The Timeline of Eternity

I LOVE TIMELINES!

A carefully constructed timeline can communicate a massive amount of information

T2-Mu-065-History-Of-Music-Timeline_ver_2

in an easily digestible format that will 

engage,

bible timeline

enlighten,

us history timeline

and entertain.

timeline of pens

A timeline can bring history to life for the person who might not be inclined to read about the same series of events if they were simply described on the printed page.

We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren this year, and since 2012, I have been thinking about the timeline that will represent that century and a half for our congregation and for our neighbors and friends who may stop by during our open house in August.

The folks at PLCOB will help me create the timeline that has yet to be transformed from thought to reality.  Most of my willing helpers just have servant hearts; only one or two share my passion for history, but I am confident that in the end we will all enjoy following the story of our church in a pictorial and graphic display of fifteen decades.

We are using a relatively large scale for our timeline.  With three inches to represent each year, it will surround the sanctuary with symbols to mark births, marriages, and deaths.  Many beloved saints will have their entire lifespans charted out on our anniversary scroll.  For example, my father’s life which began in 1928 and ended in 2016 will extend through more than half of the history of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren.

The timeline will be a valuable part of our celebration, but it will also present a somewhat distorted impression of the duration of life.   Fortunately the Bible makes it possible for us to step back far enough to see the timeline of eternity.  Our perspective changes dramatically when we see the brevity of life illustrated for us again and again in vivid metaphors and striking similes.

We are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Life on earth is a shadowa breath, a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  We are told that our days pass swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, or a runner, or an eagle swooping on the prey.  All flesh is like the grass withers, and the flower that falls, and we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

I had already determined the length and chosen the location for our 150th timeline in January when I got another reminder of the approaching portal with the news about my elevated liver enzymes.  My favorite kind of history project took on a deeper spiritual dimension, as I thought of one more metaphor for life in this world: a stroke on the timeline of eternity.

Does a stroke on a timeline, a breath, a vapor, or a shadow hold any lasting meaning?  That’s the same question that the author of Ecclesiastes ponders.  It’s the same question asked by people from all belief systems, in all lands, through all ages.

It seems that in our current culture far too many people believe the answer to the question is “no.”  Missing the meaning of life has tragic consequences that can be seen in the legalization of abortion, the growing acceptance of euthanasia, and the rising rates of suicide.

If life were just the result of random particles colliding, then it would make perfect sense to simply opt out whenever circumstances become difficult or painful.  In fact, it would make little sense to endure any kind of hardship in what is ultimately only a decades-long march to the grave.

But our meaning doesn’t come from biological life: our meaning comes rather from the God who is LIFE!

My life is not just a breath: my life is a breath in God’s lungs,

a shadow of God’s Spirit,

a flower in God’s field,

a sigh of God’s voice.

And with that knowledge, I am content as my life draws to a close even when

many dreams haven’t come true,

many hopes remain unfulfilled,

and many plans never materialized.

I rest in the certainty that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, because I know that all the days ordained for me were written in God’s book before one of them came to be.

My years are not just a stroke on the timeline of eternity: my years are a small but glorious portion of the masterpiece God is using this world to complete.

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Living Without Lack

life without lackOn January 5, 2018 I was at lunch with some friends when I got a call from my doctor’s office.  My liver enzymes had spiked ten-fold from the low-average level they had maintained throughout my sixteen year journey with cancer.  At that point I was already a full year beyond the average life expectancy for a person with breast cancer metastasized to the liver and lungs, and I was well aware that I had been living on borrowed time.

As I processed the news of dramatically elevated enzymes my first thought was “I made my burial arrangements last fall, so I’m good to go.”  (Previously, each time I learned of cancer progression I would think, “I really need to make my funeral arrangements.”)

My second thought: “I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil.”

My third thought: “I wish everyone I love could walk in peace as life in this world draws to a close.”

It wasn’t a conscious prayer, but the Lord still heard the cry of my heart and answered.

Just four days later, on January 9, I was offered an advance copy of Dallas Willard’s most recent book—Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of the 23rd Psalm.

Now, I know that five years ago I gave away to friends at least fifteen copies of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard; I convinced about the same number of people to buy it for themselves; I recommended it to I-don’t-know-how-many others (including strangers in a check-out line); and I even led a small group study based on the book.  Alas, as far as I know, only one person entered fully into the delight and wonder I found in Dallas Willard’s teaching.  And yet, I am undaunted by the tepid/bewildered response to my enthusiasm in the past.  I am compelled by the Spirit to share another Dallas Willard treasure with anyone who just might listen.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon on February 27 when Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 became officially available for purchase. (You don’t have to rely on my opinion alone; there are now 103 reviews.)

Through the skillful editing of his daughter and his friend, Dallas Willard has given the church a book for all who long to follow Christ more than they long for anything else. 

The Divine Conspiracy is God’s master plan for his people throughout the entire course of human history.  Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 is a practical guide for any individual who wants to live in daily intimacy with Jesus.  Larry Burtoft and Becky Heatly have transformed spoken words from one of our generation’s best teachers into a book that captures both his voice and his wisdom.  Dallas marks a path through the twenty-third psalm that the youngest believer can follow.  At the same time he reveals endless horizons of peace and joy to delight the heart of the most mature saint. 

As I read through the first time, I imagined Jesus asking, “Dallas, do you love me more than these?” After Dallas answers simply, “Yes, Lord, I do,” Jesus repeats the charge that follows the question: “Feed my lambs.” And so Dallas shows us plainly that the Lord is our Shepherd who will supply all our needs in abundance. 

