Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


2 Comments

Looking Forward to Forever

People are eternal.

Have you ever thought about this? About the implications? Or about whether that’s even true?

It seems self-evident that we all have an eternal yearning and that, therefore, something drives us to strive for an eternal existence.

I started thinking about this in the throes of infertility as I sought to grapple with why it was so important to me to have children. And I finally realized that we see children as a legacy, a way to continue, a way to exist beyond this life–at least in some form.

I would argue that all people make some attempt at eternity.

The powerful do this by building monuments or statues to themselves. It’s as if they believe–perhaps subconciously–a bronze statue set up in the middle of the square will forever remind people of who they were.

But statues come down.

And the inteligentsia preserve themselves through great discoveries and inventions, or great works of art and literature. And for a time these things remind us of their creators. So we recognize and remember the names of Marie Curie and Vincent Van Gogh and Harper Lee and even Galileo or Socrates.

A Lucille Ball look-alike poses at Universal Studios, FL, with my sister and me

Lucille Ball lives on in our memories and even in people who dress up like her at Universal Studios, FL–at least for now.

But there are many who have contributed to our understanding of the world and of beauty whose names are long forgotten: who wrote Beowulf? And who devised the alphabet? Or recognized addition?

The great achievers are so often forgotten, and perhaps all will be forgotten in the end.

And the regular folks among us–we strive to carry on through a name, through a child (and later a grandchild, a great grandchild, and so on). My father-in-law is an only son (he has two sisters), and my husband is his only son. When our son was born, DH’s grandmother remarked, joyfully, that the family name would continue one more generation. While this urge to bear children may not be a conscious attempt at extending our presence on earth, I believe at least subconciously, that is part of the motive.

But sometimes, family lines end. A family has only girls (a strange phenomenon in our culture that girls don’t carry on names and lines–but that’s another topic entirely). Or a person never meets “the right person.” Or a marriage does not result in children for whatever reason.

But either way, there’s this clear drive to go on in some form or fashion.

I believe this drive for eternity we see exhibited in so many ways is present in us because people are eternal. People are created to live forever.

But how?

If statues and inventions and even children don’t get us there–how do we live forever?

We know we’re going to die. People die.

But I believe we were made to live. To continue.

Beyond the earthly realm, we hear about many ways to a sort of everlasting existence. The quest for eternity appears in many of the world’s religions. A Buddhist seeks nirvana–a sort of eternal bliss state and reuniting with the universe from what I understand. Hinduism teaches reincarnation–a continuing on of the same spirit of a person ad infinitim. Judaism professes an eternal existence that takes different forms depending on which interpretation one follows. And Islam and Christianity both preach heaven–although the path to heaven differs for each.

I would argue that there is a certain impossibility built in to all of these faith traditons. Even those that don’t put their faith in some way in a perfect and holy God teach that the path to eternal existence is based on discipline, good works, perfection of some kind. Hinduism teaches that there are consequences for the life we live: A bad life leads to a less favorable next life–karma directs destiny. And Buddhism teaches that people need to rise above the world in some way, usually portrayed through some kind of self-discipline. And Buddhists I have had the opportunity to speak to acknowledge that the likelihood of ever reaching nirvana is very low. Only a handful of people are considered to have done it. Judaism focuses on living a righteous life. And Islam requires both belief (in Islam) and a balance of more good deeds than bad deeds.*

The problem is, no one is perfect. We all yearn for eternity, but none could earn it. We all fall short. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Sinning, and falling short, means we put ourselves in opposition of a perfect God. And, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Great. So for even one sin we earn death. We are made for eternity, but we earn death the first time we fall short of God’s standard. And we don’t really have a way, in ourselves, to go back and undo even one bad deed. We earn death, and we can’t unearn it.

It sounds pretty dire.

But, God loves us. And God wants us to be with him in our eternity. The Bible says, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Since we can’t live up to God’s standard, we can’t get to God. But God knew that, so he came to us. His Son took on flesh and lived a sinless life–something only God could do. He died a gruesome death on a cross and paid for all sins for all people. He paid the wage we have all earned. And he rose from the dead. This resurrection shows that God accepted the sacrifice made on our behalf and that Jesus defeated death once and for all.

Jesus paid for all of the sins of all the world. But we have to choose if we want to accept that free gift. We have to be able to accept it, and recognize that we cannot earn it. Attempting to earn our way to God will fail every time. Statues fall down. Inventors get forgotten. Family lines die out. There is no way for us to make ourselves eternal on our own. But the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Believing this truth is what is meant by having faith. And the Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If we trust God, we have the everlasting life we are all wired to desire. And we can be assured of it, because it is based on something that God does for us and not something we are working toward or trying to do for ourselves. Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me [God the Father] has eternal life and will not be judged but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). I urge you to notice the present tense here: believing in Jesus means you have eternal life. No need to work for it–which is good, because working for heaven would leave us falling short.

