Fostering Hope: "You Can't Scare Me with Heaven!"

Last month, a new baby was born into my world of joys, and her parents named her “Hope.” Don’t you love it?! When was the last time you met someone with such an uplifting name? I think we’re living in a world that’s in desperate need of hope. Yesterday I hoped to sit with two different friends (coincidentally at the same hospital and close in time!) while their spouses had surgery to have tumors removed. (Although, I couldn’t find one of them! 😦 ) One is about my age, so in a sense having a tumor isn’t out of the range of normal possibilities (albeit still frightening), but the other person is a young woman who is like a spiritual daughter to me . . . so “way too young” (at least in my mind) to be going through what might be a life-threatening medical issue.

Last Sunday Alan and I went Northridge Church with our daughter Kathy and her family. As always, we heard an excellent message from their lead pastor, Brad Powell. Their current series is about going back to Square One in our lives, and this week’s topic was “Hope.”

Brad reminded us that Jesus Christ is our only hope, and He alone has the power to forgive and redeem our past, provide eternal purpose and power in the present, and guarantee the promise of resurrection and eternal life after death. If you are not a Christian, then feel free to disagree and tell me if you’ve found something that meets these needs in your life even better . . . but for me, I totally agreed with Brad’s assessment!

Near the end of the message, Brad shared a wonderful story about his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had survived a lot of hard things in his life, so even though he was given a very poor prognosis, he lived in hope, and he lived much longer than expected! However, eventually it was obvious that he was dying and there was no hope of his surviving much longer. Brad’s father went from active to passive and died within a few days. All hope for his survival was gone, and he had no interest in prolonging his death.

But, not all hope was gone. Brad’s father still retained a bright hope for life after death, and when Brad went to visit, lamenting the fact that his father was dying, his dad was still able to manage a twinkle: “You can’t scare me with heaven!” No, death was not scary to Brad’s father, because he knew that the death of his physical body was just the segue to heaven and being in the presence of Christ forever! “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Are you scared of death? I’m not. (Pain and the process . . . yes, but not my body being dead.) If you believe in Jesus, you needn’t be afraid of dying, and I hope nobody can scare you with the prospects of your going to heaven!!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).

(P.S.—If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die but would like to know, please click on the “Coming to Christ” icon at the top of this page. It will take you to a place that explains how to enter into a covenant with God whereby you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die.)

Thoughts on Retirement, Hope, Love, and Plucking Thorns

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day, and this week Alan and I are celebrating our 47th anniversary! In addition, we will both be turning 70 this year. Even though we are staring down inevitable retirement before too long, we are both feeling very vivacious and so are full of hope that there will be “life after retirement” and a future that will include all the things my father used to say were the essential ingredients for “the good life of all VIPS” (that’s all of us) . . . that our lives should be Varied, Integrated, Productive, and Social.

My father was not a professing Christian at that point in his life, so if I were making my own personal statement, I would definitely want God in the spotlight, but I do think Dad’s points are well taken. I would love to continue to be able to enjoy variety, integrity/integration, productivity, and social interaction, and in all the research studies, those qualities do come out as critical to emotional well-being and even longevity.

However, I have known more than a few loved ones (Alan’s father being one) who barely survived his retirement before being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am seeing this more and more often, and it definitely makes me feel like I’m going to be holding my breath very tightly when we jump off the end of the retirement diving board!

