The End of This Journey

People are interesting.

And every time I go into that office, I glance into those faces and wonder about their story.

Cancer is the common thread that has brought each one here – old and young alike.

I try to read the faces of those exiting the surgeon’s office. Some are marked with relief, others are noticeably distraught. Undoubtedly, each life forever marked by cancer’s horrific imprint.

Then it’s our turn.

It’s been a summer of wondering about the outcome. Wondering if the cancer was contained, or if it had spread requiring further treatment.

But it’s also been a summer of resting in God’s goodness. Regardless of the outcome, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God has good purpose in it.

My story does not change the character of God.

The surgeon ushered us into the tiny room and closed the door behind us. He made some jokes, glanced at my scar and smiled, then said those two words I’d been longing to hear:

Cancer free.

After giving us the details, he shook my husbands hand, then mine, and said he didn’t want to see us again. Me neither.

Done.

This journey over – at least for now.

“Consider yourself cured,” the surgeon said.

Healed. By the Great Physician.

Remember the account of the ten lepers? Jesus healed each one. But only one came back to thank Him.

Luke 17:11-19

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

I want to be that one. Falling on my face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And so thanksgiving and praise has been on my lips for days.

Thanking God for His tender mercies.

And I buy another armful of these. Because all creation shouts His glory. And I want to shout right alongside.

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When you want to know what God wants you to know in the midst of your suffering

Yesterday I posted an audio message of my teaching about God’s purposes in suffering.

Today I am sharing the seven points I spoke about in the teaching.

A Theology of Suffering

7 Things God Wants You to Know in the Midst of Your Suffering

Since no one is exempt from trials, it’s safe to assume that most of us are in the midst of a difficult time right now. And although trials range in severity, they are always hard.

“A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change our conduct and our character” (James MacDonald).

1.  We shouldn’t be surprised at seasons of suffering.

God does not want us to be surprised at seasons of suffering. In fact, God promises in His Word that we will suffer.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, WHEN you encounter various trails” (James 1:2). 

“In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We should not let difficulties take us by surprise. We should expect them to come. And if we know they are coming, we can prepare for them.

How do we prepare for hard times? We spend time getting to know our God through His Word. As we meditate and memorize His Word, we are equipped and strengthened to stand firm when the storms of life hit.

2.  Suffering proves we are children of God.

“It is for discipline (suffering) that you endure; God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7).

We may wish it was some other way, but suffering actually proves we are children of God. God brings hard times in our lives to teach us and He disciplines us as a loving Father. In fact, the next verse in Hebrews goes on to say that if we are without discipline we are illegitimate children.

3.  What we believe about God will determine how we respond to trials.

What we believe about God is so important – especially during difficult times. God is NOT the author of suffering. We suffer because we live in a sin-soaked world. God created a perfect world for us to live in, but we chose sin, and along with sin comes suffering.

BUT, God does allow suffering. That’s hard to grapple with when our lives have been turned upside down by suffering. But we can know this – if God allows a hard time to come into our lives, He has allowed it for a purpose. God is up to something when we go through difficulty. We must look expectantly for what He is doing.

4.  God brings suffering into our lives for our good.

“…[God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Your trial is for your ultimate good. Of course it doesn’t feel good (Hebrews 12:11), but God is doing a good work in our hearts and lives as we submit to Him in suffering.

I don’t know what the specific good is for your trial, but I do know some things He wants to do in the lives of every believer:

  • God wants to develop endurance and perseverance in us (James 1:2-4).
  • God wants to increase our faith.
  • God wants us to experience the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
  • God wants to lift our eyes above the storm and fix them on His face.
  • God wants us to live for things unseen, not for the things of this world (2 Corinthians 4:18).
  • He wants to give us hope.
  • He wants to prove to us that He is faithful.
  • He wants to show us that we are not in control, He is.
  • He wants to demonstrate the superiority of a life lived in Him through us to a watching world.
  • He wants to demonstrate His power and grace through us.
  • He wants us to develop a new level of dependency on Him.