One who believes the good news of Jesus Christ can be assured an everlasting life–thus resolving the urge and fulfilling the yearning ingrained in us because of our eternal nature. This doesn’t mean we don’t still seek to make a noticeable difference in this life, or to have children–but perhaps it can meet the heart’s need for life that continues, making the accomplishments and desires of this life less pressing.

This truth is something I believe with all my heart and something I’d stake my earthly life on. It got me through the hardest parts of dealing with infertility and it will get me through this life with the ups and downs we are going to deal with. It’s the hope that I have. And it’s about time that I made that clear here.

If you’ve read this and chosen to believe in what Jesus has done to grant you a life that does not end, I encourage you to talk to someone about your decision. If you want to talk to me about it, please let me know in the comments or send me an email at dwellsinme (at) gmail (dot) com. I would love to talk to you!

By that same token, if you’ve read this and don’t know if you want to believe, or have some questions, or think I’m way off base here, and want to talk about it–well, shoot me an email. I’d love to talk to you, too!

*I’m not an expert on Islam–or any world religions–but found this article helpful in understanding an Islamic view on salvation compared to the Christian perspective.

Advertisements


2 Comments

Defining ‘Good’

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

What is good?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How do I know if something that happens to me (or around me) is good or bad? Is it even possible to know the difference this side of heaven?

Maybe this seems a pedantic question. Or even a semantic one. But I think there may be real spiritual implications in how we define this one little word.

As with many words, we can be a little loose with our language sometimes. How often have you said something was amazing or awesome–even though you know that these words can truly, deeply, only apply to God? And what do you love? Do you love your spouse? Your shoes? That great movie? Clearly we don’t mean the same love for all things.

So, I’ll start by refining what I’m talking about when I ask this question. I’m not talking about what tastes good, what looks good, what feels good–these are clearly things open to interpretation and different for each person. I can no more determine what tastes good for you than you can for me. It is a matter of personal preference.

I’m also not talking about clear, defined standards set forth in scripture. I don’t need to debate whether God is good–in the most complete and intrinsic sense of the word. And I don’t need to debate whether no one else is good. Jesus said as much. (See Luke 18:19, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone.'”) Similarly, I’m not asking if creation was good or bad–as God declared all things good when he made them. That was before the fall.

I’m talking about how we evaluate the things around us. How do we view our life circumstances? Do we view them all on the basis of personal preference–if it feels good (or bad), it must be good (or bad)? Or do we view life circumstances and the trials and challenges and sufferings in light of scripture?

In Romans 8:28, we see that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Maybe infertility isn’t intrinsically good. But maybe it’s been good for me.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

If I am living in light of eternity, and living as a sojourner and alien in this world, then what is good and what is bad is going to take on a new meaning. What causes pain or suffering or temporary discontent in this life may be bringing me closer to God. What I see as “bad” and what causes suffering may be integral to developing my relationship with God. And does that not make such events–or at least the repercussions of such events–good?

The world is full of evil, don’t misunderstand me. And the devil will play his games and work his tricks to try to pull us down. But I would submit that if we are living life in view of eternity, we won’t be fooled by the devil’s schemes. We can’t be brought down into the pit of despair when we know that God is truly for us (Romans 8:31).

Bad things happen. I’m not saying that bad things are good. But if we believe, if we trust God in everything, if we do not fear the world because we aren’t of this world–even the worst things can be used for good in our lives.

And so I ask again–can we define what is good? Because I don’t think I can trust my instincts. I think knowing what is good for us and what is bad for us is impossible this side of heaven.

And what are the spiritual implications of not being confident in our definitions here?

There is one who knows. One who knows that the difficult childhood you went through directly relates to your acceptance of the Son. One who knows that the wealth and prosperity you received in this earth did nothing but distance you from himself. One who knows how to bless us–even when that blessing includes a baptism by fire and trial and pain–so that we will truly know him. And since he knows and I don’t, I must choose to trust him and trust his direction for my life–even when it goes against my hopes or plans or sense of what is good.

All the “good” things this world can offer us are really bad if they pull us away from God. All the “bad” things in the world that push us on our knees and draw us to God and Christ are a gift to us. When I’m with God, if I have any care whatsoever about this life I’m living now, I’ll not be surprised to hear him say, “That trial of infertility? I allowed that in your life. I did it because I love you, and because I knew it would draw your heart closer to mine.” And what response can there be to that but a heartfelt thank you?

So I give up on trying to value my circumstances. And I say, why not thank him now?