One dear friend, whom I admire greatly, is struggling with her own beloved husband, who had a fabulous career and was always a rock in her life . . . but is now showing undeniable symptoms of memory loss just a few years post retirement. As we Boomers begin to time out, we find ourselves grieving losses. Our own. Those of our beloved spouses and friends. 😦 I don’t mean to discourage anyone who’s looking forward to retirement. Alan’s older brother, and my two older brothers have all retired and are aging extremely well, so it can be done! However, I want to share this timely and tender consolation from a devotional my friend shared with me:

A Valentine Devotion on the Cycles of Life
I Corinthians 13:7 NIV
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“Years ago I copied this paragraph from George Matheson’s book published in 1909, The Representative Men of the New Testament. He writes that we can see these same cycles in romantic love [as in the cycles of life]. It’s an old book and I loved this paragraph for its poetry and imagery more than for its realism. Today I see its realism. I will read it as my conclusion: ‘What is the common process of love’s enlargement? Take a human love; take what we generally term romantic love. What are the stages through which it is wont to pass? I think there are four. At first it is a hope – something to be realized tomorrow. Then it is a present possession but reserved as yet only for garden hours when we are free from the bustle of the crowd. By and by its range is widened – it becomes a stimulus for the great duties of life; it comes out from the garden into the city; it nerves to do and to bear. At last it reaches its climax – it comes down to trifles. It glorifies the commonplace; it finds sermons in stones and sonnets in the dust. Little things are magnified; unromantic things are glorified. We do prosaic work. We perform menial duties. We go through cheerful drudgery. We pluck thorns.'”

Dear Judy

Dear Judy,

Alan and I watched the new movie about your life, and the acting was brilliant, but it broke our hearts.

How dare anyone force a child to work 18-hour days? Where were your parents, and why didn’t they protect you from all the oppression and intimidation you suffered while growing up as a child star?

Getting you hooked on prescription medications as a child was criminal. I think today such injustice would be grounds for jail sentences . . . if people found out and cared enough.

Meanwhile, your greedy “handlers,” who were getting rich from your beauty and talent, continued to oppress you, robbing you of the pleasures of a normal childhood.

And, it didn’t stop when you grew up.

Hooked and confused, you continued to sing and dance to the tunes of the world that made you rich and famous . . . and continued your misery.

You couldn’t resist the roar of applause and approval. (Who could?) Always looking for love— but finding no one who truly cared for you as much as they cared for your glamour.

And, who could resist the temptation to want you for your face and fortune?

No, you couldn’t resist the lure of fame and fortune, even though it destroyed you and your attempts at marriage.

Five husbands and three children later, you discovered to your horror that you had given up—not only your childhood, but your adulthood, your marriages, your hope of family and love—and even your personhood.

What a tragic end for someone who started out with so much greatness and potential!

My heart grieves for you,
Kathi

. . . You know, the world isn’t kind. People are selfish by nature. I’m sure all of us could relate story after story of heartache and ruin happening today in the lives of those around us. Not just “somewhere over the rainbow” or “out there,” but right here, close in our hearts and in the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. God has given each of us the freedom to choose how we will live, but—just like Judy—we often choose very destructive habits and passions over what we know to be right and good. Yes, many are abused as children which causes disabilities and confusion, but the choices we make as adults are our own, and we are responsible for those decisions.

Don’t ever buy the line that God will never give us more than we can take. That’s not in the Bible, and it’s patently untrue. We do get into situations that we can’t handle on our own. But, I believe God allows the overwhelming circumstances so that we will be driven to Him for help, and He promises that He will rescue those who seek him with all their hearts.

Was there never a time in Judy’s life when she heard the gospel? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God promises that those who trust in Him will be provided a way of escape, but it’s up to us to take it!

Do you feel overwhelmed, and like your life is so messed up that there’s no hope of recovery? Do you find yourself not believing it possible to overcome all the pain and suffering you’re been facing everyday? “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?” (Psalm 4:6a). I have been really struck by this verse of late. There is so much trouble in the world that it’s tempting to look at the evil and miss all the good! But, then the psalmist goes on with a request: “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” And, when we ask, He answers.

For instance, I know another Judy. This lady’s husband and only son are alcoholics, but she is radiant and happy. Truly, I sometimes wonder how she does it, but I know it’s supernatural grace! I know someone who was badly abused by her step-father as a child but now is a vibrant and deeply compassionate young woman, walking in freedom and light. She has experienced the reality of “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Psalm 34:5). I knew a woman whose mother died when she was a toddler. She grew up in abject poverty, was raped while serving in the military as a nurse, and married a man who was repeatedly unfaithful. Still, this magnificent woman chose over and over again to trust the Lord, to obey His Word, and to walk in love. She has been a source of inspiration and blessing to all who knew her.

