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Living For Eternity

SOMETIMES LIFE HURTS. That’s definitely been true in my life during the last fourteen months. First, we lost our special-needs son David, then I found myself dealing with a long list of new health issues that seemed to have no simple solutions. During such times, it’s easy to become disheartened.

As I was praying this morning about this Wednesday’s RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE post, one of the first books we studied in God-Living Girls came to mind. Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, is the life story of Sara Frankl, co-written by Mary Carver.

Sara Frankl knew what it was to live with chronic pain. As a young woman, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease and form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can also attack other joints. As Sara’s disease progressed it became clear that her health was not going to get better.

The pain and loss could have easily become Sara’s primary focus, but she decided this wasn’t how she wanted to live. Sara chose to place her trust in a God Who is good all the time and to find hope and purpose in the midst of the pain. She chose joy, not happiness which she described as being “flimsy as a shirt blowing on a line in the breeze.” She chose “true heart joy, which sustains through obstacles, disease, death.” She lived with an “unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Sara lived with relentless pain, but she chose to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. She believed God had a purpose for her illness or He would have taken it away. And she accepted God’s plan, though it was difficult, and focused on what God wanted to do through her life. She wrote, “It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention and enjoy the rainbows.”

Sara made it her goal to live the best life she could with what she had been given. She knew it wouldn’t be the life she had expected to live before this disease touched her life, but accepted it as the one God meant for her to live. Though Sara may never have used the term RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE, that’s how she lived.

Sara Frankl came up with six life goals which she wrote on her wall. They were a constant reminder of what was most important to her and they became the motivation for every choice she made.

As we focus this year on reclaiming what chronic illness has stolen from our lives, I felt Sara’s Life Goals would be a good launching pad for each of us to come up with our own life goals as we press on to live in the fullness of what God has in mind for our lives. The following verses encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward fulfilling the goals God has set before us.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sara’s Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can live with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have, not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

Now, it’s your turn. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you will one day stand in His presence. Let’s look beyond our earthly desires for a while and focus on eternity. What are the goals you hope to fulfill before you see Jesus face-to-face? What principles do you go back to over and over again to guide your decisions? Share some of your personal life goals with us in the comments.

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When I Surrender, I Worship

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans‬ ‭12:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we began our study on surrender, Romans 12:1 was one of the first Scriptures we studied. Now that we are coming to the end of our study, we go back to this important verse.

Laura says, “Considering all that Christ has done for us – making us right with God by his atoning death, freeing us from the penalty and power of sin, lavishing us with his grace – how should we respond?

After eleven chapters full of rich truths that are the foundation of our faith in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul begins chapter 12 of Romans with his answer to this question. How should we respond to the grace and mercy of God? The only appropriate response is found in surrender, in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul says, this “is your spiritual worship.

We don’t surrender our lives to God to gain his favor. We offer ourselves to him in response to the favor he has already freely shown us because of the saving work of Jesus.

A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF WORSHIP
Worship is not an emotional response, though often emotions may be a part of it. Worship is not singing songs of praise, though singing is often a part of it. True worship is a choice to respond to God in gratitude and praise for who He is and for all He has done for us.

True worship, according to Romans 12:1, is presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Surrender is the main requirement for worship. And worship is to be constant because it is an expression of God’s worth, which never changes, even when our circumstances and emotions fluctuate from day to day.

Laura shares a feeling of apprehension when she first began to understand the link between surrender and worship. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. But none of us are holy. Even our best attempts at surrender are imperfect.

Laura says, “I can’t present myself as a holy and blameless sacrifice on the basis of my track record. But I can present myself to God as holy and blameless based on his mercy!” When God looks at us he doesn’t see our self-centeredness and failures. He sees in us the righteousness of Jesus.

As we bring this study to a close today and tomorrow, let’s spend some timBlamelesse in thanksgiving and praise. And to get us started, I want to share the chorus of a song written by Laura Story reminding us this life we have is no longer ours to do with as we please.

Not My Life

This is not my life
It is Yours, it is Yours
This is not my heart
It is Yours, it is Yours
I surrender all I am
Place my life into Your hands
Jesus, I am Yours
I am Yours

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Jesus: Our Example of Surrender

This week, we are coming to the end of our study of I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life, by Laura Story.