5.  God is never more close than when His children are suffering.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:2).

Believers in Jesus Christ often talk about the nearness of God in the midst of extreme difficulty. Of course, God is always with us, but He makes His presence known in such a sweet and tangible way in suffering. Perhaps its because we recognize our need for Him in a fresh way and we cry out to Him with greater urgency.

6.  We must determine from the start to cooperate with God in whatever He allows into our lives.

Whatever you are going through right now, will you make a decision to determine to cooperate with God? Don’t get angry, don’t complain, don’t lash out at others. Don’t run from God or try to fight with Him. Instead, recognize His sovereign hand and His goodness. Allow Him to do His work in you as you submit to Him.

7.  Remember, the suffering will not go on forever.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  

This pain that you are enduring is momentary. It will not go on forever.

Your suffering? It’s not worthy to even be compared to what awaits for you in heaven. When we get to heaven we will look back on the suffering in this life and know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that it was worth it.

No matter what the future holds for you, believe that God is sovereign and He is good. Your trials do not change the character of God. So let’s determine together to watch expectantly for His work in the midst of suffering and yield to it.

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A Promise Kept … and teaching about suffering

A couple of months ago I promised God that if He ever gave me the opportunity to share about the work He’s doing in my life during this season of suffering, I would.

I kept my promise this past Sunday at Calvary United Church – a gracious and lovely group of people.

I shared about the death of my mom, my cancer diagnosis, and how God is teaching me about His purposes in the midst of suffering.

A Theology of Suffering

I humbly ask … would you listen to my testimony?

Praying it will be a blessing to you in the midst of your own hard times.

 

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What does your to do list say about you?

I passed by those stands eight times in four days before I finally stopped.

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They are dotting the country roads this time of year, tall stems of beautiful flowers in pails of water. Only pennies a bloom.

Every time I passed I wanted to stop, but I was in a hurry. Late for something. I told myself I couldn’t afford the time to stop.

Luxuries like taking roadside flowers and arranging them in a vase for the kitchen are reserved for those who aren’t so busy.

My to do list is long these days. Some of it is legitimate. Some of it self-imposed busyness and wishful thinking.

Its when I realized I was looking with envy at couples leisurely strolling down the sidewalk after dinner – and the pang of jealousy that came when I read her status update about laying on the trampoline with her kids watching shooting stars – that I realized something had to change.

And then this on the screen made me freeze –

“Your to do list shouldn’t always be about what you’re doing, but who you are becoming” (Glynnis Whitwer).

Somehow I’d lost sight of this … again.

God is always more interested in my character than my list of accomplishments. He always would have me choose people over tasks. He is more concerned about doing a work in me than me doing work.

And life is not an emergency.

We are not meant to run breathless from one activity to the next. We miss His presence, His voice, and His counsel when we are consumed with our lists.

And what if – just what if – our lists don’t match His? What if our plans are not His for us?

Father, forgive me.

So today I stopped – at every flower stand I saw along the way!

I choose the prettiest blooms. And instead of rushing in the door and starting the next thing, I carefully trimmed them, chose a glass vase, and spent some time arranging them in front of the windows.

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Yes, they are just flowers.

But they are more than that.

They are a constant reminder to pay more attention to who I am becoming than what I am getting accomplished.

(I have a feeling I might need to continually re-learn this).

(And yes I ordered the book!)

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When you want to purposefully and intentionally seek Him

They are searching for the prettiest stone.

On a beach several kilometers long and piled four feet deep with stones, the task seems overwhelming, but they are determined to find the best one.

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We come here once every few years, and the cool deep of this lake has a way of soothing the frenzy within me. With the outside world completely shut out (read: no phone service for 8 days!) and the Word speaking without distraction, my soul is calmed and refreshed.

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I’m sitting at the water’s edge and am struck by their excitement, anticipation, and eagerness.

Their search is intense and expectant.

Do I seek God with this same kind of determination?  Is my searching for God’s work and words in my life done with this same kind of intensity? And do I expect Him to meet with me?

