Thankful for the Assurance of Heaven

In honor of Thanksgiving, I considered writing a post about all the things for which I’m thankful. Then I considered writing a post about all the things for which others should be thankful.

But I decided to get ultra-personal.

Those who know me personally know my husband graduated to heaven this past summer. What you may not know is that his last 2 years of life were spent radically different from the decades that preceded them…both physically and spiritually.

This is a bittersweet holiday for me. My first without Russ. Yet I’m incredibly thankful to know he is now with his Savior.

How can I have such assurance? The Bible tells us of heaven. Still, it’s one thing to read about heaven, but it’s another to know it’s true in the face of a terminal illness.

Here’s a link to the testimony Russ shared last May – a testimony shared with the knowledge that his death was a month or two away.

Listen for yourself and then you decide whether my assurance is justified.

Russell Pennington Testimony

 

After you hear it, you’ll know what I know…heaven is real and as the Bible promises, we can, indeed, have the assurance of that destination if we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And there’s nothing better to be thankful for than that.


Oaks From Acorns Grow

Oaks from Acorns Grow

Remember the song, “Tall Oaks from Acorns Grow”? It’s a cute children’s song—one I hadn’t thought of in decades…until I began catching up on long overdue yardwork.

For the past 2 years, circumstances have caused me to neglect our yard. Shrubs grew wild and leggy. Weeds invaded where flowers should have bloomed. Two years of growth in a state where the growing season is year-round.

The solution to tackling this task is much like the answer to the riddle about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So in recent weeks I’ve trimmed a bit, weeded a lot, pruned the plants I want to keep, and cut out the unwanted vegetation. Even with all that work, I’ve barely made a dent in our abundant Florida growth.

Oaks from Acorns GrowBut before discouragement could set in, I realized that in recent days I’ve been crunching acorns underfoot. And the children’s song came to mind.

We can joke about clichés, but the truth is, the large oak I labored under did indeed start as a tiny acorn. Planted in fertile soil, it simply did what it was created to do: hold its ground and grow.

As I work in the dirt, reflecting on oaks and acorns, I’m reminded that even though it might seem as if my situation is burying me, God is using it to plant me instead.

Oaks from Acorns GrowStill, I need to remember…

The darkness can be frightening, but His light shines brightest in the dark.

The duration and weight of our circumstances may be painful, but the combination of time and pressure drives us to the One who is our Refuge.

And the sense of loneliness in the face of our trials helps us appreciate the intimacy of our relationship with the One who created us, saved us, and indwells us with His Holy Spirit.

Thinking about acorns and oaks also reminds me of the passage in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, 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” (NIV).

This prophetic passage pointed to the Messiah—Jesus Christ, the anointed One who would come hundreds of years later to God’s chosen people as their Savior and Lord. It speaks to people who are hurting.

Those who feel buried in dark circumstances.

People in mourning and despair.

People who have been waiting so long that they’ve almost given up hope.

Yet this passage refers to God’s people as “oaks.” Plantings of the Lord for His glory.

Are you feeling discouraged today? In dark despair? Are you convinced your circumstances will bury you because you don’t have the strength to persevere?

Consider yourself planted instead. And know God does not abandon His children, regardless of their situation. Run to Him when you’re lonely. Welcome the light of His presence to dispel the darkness. Trust His perfect timing.

And remember…oaks from acorns grow.


Are You Mad at God?

Mad at God

Life happens…although not always the way we want it to.

Sometimes we’re surprised by amazing events beyond our wildest expectations. Other times, we’re blindsided by our worst nightmares come true.

When that happens, do you get mad at God?

After all, He’s sovereign, right? He’s in control.

God is omniscient. Nothing surprises Him.

And He is omnipotent—He is all-powerful.

So if something horrible is heading toward one of His children and He doesn’t stop it, shouldn’t we be mad at Him?

And if we should not be mad at God, why not?

If you’re a Christian—a child of God according to John 1:12—isn’t God supposed to be loving and merciful and compassionate to you?

Yes, God is love. He is merciful and compassionate. But where did we ever get the idea that we should be protected from suffering?

We live in a broken, sin-sick world. A world that needs a Savior. And that Savior suffered to bring us a restored relationship with the Father. So if Jesus suffered, why do we think we should be exempt?

Perspective

When we do experience suffering, perspective makes all the difference.