Christian author Katherine J Walden said concerning surrender:

“The enemy knows that without surrender, we will never experience the freedom that God offers us. Without surrender, we will remain spiritually malnourished, ill and confused. Without surrender, our foxholes become prisons of the enemy’s making. Our lack of full surrender limits God’s ability to both work in our lives and through our lives.

“God’s call to surrender is not an intimidating, angry bark heard from the other side of a battlefield. God’s invitation to surrender is expressed through the example of his Son, Jesus, as described in Philippians 2:5-11.”

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The call to surrender is a call to live like Jesus lived. He willingly took on human flesh, taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on the Cross of Calvary. His choice to always do whatever his heavenly Father asked enabled him to be victorious.

The decision to live a lifestyle of surrender to God can simply be described as following Jesus. And by making this choice, we are set free to live in the freedom God offers us, to walk in the victory he gained. 

A lifestyle of surrender is also a life of putting others before ourselves. As Laura Story says,  surrender has a “ripple effect.” If you’ve ever thrown a stone in the water, you’ve noticed the ripple effect – with concentric circles going out from the place of contact. How we live matters, not only in our personal lives but also in the lives of those around us. As we follow Jesus’ example, we aren’t the only ones who are changed.

Philippians 2:5 mentions that the mindset of Christ Jesus is to make a difference in our relationships with one another. And to understand more clearly what that means, we just need to look at the two verses right before this passage about the mindset of Jesus.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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I wanted to close today with Laura Story’s latest song, one that reminds us of the victory that Jesus won on our behalf. As she says, “Our fears and our failures hang dead on the cross.” And because we were crucified with him, we are able to share in His life and His victory.  Following Jesus is choosing the lifestyle he lived, a life of daily surrender to the will of God. And doing so means sharing in His victory, which includes all of the benefits that are a part of that.

 

Peace or Anxiety – You Choose!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When the apostle Paul wrote these familiar words, he was nearing the end of his two years of house arrest in Rome, which ended with his death as a martyr.  Based on a vision in which the Lord stood near Paul and told him he must testify in Rome (Acts‬ ‭23:11‬), Paul’s life took a drastic turn. When he testified in Jerusalem before King Agrippa, Paul appealed to Caesar and was escorted to Rome under armed guard. The apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life chained‬ to a Roman guard, but they were not wasted years. During that time, he wrote the books of the New Testament that we now know as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, in addition to proclaiming the kingdom of God and boldly teaching all who came to see him about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I did a study of the book of Acts earlier this year, reading the stories of Paul, Peter and the other apostles, their surrender to the revealed will of God, regardless of the personal cost involved, was something that stood out to me.  These leaders of the early church had a clear understanding of the subject of surrender, and they lived it out in their daily lives.

But Paul and the other apostles were also fallible humans, just like we are. We tend to put these men up on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder if before the apostle Paul wrote these words that teach us how to overcome anxiety he lived them out. The circumstances he faced certainly could have caused anxiety. I suspect Paul learned through personal experience how to replace anxious thoughts with the peace of God. And then he put what he had applied in his own life in writing, leaving us clear instructions on how we overcome anxiety.

When I saw Philippians 4:6-7 was one of the three focus Scriptures for this first week of our I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life Bible study, my first reaction was to wonder what these verses have to do with surrender. But as I’ve faced some circumstances that have caused some fear and anxiety about what lies ahead, I’m beginning to look at Philippians 4:6 through a different lens. The words “in every situation” stand out to me. I don’t know what your “every situation” might include, but mine right now feels a little scary.

Since all the options for treating the recent changes in my left knee have led to dead ends, I don’t know what lies ahead. Yes, I know I need to pray, but I’m having a little trouble with the specific requests since at this point I can’t see God’s plan. I’ve been taking time daily to express thankfulness to the Lord, but I can’t honestly say I’m walking in the peace of God. So how do we get to that place when we know something is wrong but we are powerless to change it? When we see no way out of our situation and don’t know what God is doing?

Laura Story tells of struggling with this when she was expecting their youngest son. After several normal ultrasounds, one wasn’t. Something was wrong, and she experienced anxiety about what was ahead. She says, “Now I knew something would be wrong, and I was powerless to change it. What needed to change most was me.”

She and Martin went to talk with their good friend and pastor, Bill. His advice was that this was a time they needed to wait on the Lord.

Laura agreed that she needed to wait on God, but immediately asked, “What steps do I need to take to do that?”