“Look at this one, Mama!” She dives deep and brings back one that sparkles gold in the sun.

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The voices of this world are getting louder, the distractions more intrusive. But God gently whispers, “Seek My face.”

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.'” (Psalm 27:8).

Will we respond like the psalmist?

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They want to take every pretty rock home and I laugh and envision a truckload of rocks. I tell them instead to throw them as hard as they can into the water and watch the splash.

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I think about all the other things I seek in this life. Things that won’t stand the test of fire at the end of time and will surely pass away.

I want my seeking after God to be marked by the same determination and excitement I see etched all over their faces.

Will we determine to seek God with eagerness, anticipation, and excitement? Will we expect Him to meet with us? Will we purposefully carve out time and space to intentionally seek Him?

I can tell you this … we won’t be disappointed.

Praying this for my summer and for yours.

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually (1 Chronicles 16:11).

[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4).

The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing (Psalm 34:10).

 Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6).
 
‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).

Jumping into the Unknown

He’s braver this year.

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The rocks are high and the water cold, but he  jumps bravely into the unknown, plunging deep into its depths.

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I watch from the safety of the shore and think about my own unknown.

Don’t we all face the unknown every time the sun rises? The reality is, as much as we plan and prepare, no one knows what the future holds. And life can change in an instant.

My calendar is filled with my plans, but only the One who knows the end from the beginning determines my steps.

The Word promises us we will have trials:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:3).

When, not if.

Jesus Himself warned us we will go through difficulty in this life:

…In this world you will have trouble… (John 16:33).

That’s the bad news.

But we need not fear.

The good news is a sovereign, loving God is in control and He can use our trials for good.

So climb bravely to the top of today, hang your toes over the edge, and take a leap of faith, plunging deep into the glorious unknown.

Because God is already there.

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Reality Check for Husbands

(guest post by my husband)

1 Peter 3:7

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman, and show her honour as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

(Note: The following has been adapted by a sermon from James MacDonald called Reality Check for Husbands)

Whereas God gave wives the equivalent of six verses to describe their relationship to their husbands, He made the instructions to men short and straight to the point.

6 things for husbands

1.  Spend time with your wife

The phrase “live with your wives’ has the idea of sharing life with your wife. Just like any relationship, the marriage relationship requires an investment of time. Nothing will transform your marriage like time spent working on your marriage. A good guideline is 15 minutes a day, one night a week, one day a month, and one weekend a year of intentionally investing in your marriage.

2.  Study your wife

Peter tells husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” This literally means to live with her according to knowledge. Men, study everything the Bible has to say about marriage and women. Also, gain knowledge through observation of your wife. What are her likes and dislikes, her interests, her goals and dreams? What frustrates her? What fills her with joy? As you put the time and effort in to obtain your PhD in the study your wife, you will begin to know her intimately and your marriage will be transformed.

3.  Honour your wife

The idea behind the Greek word used here for “honour” has the idea of public recognition in a military setting. Husbands are to publically recognize and praise their wives. This involves appreciating her with words in front of the children, telling them what a blessing God has given the family in their mother. It also involves praising her for who she is and the work God is doing in and through her. This goes beyond just praising her actions of being a good cook and doing our laundry. It is also a recognition of who she is as a person: her loving nature, caring heart, patience, insight, peacemaking abilities…this list is extensive if you really think about it.

4.  Protect your wife (physically)

The phrase “as the weaker vessel” refers to physically. Notice that in using the word “weaker” this implies that the husband is also weak. From God’s perspective, all human beings are weak, however the physical body of the woman is generally weaker than the man’s. Protecting your wife is more than merely going downstairs in the middle of the night to investigate a noise. Protecting your wife involves showing patience when things seem dangerous to her (kids getting injured playing sports), ensuring her safety in your absence, and managing your aggression during conflict. In short—does your wife feel safe around you? Does she feel protected and secure by your presence? Does she feel these things in good times AND in times of struggle in your marriage?

