Tag Archives: Suffering

Conformed to The Image of Christ

 

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I continue to meditate on what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ, not the resurrected, glorified Jesus, but the crucified Jesus.

I read Romans 8 again and again to plumb the depths of its meaning, its truth.  “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5)

I have a choice every morning to set my mind on either the desires of the sinful nature or the desires of the Spirit of God.  I will live each day, one day at a time, according to how my mind is set.

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)

Sharing his sufferings is the prerequisite for sharing in his glory.  This is true whether I want it to be true or not.   Twenty-one Christians recently lived and died this reality.  They were conformed to the image of Christ in his death and today share his glory in his Father’s Kingdom.

Although all Christ followers are not called to martyrdom, they are all called to death.  Perhaps I am not called to give up my life for my faith in Christ, but each morning Jesus calls me to take up my cross and follow him. Paul tells me in Romans 8:12-14 that I have an obligation to put to death the sinful nature by the Spirit of God who lives in me.  Earlier in the same chapter, Paul reminds me that the Spirit of God raised Christ from the dead.  This same mighty power is available to me, actually lives inside me.

If twenty-one of my fellow brothers in Christ gave their lives up for the Jesus they loved, I can certainly, by the Spirit’s power at work within me, die countless daily deaths by setting my mind on the desires of God and saying no to my sinful desires and inclinations.  No to pride, jealousy. lust, anger and rage.  Yes to love, mercy, forgiveness and generosity.  No to my dreams.  Yes to God’s dreams.  No to rebellion.  Yes to surrender to the One who knows me best, loves me most, and gave himself to be my sin offering.

Holy Spirit, conform me to the image of Christ.  Let me be like him in his death. Remind me each morning to set my mind on the desires of God.  Give me power each day to say no to my sinful nature – to live as dead to that nature, to live as alive to the God who loves me, saying yes to Him again and again, hour by hour.  Enable me to do this out of my passion for the Lord Jesus.  Let me identify with him, in his death by dying in the flames of my love for him.  Let me do this to honor Christ and the twenty-one Coptic Christians who just gave their lives for him. Amen

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A Coin With Two Sides

A year ago my husband fought a battle with stage 3 lymphoma.  I believed Jesus is the healer.  I believed Jesus could heal my husband.  I prayed believing for that healing, but I did not know whether the Lord would heal my husband on this earth or in heaven.

I prayed yielding my will and desires to the will and desires of  God for my husband.  These two truths freed me to yield to God:   We are always loved and God is always good – he is righteous and holy in all his ways.

Trust is like a two sided coin.  On one side is a believing face, and on the other side there is yielding face.  Trust is the sum of believing God and yielding to him.

Our Lord prayed for his Father to spare him from the suffering of the crucifixion.  He knew God could – he believed God could.  But in the end, he yielded his will to the will of God.

I think it is possible to believe God without yielding to him.   I think it is possible to yield to God without really believing him.  I want to keep trusting God like my Savior did, believing and yielding in tandem with all my heart and mind and soul.

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Revelation, Prayer, and A Backpack

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“Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.  Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it, confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.  In it God shows himself to us.  That He answers prayer is a corollary, not necessarily the most important one, from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.”   CS Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer” from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

Recently God tenderly illustrated how He reveals himself in prayer.  Two of our dear friends were struggling with some problems.  We invited this couple over to our home for dinner followed by a time of prayer.  After sharing our meal together, the four of us gathered in our living room and implored Almighty God for help with these difficulties.

As my husband and I prayed all that was in our hearts for them,  God was ministering to my friend who was given a picture in her imagination.  She saw herself as a small girl wearing a backpack.  She watched herself take her left arm out and her right arm out and then hand her pack to Jesus.  She watched as He put His left arm in her pack and then His right arm in.  Once her pack was on His back, she observed Him taking her hand, as the two of them skipped happily off, swinging their arms.  She left our time of prayer lighter, her sense of peace and equilibrium restored.  Her burdens had been shifted onto the One Who Revealed Himself as  her Burden Bearer.

No doubt some of our requests from that night of prayer will be answered as a corollary,  but the most important part was the Revelation of the Lord Himself drawing near to love His child.

Lord Jesus, I am feeling sad and anxious, weighted down.  Today I am putting these burdens in my backpack and handing it to you.  I am reaching up to clasp your Hand as You clasp mine.  Let’s skip through this day together.  

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Storehouses of Snow

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When Job ( a good man who suffered), questioned God, the Lord answered him with questions that left Job to understand that understanding God was beyond his human comprehension.  (see Job 38)  One of these questions was: “Have you entered the storehouses of snow or seen the storehouses of the hail which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?”

A question to ponder, to take to heart, to store in one’s heart.  Some translations use the word treasuries, instead of storehouses. Perhaps, we, God’s humble children, might also find treasures in storehouses of snow – treasures  to assist us in times of trouble and days of battle.