Bill’s answer was simple. “Wait is wait. There are no steps. You just surrender. And then you sit tight.”

When we face a situation that we are powerless to control and God hasn’t given us understanding of what lies ahead, anxiety may be our reaction. So what do we do in this situation? I’ll share how I usually handle this type of anxiety.

  • Surrender is the first step. Turn the reins over to God. He knows the end from the beginning, and He has the power to bring good out of even those situations that have our emotions in turmoil. Our first prayer is a prayer of surrender
  • Be still and remember He is God. He is still in control. Remember your situation isn’t too big for Him to handle.
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word – read it, write it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it.
  • Then wait. Wait on God and keep waiting until He reveals a step you need to take or your situation changes. Don’t jump ahead of Him, but when He speaks be quick to obey.
  • Finally, give thanks that He is God and in control of your circumstances. Thank Him for the things He is teaching you though this situation, for the work He is doing in your life as you wait on Him.

Situations that we are powerless to control are NOT beyond God’s control. Surrender to His plan, draw close to Him, and wait expectantly for Him to work. Your circumstances may not change overnight, but you will begin to change.

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What Is Surrender Anyway?

For the next five week’s, I’m going through a Faithgateway Online Bible study on Christian worship leader and recording artist Laura Story’s newest book, I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life. My normal Tuesday and Thursday posts will be centered on the teaching in this book and the related videos and study guide.

The title for this week’s study: “What is Surrender Anyway?” So today’s post is to make sure we understand the true meaning of surrender.

Surrender is basically a military term. It is what an army does when it realizes their opposing army is going to be the victor and they lay down their arms and give up their rights to the conqueror.

This world is a battlefield. Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has ignored and rebelled against our Creator and chosen to walk according to our own desires. In essence, we have joined sides with Satan, who has been called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

There’s one major problem with that – it puts us on the losing side of the battle. Satan hasn’t yet been totally stripped of his power, but he has been defeated by our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The battle was won when Jesus became the spotless Lamb of God, died for our sin and rose again.

If you are a Christian, if you have accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the full payment for your sin, you did so by surrendering to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, revealing the truth to you that you needed a Savior. But surrendering to God doesn’t end when we are born again and experience new life. That is simply the beginning. 

In simple terms, surrender is turning the control of my life over to God. Surrendering to God is recognizing His authority in my life and choosing His will over my own. Surrender is not meant to be a one-time decision for a Christian. It is meant to be a daily lifestlyle. It is laying down our desires in order to make pleasing God our top priority. As Laura Story says in our study guide, “Surrendering to God’s will is a learned skill that takes a lifetime to develop.”

The actual word surrender is not used in most translations of the Bible. But the concept of surrender is found throughout both the Old and New Testament. 

  • Surrender is submitting to the Lord. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 
  • Surrender is recognizing the truth of Galatians 2:20, which says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 
  • Surrender is being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. It is believing and living according to Luke 9:23-24, which says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
  • Surrender begins with presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, as Romans 12:1-2 tells us to do, the first prerequisite of knowing and doing the will of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
  • Surrender is, as Ephesians 6:6 says, “doing the will of God from the heart.” Sometimes the will of God is clearly stated in Scripture, but often this isn’t true. It begins with us coming to the Lord in prayer and asking, “Lord, what is Your plan in this situation?” And then waiting patiently until we receive an answer and walking in obedience to the revealed will of God.
  • Surrender is yielding to the hands of God as He shapes us into a vessel to bring Him glory. It is making ourselves willing to be molded into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Remember, surrender is a daily choice. It is to choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of our lives, seeking His will in every circumstance that we face. It is being who God created us to be.

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The theme song for the “I Give Up” Bible study.

 

 

 

 

Never Alone: Help for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34 is one of my favorite Psalms, from it’s opening verses that encourage us to “bless the Lord at all times,” to its reminder in verse 8 to ”taste and see that the Lord is good” this is one Psalm I go back to frequently when I am needing to shift my focus off of my sometimes overwhelming circumstances and on to my God who rules over everything that touches my life.

Since last November, when we lost our son David, verse 18, today’s I Am Not Alone verse, has also become a favorite. Because suddenly, I knew what it was to walk around daily with a broken heart.

