Thursday, October 19, 2017

Think on These Things

The ease and speed of communication are wonderful things. When my daughter went on a trip this summer, I could track her flights in real time and expect an email on her arrival. There was no waiting for weeks on end for a letter assuring me she had safely crossed the ocean. Just a few clicks was all it took. But this ease and speed of communication have a downside.

There are times when it seems as though all the bad news in the world comes scrolling across my screen. Tragedies both natural and instigated by man seem to pile on top of one another until it is overwhelming. When a particular story or issue strikes a chord, my heart aches, and I want to do something about it. But situations are too big and attitudes too entrenched for one woman to make that much of difference, which can lead to discouragement and even cynicism. I've been feeling this as of late, which is why my pastor's sermon on Philippians 4 was very timely.

Given human nature and the state of the world, joy isn't my normal default nor is it something I easily slide into. Joy in the Lord needs to be pursued intentionally, and one way is described in verse 8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8 (KJV)
This is more than avoiding the bad like an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand in denial. I've tried that, not literally, but I could only keep but so much at bay. This involves actively seeking  the good, which is also more than the power of positive thinking.

If anyone was a realist, the Apostle Paul was. He had no illusions about his circumstances. He was in prison. He fully expected to die a martyr's death. He was deeply concerned that the believers in Asia minor would remain steadfast in the face of increasing persecution. But even in his incarcerated state, which would have been horrific by today's standards, Paul found true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and good things to think upon. And God has given His people these joy-producing things to think on today.

Just consider these verses in Philippians (NASB):
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 1:6
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 1:12-14
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 2:9-11
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 3:20-21
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 4:6-7
These are words of assurance and hope that are worth clinging to when the world seems so dark. And these are only a few verses from just one book. How much more in the whole counsel of God! 

While it is vital for me to "think on these things" as an individual, the benefit is multiplied in community. For example, my small group met and discussed the sermon on joy. One young sister, more than 40 years younger than me, shared how this sermon seemed tailor-made for the challenges she has been facing in a new school. But this circumstance has also driven her to  pray, seek out other believers, and look for gospel opportunities. I think everyone in the room was moved by her testimony, and we left that evening praising God because we could share "these things" together.

There are still times when I get stirred up and need to deliberately step away from the endless media stream of what is wrong with the world. Yesterday in fact. But stepping away doesn't mean I stop caring. Rather it gives me the opportunity to actively seek the good as I take my burdens and prayers to the One who is perfectly just, righteous, and compassionate. The One who holds the world together and governs its events. And the One who is coming again. 

"if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have a new winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Closer Than a Sister by Christina Fox.
We had 86 entries, and Marilyn C. won the random draw!

Thanks to all for your continued interest in our blog!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Hole in the World

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.

The night my husband died, these words from the song by the Eagles kept running through my head. His death left a big hole that will be forever unfilled, at least in this life.

He left a young son to grow through his teen years without a father, and believe me, every teen boy needs a dad. My youngest son has an empty spot, a hole, where a dad should be, and he will always feel it. I know this because my husband also had a hole, one left by his own father who died when he was a child. He always longed for something he didn't have.

But the hole in the world is bigger than the empty spot left when a son loses his dad, although there’s nothing like the death of someone you need and love to reveal the all-encompassing hole—the big hole made up of all the smaller holes. The hole is bigger, even, than the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack the song was written for, and it's not just there tonight, but always.

When I was younger, I wanted to believe my story would start with “once upon a time” and end with “they lived happily ever after,” but even then, deep down, I knew that none of this world’s true stories are fairy tales. At some point, we all realize that even as we struggle to gain, we are not even maintaining. We strive for stability, but things keep changing, and not for the better. We build buffers against the unexpected, but they are never as strong as we imagine, and we are always one disaster away from losing everything.

Hurricanes come, and fires and earthquakes and floods and debilitating diseases. Evil people harm others in acts of shocking cruelty. Worst of all, death is inevitable, for ourselves and for everyone we love. We live our lives fearing future losses and grieving past ones.

Have you thought about why Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11)? We know he planned to raise him: “I go,” he said, “to awaken him.” Yet he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” when he saw Mary and the others weeping. He wept, I suppose, in sympathy for them, yet he knew their bereavement would be short-lived. In just moments, they would be celebrating like never before. Do you think he wept because he knew that however brief their sorrow this time round, and however joyful the reunion, Lazarus would die again? Their sorrow would return, inescapably, over and over for the rest of their lives. Did Jesus weep because of the hole in the world?

Still, Lazarus and his sisters had hope for the future, and so can we. The one who raised Lazarus has already defeated death, and one day all those who believe in him will have their own resurrection. One day creation will have it’s redemption and everything wrong will be made right. No more hole, not because the world is patched up, but because the world is made new.

But in the meantime, life is painful. The hole is everywhere; we can't ignore it. We grieve, not like those who have no hope, but we still grieve.

Jesus, the one who defeated death, wept in the face of it. We can't do better than Jesus.

This is an edited version of post I wrote 10 years ago. It seemed appropriate to repost it now.