Category Archive: Joy

“Why?”

Dennis R. Fast

I’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger today. Dennis Fast has been a senior pastor for 35 years and is now working in several part time ministries in central California. He recently wrote this devotional for his church congregation. He graciously granted permission for me to share it with you. I found it helpful in giving perspective to the question of suffering in the world. Thank you, Dennis!

 

“In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

A few years ago Lee Strobel, author of A Case for Christ, commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they would ask if they could ask God one thing. The number one response was, “Why is there suffering in the world.”

I’m thinking of that today as it feels like the state of California is on fire.  That’s an overstatement, of course, but the devastation and loss from south to north is incredible.  One report called the fire in Napa and Senora counties a “once in a life time” fire.  And this on the heels of last week’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, preceded by unprecedented hurricanes in The Gulf, sandwiched between earthquakes in Mexico.

Strobel said in a printed sermon, “That “why” question is not a new one; it goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th Century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And the 21st Century didn’t start any better. There was 9/11, the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why do all of these horrific things happen if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?

If you would like to read the full article/sermon by Lee Strobel go here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2012/july-online-only/doesgodallowtragedy.html?   But let me give you the five “points of light” that he shares in the article for your encouragement today:

The first point of light: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

The second point of light: Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.

The third point of light: The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.

The fourth point of light: Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for his followers.

The fifth point of light: We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.

We will never fully answer the question of “why” on this side of eternity.  But my prayer is that you will find some encouragement and hope today in the truth about God in his Word.  And I also pray that you can be a witness to the grace of God as you face the difficulties that God allows in your life.  When we face hardships, our hope is a powerful witness to the goodness of God and can draw others to discover the peace we have – the peace that so many long to experience.  It is easy to ask, “Why didn’t God create a perfect world?”  The answer is that he did, but that perfect creation has been marred over and over by the sins of choice that humans make each day.  Today, choose hope, choose joy, choose grace: choose Christ!

 

Carol Loewen Oct 11 (3 days ago)

Hairpins and Hope

The dual switchback gave us no visibility to what might be approaching on the one-lane road. What if a local driver comes barreling around that corner? We’re on the cliff side of the road! Much of the drive was enchanting. Every change in elevation exposed different flora and fauna.  Some areas were lush, some covered with red dirt. “Look at this plain,” I said at one point. After climbing mountains and traversing hairpins for miles, the flatland was a lovely surprise. We crossed narrow bridges and stretches where meeting an oncoming car required one of us to pull out or back up, depending on the amount of margin on the side of the constricted road.

Don pulled over at one cliff, where we looked down at the lava rocks below, and spoke at length with the artist recreating the pastel ocean scene. Near Annalise, spread over a rock and colored the same, was a wild pig skin. I didn’t realize it until I saw hooves and a tail … and smelled an odor that was ripe. Some “rite of passage,” according to Annalise.

We drove past a picturesque little broken-down church, heavy tile roof falling in on itself, that was once charming. It sat above cliffs that led down to roaring waves, tumbling waterfalls, and a little village. We’d seen a sign earlier for banana bread so we pulled over at Julia’s tiny green shack.

I stepped up onto the porch behind a young woman who asked about banana bread. “Last loaf,” was the reply.

“Oh no,” I spoke without thinking.

The woman turned to me. “Do you want to split it?” Her husband joined her. “We don’t need to eat the whole thing.”

“Really?” I asked. Really!

I thanked them, and we divided the bread and shared the cost. Waving goodbye, Don and I continued on our journey, enjoying the moist sweetness of the loaf, which almost melted in our mouths.

More hairpin turns. More one-lane passages. More  beauty—orange and yellow-leaved shrubs, magenta flowers atop trees, hot pink bougainvillea, and palm to pine trees. And lava rock, and some small rock slides, and cliffs that plunged into roiling waves below.

And I thought, kind of like life. There’s a great deal of beauty, enjoyment, ongoing blessing as we walk with Christ. At times we need to hear a brother or sister say “You want to share?” … or perhaps we need to offer the shared blessing to others. There is also challenge, and difficulty, and pain, and suffering. Sometimes the road we travel is smooth and lined with blessings of health and love and productive work and hope. At other times the road is dark, the switchbacks prevent us from seeing the next step, and we have to move forward in faith, our hand in the Father’s, knowing He has promised never to leave or forsake us.

