Heaven Is Our True Home – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 6

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences. 

                                          

Chapter 3: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU FIND YOUR TRUE HOME

Question #1: In what ways do you long for the kingdom of God and heaven to come?  Instead of talking about what you imagine will happen, talk about why you want it to happen.  Share reasons you have for anticipating the day when all will change for eternity.

Many people ask the question about “Why is there evil?”  Or more specifically, they ask “How can God be a God of love when so many bad things happen in this world?”  I recognize the significance of these questions, but I believe the focus is wrong.  When these questions are asked, the focus is very man-focused, or can I say “anthro-centric”.  The Bible makes it clear that God created mankind with freewill and they exercised it and rebelled.  That is the primary reason for the broken world that we live in.

When I look at the picture this way, it does break my heart to see all the suffering and sickness, disease and death we have in the world.  It is not easy to live in developing countries like I have and not be affected by the suffering that goes on all around us.  And it is for this very reason that I yearn for the Kingdom of God to be fully realized here on earth.

Scripture promises us that all of our suffering will one day be gone completely.  Revelation 21:4 says, “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  As someone who himself carries the burden of a muscle disease, I long for the day when not only will I not have pain, but I will be able to “run and not get weary, walk and not get faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Question #5: Why is it important that we not only enjoy the journey but also long for the destination of eternity with God?  How does this adjust the way we talk about “journey” and “destination” as Christians?

As I said in part one of this article, there is certainly a lot of beauty and good things in this world.  And there is no reason why we should not enjoy this world.  Isn’t it natural to want to take our family on a trip out to the mountains (that’s what I like) or to go swimming at a beautiful beach (that’s what my wife likes)?  Of course!  And it is good to want to share all of God’s glorious creation with those whom we love the most.

But let us remember that there is One whom we ought to love even more than our spouse; there is Someone who ought to be our closest most intimate Friend.  And that would be Jesus, our Lord and our Saviour.  So now let me extend my thought from above.  While we are on our journey through life here on earth, we can and need to share our joy with Jesus in our daily affairs.  But think about how much more special it will be to explore the universe and share that joy when we are with Him forever in heaven.

Everything that we thought was beautiful and glorious here and now will pale in comparison with how beautiful and glorious they will be in the new heaven and the new earth.  And we will have the privilege of sharing that joy and that experience with Jesus face-to-face.  Wow!!  I can hardly wait to go roam the galaxies with the Creator of it all.

Question #6: Describe how it might affect one’s life to believe there is “no more beyond” this world.  How should it change us to believe there is “more beyond”?

Paul said it very well in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 when he said, “And if Christ has not been raised [from the dead], your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep [i.e. “died”] in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  The entire Christian faith rests on this one central belief that Jesus died for our sins, but He also rose from the dead to prove He is God and can forgive us our sins and offer us the hope of life after death.

But if that is not true, then we will have lived a life of lies and we can only be thought of as fools.  If our belief is wrong, then all our self-sacrificing and serving others is pointless.  We might as well do as the agnostics and narcissists would do: “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  If there is no “life beyond”, then we might as well get all we can for ourselves while we still can.

But we have such good grounds to believe that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, that all of our sacrifice and service to others has meaning and purpose.  And in fact, knowing that all of us have such a short time to live here, and that an eternity awaits all of us, we ought to be even more concerned about the spiritual welfare of others before it is too late.  Therefore, believing there is “life beyond” becomes the motivation for evangelism.  Are you with me on this?

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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Faith In Spite Of Suffering

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Turning Suffering Into a Testimony

Sad as it is true, life is filled with pain.  Unfortunately, many crises in our lives are not of our own doing, but have come about simply out of the unfortunate circumstances of life.  At other times, our suffering does come at the hands of others and so we have no control when it strikes us.

One of my readers of “The Listening Post” has shared confidentially with me about how hard her life has been, but she has a great testimony of faith and trust in God.  It is her desire to have her testimony shared so that it can be of encouragement to others who may have gone through similar experiences.  I will call her Shelly for the sake of her privacy.  Let me summarize for you Shelly’s story:

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“When I was a little girl, my Mom gave me away.  I have been in Foster Homes and badly beaten. I had no one to care for me.  But through everything, God was there.  At age 3, my Dad got me back.  He worked in the coal mines.  He pulled me from a burning house.  I was almost killed in two house fires and a car wreck, but God was there.

“I grew to 6 years old and had to take care of my 2 year old sister.  I cooked and cleaned and had to learn on my own.  I had stayed with my cousins who were ages 13 and age 3.  This was the second house that caught fire.  My Dad came running up the street and pulled me out, but my two cousins did not make it out.  But God was there for me.

“In 1982, two days before my graduation from school, I was sexually assaulted.  I went to the Counsellor’s office who listened and she went to the principal and they helped.  I suffered a lot in that last week of June.  But God helped me through.  There was one woman who treated me like her daughter who helped me, and when I visited her one day, I saw the picture of her oldest son.  I fell in love and so the woman called him up and told him a Christian girl wanted to meet him. 

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“He came to see me, and we fell in love at first sight.  We went together for five months and in November we got married.  But then he got sick in January and went into a hospital.  It was snowing a lot and I had to thumb a ride to the hospital in the middle of that winder storm.  The snow was up to my knees.  But I kept my faith, and God took care of us.  I knew that He was with us. 

“My husband got well and came home from the hospital in March.  He got well, and I got pregnant and gave birth to a son on December 18.  We walked everywhere, going to the stores, and to the doctors, or wherever.  We lived in a small trailer.  In ’87 I became pregnant again, and then two weeks before time to give birth I was in a car wreck.  On May 6, I gave birth to a baby boy, but he died.  It took three doctors to bring him back to life.  God had his hand in it.  He was my miracle baby. 