No matter what our background or our present circumstances, we can choose to do what is right and good. We can choose—one choice at a time, one day at a time—to beg God for grace to make the right choice and to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:1-8)

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
(—Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, Public Domain)

  1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There’s light for a look at the Savior,
    And life more abundant and free!
    • Refrain:
      Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
      Look full in His wonderful face,
      And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
      In the light of His glory and grace.
  2. Through death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
    For more than conqu’rors we are!
  3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
    Believe Him, and all will be well:
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!

Memorandum

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it,
when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).

Dealing with Tragic Loss

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming”—Helen Keller.

If you’re struggling with betrayal, abuse, or the loss of your spouse for any reason, you may be dreading the holidays rather than looking forward to them. Thanksgiving is just past, but we’re facing a month of holiday cheer that will be choked with tears for many lonely and hurting people, and if your heart is broken right now, I’d like to recommend He Left God Stayed. Annalee’s book records her journey from the devastation of being abandoned after twenty years of marriage to finding her way through the pain to wholeness . . . over the course of nearly twenty years, learning to lean on the everlasting arms of her Lord and God.

At first I read the book on the recommendation of a girlfriend who’s had a similar experience on the theory that it might be inspirational for any of my readers who are living through heartbreak, but I quickly realized this book is full of rich insights for all of us. Each chapter begins with some of her story but ends with “insights to grow by” and a prayer. I am not a fiction reader, but Annalee’s book became as fascinating to me as the page-turner mysteries that so engage my husband!

By the time I finished, I had been challenged in many areas personally, especially in reflecting on my own life, learning more about forgiveness, growing in submission to God, and desiring to be more compassionate as a Church toward those who’ve been abandoned. I’m not charismatic, but I appreciated reading about Annalee’s experiences. Her faith is sincere and her walk with God in many ways very like my own. Besides all that, I’ve ended up with three new books to read, based on insights she’s gleaned from them. It reminds me of the good ole days of grad school when every worthwhile research paper needed to end up providing new leads for further study!

To bless you with some bits of wisdom from her book, and possibly to whet your appetite for more, let me share a few favorite quotes:

“He [God] wanted to heal me and replace the anger with forgiveness, the fear with peace, and the shame with joy.”

“I needed to mature and respond, rather than react, to life’s circumstances. Learning to walk the road to wholeness was scary—it felt so unfamiliar.”

“The Holy Spirit wants to reveal the hidden things in our lives that keep us from being free to love and serve God with our whole being.”

“Praise is more spontaneous when things go right; but it is more precious when things go wrong” (—Author unknown).

“Praise was an important key to finding the life I’d longed for—a life free of fear, anger and shame.”

“When we are broken, we have to make a choice. Our way, or God’s way. We can turn our back on Him, or surrender everything to Him.”

“Brokenness is not the opposite of wholeness; it is the continuing precondition for it” (—Roberta Hestenes, quoted on p. 89).

“Forgiveness is not an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. If we fail to forgive, it affects our relationship with God and interferes with our spiritual growth . . . Forgiveness is for us. It’s to help us move forward and choose to live instead of staying stuck in the past with all of its pain.”

“Don’t be afraid of the future. God is already there” (—Bill Gothard).

“If you do God’s work, God’s way, God will provide” (—James Hudson Taylor).

“You have as much right to believe what you believe, as others have to believe what they believe” (Annalee’s mother).

“It’s everybody’s business if you sin. When you’re tempted to sin, ask yourself what it will cost you. . . It is your family’s business if you sin . . . It’s the church’s business . . . it’s the world’s business” (—Dr. Crabtree, speaking at Annalee’s ordination). He also said, “Allow God to interrupt your agenda with glorious surprises.”