Julia’s

I’ve had a few big switchbacks in my life, along with lesser ones. Threats of mutilation while ministering in the ghetto; pain following departure from a work I loved; some health challenges; the losses of a nephew, several dear friends, my father, my first husband. But I’ve also seen the beauty of being carried through those hairpins by a God who loves me and would not let me go; of loving and being loved well by two wonderful men, and by family; of the gift of travel; of the joy of ministering to and encouraging younger women in their faith walks.

And sometimes it’s the hairpin turns, the switchbacks where we can do nothing but pray and trust, that teach us most clearly that our Father is always there, loving, guiding, walking alongside as we navigate  day by day.

So, while there’s no way I want to suffer, I also don’t regret the times my road has been hard. Mixed with the joys, the difficulties remind me to trust and rely on God in both good and bad times. I can’t become an oak of righteousness, rooted and grounded in Him, without His love and pruning and deepening, the same One who promises to give beauty in place of ashes.

The prophet Isaiah recognized his anointing from the Lord …

” … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:2b-3)

What’s encouraged you during some of the hairpin turns of your life?

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Beauty from Ashes II

“Oh, my baby!” I cried out as I threw myself across my husband’s body. I had caressed him, speaking loving words while watching his blood pressure drop to zero. My heart ricocheted with that “O” and I knew he had left me for the welcoming arms of Jesus.

This week is the tenth anniversary of Jerry’s death.

It was a very difficult journey, filled with love, highs and lows, hope and despair. Eight months earlier Jerry and I had traveled to Florida in hopes of a transplant. And while the transplant was successful, his weakened body was too weary to fight off the infections that invaded him for months following the surgery. Our hopes of leaving the hospital to return to home and family in California, strength renewed, slowly eroded as Jerry fought one challenge after another. I was shattered.

Returning home, I began to learn who I was as a new widow. Family and friends were treasures, loving me, allowing me to grieve and grieving with me, holding me up with prayer, food, and time. They didn’t tell me when I ‘should’ finish grieving, or how soon I should move on.

And God, who had surrounded us with a body of believers we’d never known before moving to Florida, continued to be faithful now that I was alone.

My sweet number 1 girl

My sweet number 1 girl

And, over time, He restored beauty and joy to my life. On the second anniversary of Jerry’s death, I purchased a little red and white beauty named Kelly, a dog I’d borrowed for a weekend, and with whom I’d fallen in love. What a blessing to have another living creature in the house, one who sometimes climbed under the covers and cuddled against my thigh on cold nights, where I would find her on waking. I had to get up, feed her, walk her … One morning she looked at me, settled at my computer, and ground her teeth together. I had to laugh. “OK, I hear you – your breakfast is coming right up.”

New love, new hope

New love, new hope

About the same time I met a wonderful, widowed gentleman with whom a friendship began to bud through emails, long conversations, and an understanding of each other’s loss. Friendship deepened as Don wooed me in tender, thoughtful ways … walking our dogs together, coming up with amazing analogies of his love for  me, and showing his growing love in many touching ways. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him. We married two and a half years later, and will celebrate our sixth anniversary in January.

Yes, there have been ashes. Painful ones. But out of that pain God has given beauty—the beauty of learning to love again, of learning that a second love is not a replacement for a first but rather, an addition.

That loving again doesn’t take away from the first love.

That the heart has room for more than one deep love.

That joy can return.

That God knows my name.

He loves me.

He will never leave me.

And one day, we who believe will experience the promise of God in Revelation 21:4, that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’”

As Pastor Rene stated this weekend, “He’s STILL Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

How have you received beauty for ashes? The oil of gladness for the spirit of heaviness? I’d love to hear about it.

 

TREASURES, REVEALED AND RENEWED

I had no trouble keeping awake. Between managing a business issue on my hands-free phone, having a long, lovely chat with Mom, and singing along with our choir’s Christmas CD, my “windshield time” (driving) flew by.