It has been a long, hard winter in more than just weather.   While battling deep snow and sub zero temperatures, my husband, Howard, finished his fight with cancer.  He, by God’s mercy, won the battle.   What treasures were hidden  for him in this difficult, trying season of life.

Our Son Jim wrote in his Christmas letter:  ” My dad had stage 3 lymphoma.  4 long months later he is now cancer free, praise God!  His peace through it all confirmed his walk with Jesus.  He was truly okay with God’s will (win or lose), even though I wasn’t.  He lived out Philippians 1:21 (For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,) before my eyes and inspired me to run my race strong.”

Jim’s words are one of Howard’s treasures hidden in the snow.  His season of difficulty bears fruit if it inspires our son to run his race strong.  That inspiration is a treasure Jim reserves for times of trouble and days of battle.  I have no doubt there are other treasures hidden away; some to be revealed as time goes by, and others that will remain hidden from Howard’s knowledge.

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Joy and Sorrow


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My husband had a PET scan on December 16th, the day before he had his 5th chemotherapy for treatment of his stage 3 lymphoma. We learned the scan showed No sign of any residual lymphoma. We praised God for His gift of healing.  Our joy was off the scale, beyond measurement.  The relief was so immense, I could hardly process the reality of the news. We were singing, “To God be the Glory. Great things He has done.”

A few days later, our daughter-in-law called with sad news.  Her sister in Brazil had delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl, her first child.  After the delivery, her sister became ill and quickly decompensated, slipping into a coma.  Testing revealed widespread cancer in a late stage.  We began praying desperately with all the faith we had for a miracle of healing for this young woman, but our son informed us in a subsequent phone call that his sister-in-law had become septic and had gone into organ failure. She was placed on life support, and all of us kept praying for a miracle.  We learned she died the day after Christmas.

There are no words to describe the depth of heartache we feel for our daughter-in-law and for her entire family.   Our sorrow cannot be measured.

I ponder how one can carry such joy and such sorrow in one’s heart at the same time, as well as all the wonderings.   I wonder why God gave me back my 68 year old husband of 43 years and why He took a young woman from her husband of one year and her newborn child.   I wonder why the God of miracles sometimes grants them as we pray with faith and why He sometimes denies them as we pray with faith.   Faith is a constant.  His power is a constant.  His love is a constant.  With the prophet Isaiah, I admit that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts – that His ways are not my ways – that His thoughts and His ways are higher than mine.

I suppose that I am experiencing a type of survivor’s guilt, the guilt the loved one of the survivor feels.   I have felt this guilt before, long ago, when my second son was born.  My friend gave birth to her second child shortly afterward.  The two of us had enjoyed being pregnant at the same time.  We had anticipated watching our second born children grow up together.  Our first children were best of friends.  We called them the dynamic duo.  What trouble those boys got into.  We wanted our second children to be girls.  My friend got the girl, but I got the healthy baby.  My friend’s baby girl was born with multiple heart anomalies.  We prayed desperately for a miracle for months.

As I relive the guilt I felt for having a healthy baby, I recall the night God spoke to me as I prayed.  It was the first time I had ever really heard Him like I did that night.   I said, “please, God, please heal baby Kirsten.”  I was disturbed by the response I heard in my thoughts, “I will in heaven.”   I slept fitfully that night and was awakened by a call early the next morning.  Our friend’s baby had been placed on a respirator.  Her entire bowel was necrotic.  Later that day my friend and her husband asked the staff to turn off the respirator and they held their little daughter in their arms as she died.

As I wonder why God granted a miracle to my old husband and denied one for a young mother,  God reminds me that His miracles don’t always look the way I want them to.   He reminds me that healings sometimes are completed in heaven, rather than on earth.   Does that make the healing any less miraculous, any less wonderful?  It is not how I would write the story, but I agree the miracle is just as miraculous and wonderful – indeed, I concede, more wonderful, more miraculous on the other side of eternity.   It doesn’t take the pain away.   It shouldn’t.    But it does return me to the place where I can be comforted by the truth that THE HEALER is always GOOD and always LOVES us.   I will chose to believe today that He loved this young wife and mother in her life and in her death.   I will trust Him for Grace to keep my heart intact as I rejoice in my husband’s healing and grieve over the loss my daughter-in-law suffers.

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Paul’s Accounting Method

 

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“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Jesus Christ – the righteousness that comes from God  and is by faith.”  Philippians 3: 7 – 9

I’ve been meditating on these verse for quite some time now, pondering their significance.  I want to fathom the meaning in a way that will allow me to apply it where the rubber meets the road in my life, in the nitty gritty of the here and now.

It seems that the Apostle Paul had a ledger with a plus side and a minus side.  One side stood for all that was worthwhile.   The other side stood for all that truly didn’t matter compared to what was actually important.   Amazingly, as he sorted through his life, the plus side of his ledger had one item: knowing Jesus Christ.  Everything else, in comparison,ended up on the minus side.

When and how will I come to a place in my life when there is only one thing listed on my gains ledger? When will I realize that everything I ever gained, compared to Jesus was rubbish?