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)


7 Comments

Faith Lessons from a Steak Knife

I have written most of my essays for seminary. And though I’m not finished, I’m not feeling so overwhelmed about it now. I think I need to visit the campus before I’ll be able to finish one essay, and the remainder is resume stuff that I can do in fits and spurts: what areas of Christian leadership I’ve been involved in, campus activities I was part of in college, and my employment record. And then, I’ll submit it. Oh my!

In the meantime, we are really just feeling overjoyed and excited lately. There is so much to be hopeful for. I suppose there always was, but we had lost that excitement of trying to conceive and now it’s back–for the moment. I hope treatment works and works quickly! And we are so very grateful that God has given man this ability to research and find ways to overcome medical challenges. I am so glad he has not withheld from us even these good gifts of medical science.

Last Thursday we had small group to our house for dinner. I love hosting our group (we take turns), but last week was a busy week and I was feeling frazzled. This time I had started early and I was determined to have dinner ready by 7:00. I had from scratch tomato soup in the crockpot (best recipe ever), butter melting on the stove for a roux to add creaminess to the soup, and an assembly line for baked grilled cheese sandwiches (on gluten-free bread for me!) with avocados, tomatoes, and bacon laid out on the counter. The stove had just told me that it was preheated and ready to go. With about twenty minutes before small group was supposed to start–and with my husband still not home from work–I started chopping a frozen stick of butter with a steak knife to fit it in a small bowl to melt so it could be spread on the bread. And then–OUCH! I am not sure why the knife slipped, but I felt the injury before I suspected anything was amiss. I looked down to see a bloody gash on my left index finger.

Now, I can give a shot with expert precision and usually not even feel it. I’m perfectly comfortable reading biological research papers on gamete development, reproductive anomalies, surgical procedures, and hormone functions. I can discuss with doctors all manner of surgical procedures, results of blood work, and what they may be looking for. But friends–when I saw that blood on my finger, I about passed out. The room started spinning and I felt so very hot and I knew I had to snap out of it and get moving.

I ran to the sink and held my finger under cold water for a while. I pinched it together to close the wound, but as soon as I let go, the blood just kept coming out.

I managed to move to the bathroom, where I cleaned the wound properly and bandaged my finger–probably a little too tightly–to stop the bleeding. I called DH and fussed a little about it, because I knew he’d talk me up off the floor and get me back to the kitchen. He did.

By the time I got back to the stove, my butter was burned. I dumped it and started over. And dinner was a bit late. Well, a lot late. We didn’t sit down to eat until 7:40. I love my small group. They didn’t mind. Didn’t bat an eye at the tardy meal, and we had a great meeting anyway.

Later that night, I unwrapped my finger, cleaned it again, and changed to a bandage that wasn’t cutting off the circulation of my fingertip. I checked it and felt sure I didn’t need to go to the emergency room or anything.

As DH and I were snuggled into bed Thursday night, after we’d prayed together, I lay there a moment thinking to myself, huh… we didn’t pray that my finger would heal. And I knew why I didn’t ask God to heal my finger. It’s because I trust, and have no doubt whatsoever, that my finger will get better. That’s part of God’s design for us–cuts can heal themselves. What an amazing thing. And this is something I have taken for granted. I thanked God for healing my finger and fell asleep.

In my prayers, I often want the quick fix. The miracle fix. The supernatural fix. And maybe sometimes that means I’m missing out on what God is doing in the natural, how God is changing my circumstances even without any drama or fanfare.

The next day–really the next few days–my finger was sore. It was painful. And I expected it to be. Although I knew God would heal me, I didn’t wake up Friday morning or Saturday morning or even this morning and find that my finger had  been magically put back together without any time or waiting or effort. I am typing this now with a little medical tape still wrapped around the finger, giving it a little protection from the keys and the germs and keeping it from splitting open again while it is still vulnerable. But even as I am waiting, I don’t feel any less sure that my finger will be healed.

And I think this is faith. I have faith that my finger will heal. And I don’t know if I have that kind of faith for everything. But I want to. I want to have this kind of faith–this certainty, really–that what God has promised will be. I have this faith for my salvation. I really have no doubt that I am forgiven. But I don’t know if I feel as sure about the things that aren’t as straightforward as cut skin or the gospel message. Do I believe God is using me for his glory today? Do I believe that he has ordained my path for a reason? Do I believe that he is working all things for my good?

Some days are better than others.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)


1 Comment

What Can Separate Us?

I will place enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

I’m going to try not to get too theologically deep with this one, but I have been thinking about this verse quite a bit lately. In context, this is part of the curse on the serpent following the first sin. The crafty serpent convinces Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the process he displays all of his evil wiles and powers of deception. Eve eats the fruit and passes it along to her husband, who appears to have been standing passively by and waiting for her to make a decision. He follows along (first peer pressure?) and before you know it, God’s good and perfect creation falls to sin.