From one of her prayers: “Help us to forgive those who have done evil acts against us and forgive those who weren’t able to protect us. Reveal to us those whom we need to forgive. We release anything from our past that would delay the bright future You have planned for us. Please give us the grace to walk in your ways and the courage to move forward in life.”

“My life was fuller than it would have been without the suffering . . . I had become what God intended for me to become. Instead of merely surviving, I had thrived. And so can you.”

“For your Maker is your Husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (—Isaiah 54:5).

P.S. —He Left God Stayed is available on Amazon, but Annalee will send it to you at a discount if you contact here personally between now and December 8 at: rev.annalee.davis@gmail.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (58): Give Up Your Doubts!

This has been a really difficult week. The father-in-law of one of my sons “died”—from our perspective here on earth, although I am confident that he has been safely birthed into heaven. As Tony said before he left, “I know where I’m going, and I know God does all things well. It’s just hard to get from here to there.” He is now there! How do I know? Because he believed: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:8-11). Tony found and walked the path of life, and now he is experiencing the fullness of joy and eternal pleasures of heaven.

Do you believe in heaven? Probably the most profound questions every person ponders while battling earth’s final headmaster go something like this: “Is there an afterlife? If there is, what’s it like? What will happen to me after I die?” Each of us has to grapple with these enigmas for ourselves. Atheists say there simply is no afterlife, but I’ve heard there are no atheists in foxholes, and I think the contractions we feel as the womb of death seeks to expel us must be more terrifying than any other experience on earth.

I don’t know what you believe about life after death, but may I share with you what the Bible teaches in case you don’t know or haven’t yet decided what to believe? Jesus taught that there is life after death, and that He, Himself, is the way to get to heaven after we die: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).

So simple, but not easy for adults who have spent their lives trying to be good and find their own way, often without even recognizing their need for a Savior. God gave us the Mosaic Law to test us, and without exception, we all fail. We are incapable of being perfect, of always making the right choices, or of always wanting to be good! Jesus came to earth as God incarnate (“in the flesh,” as a man), lived a sinless life, and died in our place as the perfect Lamb-of-God sacrifice. We don’t have to spend our lives trying to be good enough. We’ll never be “good enough,” but Jesus was. All God asks is that we acknowledge our sinfulness and accept Jesus as our Lord (“master”) and Savior, asking Him to make us new (“born again”—reborn spiritually as a child of God).

Where are you on your journey of faith? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? Is it possible that you don’t want anybody becoming your “master” or telling you what to do? But, do you want to go to heaven? If so, please don’t doubt the goodness and love of God! Jesus won’t make you miserable if you surrender your heart to Him. He loves you! He wants you to live a holy (which will make you happy) life here on earth and live forever in heaven with Him.

Have you asked Jesus to become your Savior and Lord, and to bring you safely home to heaven when you die? Jesus wants us to stop worrying about this life—even the most basic aspects of how to provide for ourselves, like food and drink. Jesus invites us to accept his invitation and become part of his “bride,” his Church. Just as a man cares for his wife, Jesus will care for us if we’re willing to entrust our lives fully to him.

Are you still doubtful? Afraid? Too proud to open your eyes and see Love staring you in the face? Death will indeed search for and destroy our bodies, but even the final headmaster has a Master. . . the God of Love who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If you’re not yet a believer, I beg you to give up your doubts and believe! If you are a believer—well, let’s encourage one another. Let’s not “be ye of doubtful mind” about anything. As we keep our hand in His, Jesus will take care of us, even on our deathbeds. He will provide for us, so that even though it’s the hardest thing on earth to get from here to there, we can have every confidence that we’ll be safely birthed from this life to the next!

Text for today’s meditation: Luke 12:23, “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”

(Photo credit: “Come Follow Me” was painted by Yongsung and used by permission of http://Havenlight.com)

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).