If I think I don’t deserve suffering, my perspective is governed by comfort and convenience. If I understand life is not about me, but rather glorifying the God who loves me, then my focus changes. It will be less about running from suffering and more about using that suffering as a means to point others to the God who loves them, too.

It’s not easy. But God never promised it would be. Still, it all comes back to perspective.

When my husband was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, I attended a workshop on suffering. The presenter, a gentleman by the name of Mike Gaynor, told the story of how his son, who had Downs Syndrome, was killed in a car accident. A reporter wanted to interview him, but he declined the interview. Her response? “I understand. You’re probably mad at God right now.”

But he could not leave her with that impression, so he said:

“Mad at God? How could I be mad at the God who just ushered my son into the glories of heaven, giving him a completely healed body and placing my son in His presence for all eternity? Mad at God? No!”

My Choice

And so, now that my husband’s earthly life painfully ended due to pancreatic cancer, I have a choice. I could be mad at God. Or I could say:

“Mad at God? How could I be mad at the God who just ushered my husband into the glories of heaven, giving him a completely healed body—no more cancer, no more pain—and placing my husband in His Presence for all eternity? Mad at God? No!”

That’s the perspective I choose. It’s not all about me. It never was.

Am I sad? Yes.

Do I miss him? Absolutely.

But God can use even my sadness for His glory…

  • For with the comfort He comforts me, I can comfort others, because I’ve walked the path they walk (II Corinthians1:3-4).
  • And with the peace He provides, those around me can see the presence of the Holy Spirit is real, in a way they would never notice if suffering were absent from my life (Philippians 4:7).
  • Even as I grieve, I grieve not as one who has no hope. So I’m able to affirm the assurance of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ to those who desperately need that hope (I Thessalonians 4:13).
  • Finally, if I never experienced suffering, how would I ever experience God as my Refuge, Provider, and heavenly Father?

Are you struggling with pain and suffering or perhaps watching a loved one suffer? Instead of being mad at God, consider changing your perspective. Start with a personal relationship with the God who loves you more than you’ll even know. Your life will never be the same.


Our Days Are Numbered

dying and death

Our days are numbered. That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it? Or maybe it sounds like cheesy dialogue in a B movie: “Your days are numbered, pal.”

But think about it. This earthly body doesn’t last forever. And it would seem way too senseless if the measure of our life is merely a function of some random toss of the dice.

That’s why I derive so much comfort from Bible verses that remind me of God’s sovereign control, especially in life and death.

dying and deathFor example, Psalm 139:16 tells us God knows the end of our life before it begins:

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (NIV).

And Psalm 116:15 reminds us that in the end, regardless of what others think or know,

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants” (NIV).

Death can be scary, especially if you’re not certain of what happens next. Theories abound. Do we simply cease to exist? Is there really a heaven? If there is, what’s it like? And what about hell?

These are not merely academic questions for me. With my husband’s recent passing, I need to be sure of the answers…and I found that certainty in the following verses:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

“Jesus said to her, “’I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’” (John 11:25 ESV).

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Yet, for some—even Christians—death is not as frightening as the process of dying. Many of us have either heard or said: “I hope I die in my sleep. I don’t want to suffer. Let me just slip away from this life to the next.”

That isn’t always the way it happens, is it? We live in a broken, sin-sick world, and the consequences of this condition include pain and suffering, even for the strongest believers.

As Jim Denison, founder of the Denison Forum, has said,

“Even the most passionate worship does not exempt us from suffering and death. Whether we are deeply in love with Jesus or we have vehemently rejected his word, we can still fall victim to random violence, natural disasters, and terrible diseases.”

So where does that leave us? Where does it leave me, as I remember the pain my husband suffered before he died?

It leaves me remembering that our suffering is for a moment in light of eternity. It leaves me remembering:

“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NIV).

And:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

Keeping this eternal perspective does not come naturally. I need the ever-present ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life to continually remind me of these truths. Especially when my physical circumstances conspire to cause me to forget we were created for more than this earthly life.

But if you and I can maintain an eternal perspective, even in the face of dying and death, then we become living testimonies to the truth of God’s Word and the glory that is to come.

This world is not our destination. It is merely a bus stop. A train station. For the Christian, this is a bed-and-breakfast stopover on the way to our permanent mansion. And the experiences of pain, dying, and death remind us not to get too comfortable in a place that’s meant to be temporary.

Our days are, indeed, numbered…and I’m grateful for that assurance.

How about you?


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