. However, if I did this, perhaps you might be tempted to believe that Clark is somehow above it all, a perpetually-smiling, saintly figure who has nothing at all in common with you. Such a belief would drive you away from this book – a book every one of us needs to read.

In our modern, Western, sleek-and-shiny context, we don’t know how to suffer well. Unlike our brothers and sisters in hostile and war-torn countries, we are not daily confronted with dark moments of terror. Thanks to advances in medical science, we don’t have to watch loved ones die of preventable diseases like measles or scarlet fever. We are insulated. Cushioned.

Only two things can shake us out of our rose-colored haze: If we consciously choose to seek out suffering by ministering among the poor and the marginalized (which, no bones about it, we should do) or if tragedy suddenly and inexplicably strikes.

Clark and her family experienced the latter. In the briefest of moments, their entire world was transformed. A game of tag. A child who jumped. Broken vertebrae. Pain. Paralysis.

A young, healthy, active mother could no longer hold her children.

The children had to grapple with looking upon their mother lying in a hospital bed.

A husband and father forced to bear the load.

For better, for worse, we say in our marriage vows, in the covenant we make with each other and with God.

Except we never really expect the worse.

Clark details the journey in a non-linear format, which would normally drive order-bound me up the wall, but this narrative choice worked well, because this book is so much more than a story of sorrow. It is about choices. It is about figuring out how to suffer well. Not denying the pain, not ignoring the anger, but turning again and again to the Lord. Seeking the hope that is found in His presence. Releasing a sigh and resting in His arms, even when nothing makes sense, even when the world screams that He can’t be trusted.

It is a story not of praising God for pain, but praising God in the pain. Learning to sing loudly when the storm rages, the song of worship rising above the howling wind, moving the heart of the Father. Determining to be grateful for little blessings and small progress. Seeing things with new eyes.

Above all, Where I End is a very human story nestled within the awesome story of the God who sees, the God who knows. It is about accepting the very human limitations of physicality and of understanding, then choosing to love the God beyond the limits instead of allowing the limits to turn to bitterness. This is the only way that we can survive the shattering of the cocoons that we make for ourselves without bank accounts and education and white picket fences.

Where I End releases January 2018. Do head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Revelation 21 People in a Genesis 3 World

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.

– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.

It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?

Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.

Still, He did not abandon them.

Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.

Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.

Not at all what they expected.

That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?

These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)

It is also true that,

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Or, as Jesus put it,

In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.

– John 16:33 (MSG)

Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.

But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.

In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.

In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”

Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.

How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)

Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.

The anguish you feel – He felt it.

Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.

In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.

He will see you safe to shore.

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Photo credit: Nikko Macaspac

Linking up with God-Sized Dreams and Barbie Swihart today.

Five Minute Friday: Blessing

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I went to a new doctor yesterday. Yearly check-up that we ladies are always so thrilled to have. As she pulled up my medical history, her face went through a serious of contortions, landing on an expression of surprise. “Wow,” she said. “You’re so young. How have you had so many things go wrong?”

Had to laugh.

Big ball of weirdness, am I.

Linking up with Kate and the people. We write about: blessing.

Go.

Theological statements show up in strange places.

I’m not really a fan of Macklemore – the famous son of Kent, Washington – but I did listen to his new song, “Glorious,” the chorus of which is:

I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It’s who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious

Those words, they take me to church.

The days drag on. We have to live in these broken bodies, on this broken planet. We have to deal with broken relationships, broken dreams, broken systems. There are desires left unfulfilled, plans left unfinished. We dwell in the space between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21.

So it’s easy to forget.

Forget who we are.

Forget Who is with us.

Forget our purpose.

Caught up in the grind, we look in the mirror and forget to look for what cannot be seen by the human eye. Forget to ask for the holy perspective. We see creases and lines, worries and sorrows. Words left unsaid and conflict unresolved. Weak and fragile bodies.

We forget,

But if God Himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and He does, as surely as He did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With His Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with Him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with Him!

– Romans 8:9-17 (MSG)

We are blessed to be children of the Living God, bought with His own blood. Blessed with fresh mercies, brand-new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

We forget.

We must learn to remember.

Because when we remember, we regain the ability to press through the trouble, which does not magically disappear. Following Christ is no guarantee of health, wealth or any other human-defined blessing.

It is a guarantee of purpose. Of clarity.

Of knowing, in your bones, who you are and where you’re going.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Danka & Peter