Arriving at the beach destination for our college buds reunion, four beautiful women who have meant a great deal to me in and since my college years at Fresno Pacific University greeted me.

The week before our girlfriends’ getaway, emails flew back and forth …morro rock

“Anyone bringing a swimsuit?”

“No way.”

“Hopefully we’ve become more accepting of ourselves than back when …”

“Can’t we be accepting and still clothed?”

We knew laughter would be on the agenda!

 

Jeannies wedding

Unpacking, storing the food we’d brought (enough for a small army, or at least for a week’s stay rather than three days!), we delighted in being together again. Four of us were bridesmaids in MarJean’s wedding to Conrad 46 years ago (left). While most of us have seen each other periodically over the intervening passage of time, we have not seen MarJean for about 43 years.  If you have reconnected with long-time friends, you will understand when I say we picked up where we left off, sharing laughter, tears, memories, and love. That night, over halibut and sweet potato fries, we remembered our college days:

 

  • The relationships that lasted, or didn’t;
  • Professors and dorm parents who challenged us, or didn’t;
  • Crazy things we did like falling asleep in the Fresno sun with baby oil as our tanning lotion, only to waken with second degree leg burns (that one was mine)
  • Opportunities to express our faith in a variety of ways; and
  • Our friendships, which held through the years despite our relocations across California and Alaska.

We include a missionary, two teachers, an office manager/bookkeeper, and a human resources manager. Between us we have nine children and 38 grand and step-grandchildren.

And we’ve all experienced challenges along the way. Part of life.Five on bench in cambria

But as He promised, God has been, and continues to be, with each of us throughout the E-ticket rides that embody our lives.

Friendships are a treasure; with long-term, infrequent contact, they may be hidden treasures, to be opened with joy at times of reunion. That’s how I felt this weekend. We ate, shared long conversations together, shopped, explored. No need for games or tv. There was too much life to catch up on.

I recently read that one who wants friendships must invest in them. We five took this time to invest in each other, to renew and deepen these precious friendships.  And what a treasure we uncovered.

“A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Who are your treasured friends? How do you invest in those relationships?

From the Ashes, New Dreams

2014-12-04 06.27.10

 

A few weeks ago I reflected on the death of my dream of bearing or having children of my own.

(See http://carolshope.com/2015/05/motherhood-when-the-dream-dies/)

God didn’t just say no.  Over time, and through the pain, He replaced my desire to bear children with other hopes. He changed my dreams.

Ministry: I lived and ministered with a team in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years, where I saw and experienced things that had not been part of my sheltered life growing up. Some, like knowing young girls who earned money the only way they knew–through prostitution–were heartbreaking. But watching God at work in the lives of teens and adults who committed themselves to Christ and walked in His paths, was thrilling.

My husband and I serve with a missions team in Mexico annually, and have the joy of sharing our home with missionaries, pastors, family and friends. God has brought a few women into my life to love and disciple. Little can compare to the joy of seeing their faith deepen, watching Jesus change their hearts, behaviors, relationships. I can say with the apostle Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NIV) And when one turns away from surrender, it is painful.

Travel: Don and I have had the delight of visiting many parts of the world, seeing God’s handiwork and meeting believers along the way.

Family: My mother, siblings and their spouses are all still with us. Nieces and nephews are a significant part of my life, and are adding precious grand-nephews and nieces to the family.

Fulfilling Marriages: I’ve been married to two wonderful men. While my dream of a long life with Jerry turned to ashes with his death ten years ago, God later brought Don into my life. I feel great joy in this second opportunity to love, serve, and enjoy life with an amazing, gracious man who has five children and ten grandchildren. Someone once said a good marriage is the hardest, and the best, thing one can do.

So, do I regret seeing the death of my dream of bearing children?

No. While on occasion I think what a delight it would be to have a terrific son or daughter, my life is full, sometimes difficult, fascinating, and fulfilling. With a few relatively minor health challenges, I tire easily. God has known what is best for me all along, and has given me new dreams and purpose. I wouldn’t trade it. THIS is where God has me and I am grateful.

How have your dreams changed over the years? Is there something you’re still asking God to do in and through you?