God has never promised His people that we won’t experience a broken heart. Life is full of circumstances that cause us to feel like our hearts are being crushed to the point that the thought of facing another day seems beyond our ability. The death of a loved one, a miscarriage ending a long-awaited pregnancy, a devastating diagnosis such as cancer, broken bodies, dreams and relationships – all those and many other things can result in a broken heart that makes it difficult for us to keep going.

So where is God in the midst of circumstances that break our heart? What does He do to help us through such times? I am currently reading a recently published book by Elisabeth Elliot, a book based on one the her final teaching series before dementia took her memories and finally her life, entitled “Suffering Is Never For Nothing.” In a chapter called “Acceptance,” she spoke of the need for accepting the painful circumstances God allows to touch our lives and moving forward.

Elisabeth Elliot said, even in circumstances that crush our hearts, “We’re not adrift in chaos. We’re held in the everlasting arms. And therefore, and this makes a difference, we can be at peace and we can accept. We can say yes, Lord, I’ll take it.”

And she goes on to say, acceptance is possible because suffering is never for nothing. God is at work in our lives during times of suffering. We may have many questions, whys that He does not answer. But there is one thing we can be confident God will do during those times when life leaves us brokenhearted. He gives us Himself, His sustaining presence that gives us peace that passes understanding.

As I read these words spoken by one who was well acquainted with grief, I was comforted. Because even now, nine months after the loss of our precious son, I had to acknowledge that was exactly what God did in the days following that devastating loss. I cried out to Him for help, and His presence sustained me through the tears.

On this Thankful Thursday, I don’t know what you are currently walking through. You may be facing a situation that has you feeling crushed and unable to move on. Or you may simply be feeling stretched emotionally by the daily challenges of life. But in every situation we face in this life, if we cry out to Him God answers by giving us Himself. When we walk through difficult seasons, we can be assured that the Lord will never leave or forsake us, that He will walk at our side and sustain us by His presence. And that’s a good reason to give Him thanks!

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Refined – Not Defined – By Trials

Last Thursday, I shared an important lesson God reminded me of as I was reading the book I Still Believe, an autobiography written by Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp. Before I put this book aside, I wanted to share another truth that I learned while reading this book. It has to do with the purpose of trials in our lives.

“The Word of God never promises that we won’t go through trials. Actually, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we will go through them. In fact, James exhorts us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ We aren’t guaranteed a perfect life. We’re going to struggle and endure hardships.”

But that’s not the end of the message. Jeremy continues:

“And yet God does promise that in our trials, He will stand right next to us and be there every moment. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us, to breathe life into us and heal our hearts.”

But honestly, the statement that touched the deepest place in my heart from this book was the following one. Frankly, it opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t seen before, the difference between being refined by our trials and being defined by the difficult circumstances God allows to touch our lives. One is a part of the plan of God in allowing suffering in our lives on this earth, the other was never meant to be.

“What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me – this is not who I am, ‘the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because if that’- but it has refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.”

As many of you know, we lost our thirty-four year old special needs son David last November. And after his death, one of my biggest struggles was feeling like I’d lost a major part of who I was. Suddenly, I was no longer the mother of a child with special needs. For thirty-four years, my life (and my husband’s as well) had centered around meeting David’s extensive medical needs. When that was no longer my responsibility, I felt lost.

Until I read the above quote, I really didn’t understand I had been allowing the suffering in my life to define me, to determine how I saw myself. Trials that don’t just come for a short time and then go away can do that if we aren’t careful. But I was not primarily the mother of a child with special needs. My identity is found in Christ and my relationship with Him.

Yes, trials are a part of life on this earth. Yes, they refine us, changing us from within. But, no, the difficult circumstances we walk through are not meant to define who we are. Unfortunately, when trials drag on and on and on, they have the potential of doing just that. What we are walking through becomes so much a part of who we are that it can become how we see outselves, our identity.

Ladies who are reading this on our GLG page, remember your chronic illnesses do not define who you are. You are a child of God, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), who happens to have one or more chronic illness. If you are reading this on my personal blog, perhaps your prolonged trial is of a different kind, but the same lesson applies. Life on this earth and trials go together but the suffering we go through does not determine who we are.

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember our trials do refine us, but they don’t define us. We are God’s beloved children who will one day be whole, when we see Him face-to-face. Allow your trials to remind you of this truth, and look forward to that day when we will leave behind these broken bodies and live in the future God has promised us, when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation‬ ‭21:4‬ ‭ESV‬)‬