“Jobs were hard to get so we moved a couple time.  My brother committed suicide, but before he did, he tried to kill me and my two sons.  God was our shield and protected us.  I had some more pregnancies after that time, another son in ’92, but then lost twin girls.  We had to move a lot across Texas for my husband to find different work.  God was there and helped him find work. 

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“We did go to one church while in one town in Texas.  My son got in trouble and went to jail for 6 years.  The church turned us away, but I still knew God was with us.  Then we found a good church in Waskom, Texas and we stayed with them and the town there for eight years.  I helped out in the church, I cleaned it and handed out cards and sent birthday and get well cards.  But then we got a letter from the city that put us out of our home and on to the streets.

“The trailers in this park were not moveable and the owners were selling the land where we rented.  They wanted to build on the land.  Our pastor tried everything he could to help us.  But none of the plans succeeded.  So our church gave us a going away party.  Well, a week before this my husband called his dad who found us a trailer to live in Charleston, West Virginia.  We did not have money to move.   But our church took up a collection and we got enough to make the move. 

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“We got there in November, but the trailer had no water or heat for one month.  But God was still there.  I still have my Lord and Savior.  We were there for one week and we were looking for a good church.  And God brought us to a wonderful church.  We went in and the next thing we knew the church welcomed us with open arms, as if they were waiting for us to arrive.  WOW!!  Our God is awesome. 

“Within a week I was going to the quilting ministry group.  The church loved us and they helped us with almost $500 so we could get our water and electricity turned on.  God is so Great.  We are still Christians who are living for our Jesus.  We have helped many young people and took them off the streets and into our home.  We gave them food and shelter.  And many days now, God keeps blessing us.  Our church in Texas loves us and still misses us.  And the church here loves us too.  My life is great with my God, and His blessings keep on coming.”

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Thank you Shelly for sharing about your faith, telling us of how much you love God and God loves you, and how you show the compassion of Jesus to others who are in need.  May we all learn from you how to be stronger Christians ourselves.  Amen.

Blessed Be His Name

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My Attitude Towards Illness

In this article, I will try to express and explain what I think and believe about illness.  This is quite relevant to our family situation, considering that our older boy, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 and had to go through 30 months of chemotherapy, and now I am diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease that produces pain and fatigue every day, and limits my walking to about 1,000 steps per day (about 700 meters).

Actually, I will limit myself to just share my heart on this matter.  If I tried to attempt to explain pain and suffering, I would simply end up added another book to the already endless mountain of theological and philosophical volumes on this topic.  So I will simply reflect on our situation and intersperse the words to a song that has become more and more meaningful to me.  It is the song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman.

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If we go all the way back to the book of Genesis, we see that from the very beginning, God intended that Mankind was meant to interact with and have a full and vibrant relationship with God.  That is the story of Adam and Eve and God in the Garden of Eden.  But when the choice was made to disobey God, then the perfect relationships between God and man, between men, and between mankind and the world was broken.

The consequence of that sin (spiritually), resulted in suffering and death (first physically, and then spiritually).  I believe that from Adam and Eve, right up until you and me today, goodness and perfection was intended for all of us, but inherited sin from the beginning plus our own sins today results in us having only glimpses of this perfection, but more often offers us pain and suffering in this life.

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One of the question I would ask all of us is this: “What should our attitude be, whether we have those moments of pure joy in this world, or if we are experiencing the pain that comes from being a part of this broken world?  Read the first part of Matt Redman’s song:

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

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I believe that after the fundamental questions have been answered positively (there is a God, and I should submit to His lordship over my life), the second response I think ought to be one of praise and honor to God.  Our suffering is not caused by God (as some think that He does this so that we will become “stronger”), but from a fallen world and sin.

But God loved us so much He did not let us stay in that state of sin.  He sent His own Son, Jesus, to take the full brunt of the penalty and suffering of sin away from us.  Although the spiritual penalty of sin has been removed (eternity in Hell) for those who have faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross, that does not mean that all the physical consequences of sickness and death are finished.

We certainly can rejoice on one hand for the spiritual victory that is ours as true believers in Christ, but the hope for complete physical renewal and the promise of a new heaven and earth will have to remain until the end of time itself.  Reflect on the second part of the song now:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

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And that brings me now to this personal question: “How do I respond when my son gets a disease and could have died, and even now suffers from some post-cancer issues?”  And “How do I respond to God with regards to the muscle disease He has “allowed” me to get in these recent years?”  Should I attach my attitudes to my circumstances? (i.e. when all is good, I am happy in life and I like my God, but when things are bad, I am very unhappy and I am mad at God.)

Of course this is not the answer.  That is so ethnocentric: “Why did you do this to me God?”  No, rather than blaming God for the situation, and asking “Why?”, I look to God in the midst of the situation, and ask “How?”  How God do you want me to act or react?  How God are you going to bring out good from this, as you promise in Romans 8:28?  How God can I bring glory and honor back to You in this situation?

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And I recognize that “God sends rain on the just and the unjust”, and so when He give us good things, I say “Thank you.”  And when He allows bad things, I still say “Thank you.”  Its the big picture which counts.  God is still God of the Universe, and He died to save me from my sin.  I will praise Him always:

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

http://www.lyricsbox.com/matt-redman-lyrics-blessed-be-your-name-pfs45jc.html

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And one final word to consider comes from the book of Job.  I don’t think it can be said any more wisely or simpler than this:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
(Job 1:21-22)

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