5.  Open up to your wife

Husbands and wives are “fellow heir(s) of the grace of life”, which refers to the good things God has given us. Women have equal access to all the graces of God. Since you experience God’s grace together, intentionally share and open up to your wife. Self-disclosure is the gold of relationships. Here are a couple starters to get the ball rolling for you: “The reason I find it hard to open up is…”, “My greatest desire is…”, “If our marriage could improve in this one area…”.

6.  Pray with your wife

Failing to be the husband God has called you to be will hinder your prayers. Praying with your wife requires being open and vulnerable with her, which is sometimes a risky thing. However, intimacy is born when husbands and wives plead together in prayer over a situation in their lives. This has been my weakest area in marriage by far so I know how intimidating and difficult this can be. The best cure for this is a pretty easy actually…pray. The more you pray, the easier it gets. Step up and start, it just gets easier after that.

 

 

Reality Check for Wives

1 Peter 3:1-6

1In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. 

(Note: The following has been adapted by a sermon from James MacDonald called Reality Check for Wives)

Husbands need to be changed and their wives know it, but …

1.  Words Won’t Work (1 Peter 3:1-2)

There is something in the sinful nature of a woman that causes her to go about changing her husband in a   destructive way (just as there is something in the sinful nature of a man that causes him to neglect). 1 Peter 3:1 says the husband can be won without a word by the behaviour of their wives. Words don’t work—in fact rash, harsh and critical words can destroy a marriage. God’s way is conduct. This does not mean that husbands and wives shouldn’t communicate, but husbands are influenced by the example and behaviour of their wives.   Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.”   Peter even gives the worst case scenario in the text. Even if the husband is disobedient to the word. He is     talking about those who are unsaved. Even in this extreme case, the godly conduct of their wives is a powerful influence.

 2.  Beauty Won’t Last (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Peter says a wife’s adorning must not be merely external. In other words, ladies, don’t let the beautiful thing about you be your hair or your jewelry or your clothes. Don’t make external beauty your focus. Your crowning feature should be the inner person of the heart.

If words don’t work and beauty won’t last, what is God’s way to positively influence your husband? This is it:

Wife Inner Beauty

INNER BEAUTY IS …

1.  Submissive (1 Peter 3:1)

To be submissive means to place yourself under the headship and authority of your husband. Submission is   never commanded or demanded, it is a voluntary choice that the wife makes out of obedience to God. When a multi-lane highway is reduced to one lane, some cars naturally have to take their position behind other cars or else there will be dangerous collisions. In the same way, in marriage, although both husband and wife are     influencing, guiding, and moving forward, when it comes to the point of collision, the wife finds her greatest joy in yielding and getting behind her husband and entrusting herself to God.

2.  Pure/Chaste (1 Peter 3:2)

A godly wife is pure in her actions and her attitudes in her work, in her home, in the kitchen, in relationships, and in the bedroom. The attitude that goes along with purity is respect—for her husband and for God.

3.  Gentle and Quiet (1 Peter 3:4)

Having a gentle and quiet spirit is the opposite of angry outbursts, combative, speaking your mind, blunt, and overpowering. The godly woman is calm. In short—a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit still the storm  instead of stirring things up. They fix relational strife instead of causing it.

INNER BEAUTY PROVEN …

1.  Persuasive (1 Peter 3:1)

Even in the extreme situation of an unbelieving husband, a wife can influence her husband for the kingdom. This is not a guarantee of transformation, but it means she will no longer be a hindrance to what God is trying to do in her husband’s life. Again, the wise woman persuades with actions, not words.

2.  Permanent (1 Peter 3:4)

This inward beauty is imperishable. While outward beauty is fading, inward beauty can be flourishing. We can’t buy inner beauty, we can’t get it surgically, and there is no multi-level marketing for inner beauty. Instead God shapes a woman’s character as she pursues Him. Inner beauty doesn’t hide imperfections, it removes them.

3.  Precious (1 Peter 3:4)

Inner beauty is precious in the sight of God. Let’s be careful to pursue what is important to God.