For satan, this seems like a battle won. In the war of God vs. lucifer, it looks like God: 0, lucifer: 1. He has deceived God’s image-bearers, leading to the first death and to the end of innocence.

All three persons are found guilty before God: Adam for eating the fruit he knew he shouldn’t have eaten, Eve for doing the same and, really, for choosing to listen to satan over God, and the serpent, the “craftiest” of all of the beasts, for pushing them to sin. All three will be penalized. Adam will henceforth have to work to draw forth sustenance from the ground. Eve will suffer pain in childbearing. And the serpent? He will crawl on his belly in the dirt. Oh, and one more thing: God “will place enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

Most people understand this verse not just as a general statement about the relationship between people and snakes. It is called the protoevangelium, or “first gospel,” and refers to God’s plan of redemption for man. And satan fails to realize that he has just set himself up for ultimate destruction.

From the beginning, satan has worked to try to separate people from God. And from the beginning, God has had a plan to redeem us from our sins. The ultimate offspring from the woman is Jesus. While the serpent will attempt to strike a blow at him, the injuries satan can cause are minor compared to the final destruction God has promised the devil.

I find I’m moved by the idea that God would allow satan even a minor jab at Jesus. And I think the injury satan ultimately inflicts is in Jesus’ death on the cross. But this is not really the fatal blow it appears to be, for Jesus rises again, triumphant in the defeat of all sin (of death). But satan? His doom is coming. He has already lost, though maybe he doesn’t see it yet.

And when I think about how this applies to my life, I wonder if things like infertility, uncertainty, difficult circumstances and challenges, and all of the things that seem like the worst.thing.ever are the equivalent of satan striking at our heels. He hasn’t given up, though his mission has proven futile.

What has happened in my life when satan gets his jabs in? Infertility has undeniably strengthened my relationship with God. Uncertain circumstances have provided me the opportunity to see how God is working in my life. Challenges with doctors, insurance plans, and unexpected bills have given me chances to turn to God, laying my burdens in his hands and learning to trust that he will take care of these things.

Does it sting? Sometimes it hurts more than I can believe or express.

Is the pain lasting? Will it defeat me? I know that it isn’t. I know that it can’t.

Could these jabs from satan draw me away from my Father? Nope.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Satan loses, my friends. In fact, he’s lost already. Nothing can separate me–not infertility, not heartache, not loss–from the love of God. Praise the Lord!


Leave a comment

Defining “Glory” and Finding Joy

This post is sort of a part two to my previous post. If the last post was confusing or muddled, this one may be worse. Apologies if that’s the case.

When I had my “wrestling day,” I came to realize that I don’t value my salvation the way I should. To truly value the price that was paid for my sin, I need to recognize that my sins are great. So many people testify about salvation by saying things like “God has done so much for me, I can’t help but love him/be joyful/serve him/praise him/[enter any number of nice things for God here].”

I’ve always wondered about those people. I mean, they must have been really bad before they were saved, right? And I’m sitting here praying like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.”

I am embarrassed to say that I often think that my sins aren’t so bad. I mean, I know (head knowledge) that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) but I’ve been lacking any conviction of that (gut faith).

So two nights ago, I was dutifully answering my Bible study questions (we’re studying Hebrews; this week is 2:9-3:6). And I get to: “Look up ‘glory’ in a dictionary or Bible dictionary and write its definition.”

I was feeling moved, so I pulled out my old Greek reference books (I’m a total geek, in case that wasn’t already evident!). The word used for glory is δόξη (transliterated: doxa). And my Greek word study dictionary had about 5 pages of definitions and explanation of the word. A lot of the definitions were tied to specific verses. I found it fascinating.

It had a special part about Romans 3:23. My book said that when Paul writes “fall short of the glory of God,” it means that we don’t live up to what God has intended for our lives, that we don’t line up with the image and character of God.

For some reason, that got through to me.

I may not have murdered anyone or cheated on anyone, but I do know that I have not lived up to what God intended for me. I know that I don’t align perfectly with the image and character of God. And because of that, no matter the nature of my sins, I needed a savior just as desperately as all those people who may or may not have done really bad things by our worldly definition.

And if I can see how desperately I needed salvation, how truly short of God’s glory I fall, then I can have such gratitude for what God has done for me.

And I think that gratitude is where joy begins. I can be joyful because I know what a great thing God has done for me. That gift of forgiveness–of making up for my shortcomings–outweighs the temporal pain of barrenness. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel that pain or that I don’t suffer now, just that the joy should remain throughout.

I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Still working. But as long as I am still wrestling with these things, I think I am moving forward.