Life has forced losses on me and on my husband.   We certainly wouldn’t have chosen them.   I was not chosen as assistant head nurse when that position seemed so important to me.   My husband never received another position as pastor after he left a church without a call to serve another one.   He was a pastor, and not having his own church to serve was like being disconnected from himself.  It was excruciating.   Yet, according to Paul’s accounting method, these hoped for gains in our lives would really have been rubbish compared to knowing Jesus.

Everything – every loss and every gain – serves the one goal, the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ.   For every experience – every heartache and every suffering, as well as every joy and happy gift – is just another opportunity to know Jesus better.

The disciples pulled their boats up on the shore and left everything behind to follow Jesus, to know him, to be with him.   They considered all they had gained in life as rubbish compared to the great gain of being students of the Master.

Lord, please let my husband, who I lovingly call “the Count”, keep counting lymphoma as a valuable gift, as an opportunity to get to know Jesus better.  Let me keep counting this fight with cancer as a gain, if it helps us be better students of our Teacher, Our Master.  Let us pull our boats up on the shore and follow you, in sickness, as well as  in health.  Let us, as Paul said in Philippians 1:10, share your suffering and become like you in your death.  Let us keep saying no to our own will and yes to yours.   Amen.

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God’s Glue Stick

Choosing birthday gifts for my husband has been a challenge over the years because Howard set the bar high with surprises he created for me.   One year I asked our family and friends to send new names for Howard on 4 by 6 inch cards.  I put all those notecards in a flip photo album and surprised him with it on his birthday.

One of the cards is titled: Howard – “God’s Glue Stick”.  The card says, “You have held to God’s word and have stuck to his principles, preaching profound sermons from a small church in Minnesota.  Those messages have not gone unheeded, but have been part of the glue which held a young couple together long enough for them to become a more mature couple in the Lord and to raise a family which is now serving Him, as well.”

This morning, as I meditated on my Lord’s goodness, I remembered the words from Colossians 1:17.   “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”    I thanked Jesus for being God’s Glue Stick for me.    In this season of standing beside my husband as he fights his battle with lymphoma,  I have had moments of feeling like I was about to fall apart with fear and anxiety.   I would have come undone, if Jesus wasn’t holding me together.   My husband would have fallen apart as well, if the Lord wasn’t holding him together with courage and power.

In the Season of Thanksgiving I rejoice that Howard has been a glue stick to other people and that Jesus has been THE GLUE STICK of all glue sticks for both of us.

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Good Enough

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The old man both welcomed and feared death.   As he became further debilitated with pneumonia, he knew he had no will to live.  He told our mutual neighbor, his  friend of thirty years,  “I just hope, I’ve been good enough for heaven.”

The prophet Isaiah  declares that all our righteous acts are like filty rags.  ( Isaiah 64:6).   The apostle Paul tells us, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)   After delivering the bad news, Paul gives us the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, died to justify us.  He concludes in Romans 5: 1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God.”

My husband Howard is staring down death in his fight with lymphoma.   He is confident that he has a ticket to the everlasting party in heaven, not because he is good enough, but because he believes Jesus is good enough and died and rose again to purchase his ticket.  This confidence gives us sweet peace and hope as we face the unknown.   I write this blog because I long for all to know this sweet peace and hope in the midst of their sufferings.

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The Beauty of Dark Days

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On cloudy days the autumn colors are more vibrant, more intense.  Like the cloudy days, the back drop of a journey with cancer makes the Scriptures richer, deeper, and even more meaningful for my husband Howard.  As he copes with the weakness and fatigue of chemotherapy, he has a whole new appreciation for Philippines 4: 13 and 19.   ” I can do everything through him who gives me strength…And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

I feel sad that my husband has to suffer.   As his caregiver, I feel anxious.   The back drop of these emotions makes the promises of my Lord more dear and more beautiful.   I share my sadness with The Father, knowing he said,  “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)   I take courage as I remember his words, “Don not be afraid, for I am with you…” (Isaiah43:5)

Father, Thank You for the cloudy days, the dark seasons in life.  Thank you for the way they highlight the colors, the spectrum of your beauty and the beauty of your marvelous words to us.

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Faith Is The Victory

 

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Our son and daughter-in-law gave us a copy of an essay by Pastor John Piper titled, Don’t Waste Your Cancer.   One of the points Piper made was to view cancer as gift, not as a curse.

As we drove to church last Sunday, Howard told me, “I think I am getting there.  I can almost call my lymphoma a gift.  That doesn’t mean I like it or would choose it, but I can receive it as a gift with gratitude.”

Howard is coming to this attitude because in the presence of the temptation to doubt,  he knows and believes two truths.   God is Love, and God loves him.   He knows he can trust the loving purposes of his God.   If God allows cancer in his life, then that cancer will be redeemed to serve a good purpose.   This is faith.  It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It exists in a crucible.

The apostle John tells us:  “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  I John 5: 4-5

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