4.  Powerful (1 Peter 3:5-6)

Holy women of old adorned themselves with inner beauty. Inner beauty is powerful to attract the kind of man worthy of spending the rest of our lives with.

If we want to be the women God has called us to be, this is the pathway. Will you be a woman who is pursuing inner beauty?

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Eyes to See the Rivers of Grace

Sometimes a river of grace flows hidden and we will miss it unless we have eyes to see.

The creek ran quietly just twenty feet through the trees behind our campsite. It was only when we went hunting for adventure that we found it.

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He was captivated by the tiny fish in the shallow water, while she waded further and plunged down deep. I wanted to capture every moment – to remember the gift of these glorious summer days always.

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As the water bubbled over my toes at the edge I thought about God’s grace over the past year, made only more glorious by deep suffering.

Doesn’t God’s grace flow most abundantly through the valley of suffering? Isn’t it through dark difficulties that the light of God’s grace shines more clearly?

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A year ago we were still in the shock and the sharpness of deep grief and every time I drove to the farm the silent emptiness would ache louder than I thought possible.  How I wanted to walk through that front door and see her face one more time! The neglected farmhouse was missing a woman’s touch and the farmer was missing her gentle touch infinitely more.

Now the sharp grief has dulled to an ache – still painful, just different.

But God’s grace was and is sufficient. A deep and abiding knowing of His sovereignty and His goodness has settled over me over the last months. And a certain hope and ever-increasing joy at the reality of eternity. He has lifted my eyes to His purposes in the heavens.

How is it that joy inexpressible goes hand-in-hand with adversity? This is upside-down.

He’s bending low to watch the crayfish at his toes and he calls for me to come look. Then he wonders how far his shoe will float down the river and he lets it go and watches it float and bob.

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Two and a half months ago I heard that “C” word from a doctor – the one no one wants to hear. One surgery and several tests later I still wait to hear if the cancer is completely gone.

But God’s grace has taught me to choose faith over fear. And really none of knows the future. And Christ could come back tomorrow, making a future with cancer completely irrelevant. There is peace in the waiting.

Who would have thought that grace shines brighter against the dark pain of adversity? We would never have chosen trails to be the primary instrument in the Redeemer’s hand to transform us into Christ’s image – and yet this is the way of wisdom.

She’s laughing and splashing, stirring up the muddy bottom, and calls for me to watch her.

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As we step from one day to the next –  through one difficulty to the next – we are forever marked by His grace. Rivers of grace.

Do you have eyes to see His gifts of grace in the midst of your own trials?

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Experiencing and Counting the Ways He Loves

After we sat in rapt amazement at his God-given gift of music and his compelling plea to move us to compassion, the pastor took the stage.

He spoke about the love of God straight from the book of Ephesians.

In this passage Paul is down on his knees praying fervently that the church in Ephesus would not only understand, but also experience the love of God.

He says, “Some people know about God, but have never experienced His love.”

I think about the difference between an intellectual understanding of God’s love and actually living in the absolute awareness of it each day. I think about the gifts He gives as evidence of His love – the small ways in which He blesses us daily.

Count the ways He loves

So today I’m counting the ways He loves – the evidence of His blessing in my life – the ways I’ve experienced His love and grace today:

1.  Muddy toes and knees and chasing a slippery frog and their squeals of delight and the simple pleasure of a shallow creek.

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2.  Spontaneous fun.

3.  An invite from a kind stranger and watching them dive and splash.

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4.  A reminder to “seek His kingdom first” today and thinking about the eternal implications of this day.

5.  Strawberries turned to sugary jam.

6.  When he calls from across the miles and describes the ocean and mountains and tells me he wishes I was there with him.

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7.  This period of waiting for results and the opportunity to trust and rest in His loving plan.

These gifts are blessings – evidences of His love. But we see the love of God most acutely in the cross of Christ. Love reached down to save humanity drowning in their own sin. Love reached across racial, gender, and economic divisions and invited all to come. Love reached up and ascended and promised glory beyond glory to us who believe.

Move through this day knowing you are loved!

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