If you don’t see how a Life Without Lack is possible, Dallas will guide you step by step until you do. The process is relatively simple, but you must commit completely. You must surrender your life to the transforming work of the Spirit.  If you have already surrendered your life completely to the Spirit, Life Without Lack may bless you with a fuller understanding of God’s design in the transformation process, a greater appreciation for the necessity of personal effort, and a deeper trust in the One who made transformation possible. But perhaps the most important blessing could be that you will learn how to better nourish any little lambs in your care.

If you love Jesus, I think you will be pleased with this book. 

Whether you or not you purchase and read Life Without Lack, I am content because God, in his infinite grace and love, has assured me that everyone I love can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil. He sweetly reminded me yet again that he is my Shepherd and I shall not want.

Since my liver enzymes started climbing in January, I have had one MRI, two CT scans, and I-don’t-know-how-many blood tests. After a trip to Pittsburgh for a second opinion, I had a port placed on June 22, and started IV chemotherapy on June 25 with no end to treatment in sight.

Because of the cancer in my body, I am constantly aware of the reality that life in this world is drawing to a close.  Whether my remaining time is measured in minutes or decades, I look forward to learning with friends and family how to live fully in the blessings and abundance that the Lord pours out generously without finding fault.

I look forward to watching the Lord bring hope and healing to our divided nation as His children learn to live without lack.

 

The Precious Death of Nabeel Qureshi

 

The end of Dr. Nabeel Qureshi’s life in this world pours light on Psalm 116:15 for me.

Each time death claims someone I love, or someone who is loved by someone I love, I find peace in the knowledge that the Lord God sees the death of His children as precious.

Precious!

Highly valued!

Of great importance!

In grief, I always think of the Lord welcoming His beloved one home as though He is receiving a treasure that will be placed in suitable surroundings at last.

When Nabeel died, for the first time, I had a clear image of the heavenly treasure the King received. I saw a perfectly cut diamond with light shining from a thousand facets.

I saw a gemstone crushed by mining,

cut with precision,

and polished to perfection.

I think it may be possible that Nabeel surrendered his life so completely that the Lord was able to finish all the work He planned for this one precious life in just a few short years.

I often think about judgment, not fearfully, but curiously.  I wonder about the timing, the process, the duration.  I think about the Lord bringing to light the deep things I’ve hidden from myself.  I think it will be a time of purifying, refining, and even detoxing.  I am certain it will be a removal of all things that are contrary to the character of Christ.  I regularly ask the Lord to show me stuff now so I don’t have to deal with it in the judgment.

Perhaps Nabeel is an exceedingly rare gem who passed through judgment completely while still in the body of flesh.  I often wonder if that’s what happened to Enoch who walked with God and was not, for God took him.  I wonder if Enoch had his own personal rapture because the Lord had nothing more to teach him in this world.

Of course Nabeel was not raptured. His body was destroyed from within by a relentless disease.  I empathized with the spiritual battle he fought as he prayed for the physical healing that did not come, because I fought the same battle for years after I found a lump on my breast in 2002.   I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with ambivalence when he spoke of those who were certain he would be healed.  I heard that same certainty repeatedly as cancer ravaged my body through chemo, radiation, chemo, radiation, surgery, surgery, radiation, radiation, surgery, surgery.  I can’t count of the number of times I received anointing, laying on of hands, and assurance of healing over the past fifteen years.  And still I live with a terminal illness.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with hope when I heard that he was investigating nutritional support. My healthcare providers are frequently surprised by my tolerance of and recovery after the damaging treatments that are normal protocol for cancer.  I think my ability to endure and bounce back is, at least in part, a result of my effort to eat food as God made it.  However, my hope for Nabeel was never in food.  It was always in the God who loves him beyond my imagination, the God who continued to use him mightily even as his body was wasting away.  I empathized with Nabeel because I know what it is like struggle through cancer with a hundred different people offering a hundred different solutions.  For me that may be hyperbole, for Nabeel, it is probably a gross underestimate. Still I know how loving and well-meaning people can add to a burden they only want to relieve.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with deep compassion because years ago I reached precisely the same conclusion he reached from searching the scripture: It is always God’s will to heal.  But even as I received sure knowledge that it is always God’s will to heal our mortal frames, I also received sure knowledge that healing these mortal frames is never His highest priority.  That’s the comment I left on Nabeel’s Facebook page even as I continued to pray that we would see a miracle.  I think I also shared what I learned of the relationship between faith and healing.  Too many Christians have an idea that faith means you must believe that you will be healed without doubt, and if doubt creeps in you cancel the promise for healing. That’s another thing I can’t count: the number of times I was told that expressing doubt about my healing is the reason I still have cancer.  (sad sigh)

I doubt that I will be healed, but I don’t doubt Jesus. He used cancer to deepen my understanding of faith, and whenever Jesus speaks to those he healed, I know to read “faith” as “faith in me”. Their faith in Jesus made them well.  My faith in Jesus gives me peace and joy even though breast cancer metastasized to my liver and lungs. Nabeel’s faith in Jesus empowered him to pour out his life in service to the end.  With the last of his strength Nabeel displayed to the world that his unshakable faith was in Jesus who is worthy of praise even if He does not heal in a particular instance.

Nabeel’s faith was unquestionably in Jesus and not in healing.

That perfect gem of faith in Jesus was buried in Nabeel’s heart long before he knew the name of the One in whom he believed. His faithful friend, David, mined that gem with truth for years before it became visible to others.  The rough-cut stone was crushed through heartbreak as Nabeel chose to love his Lord more than his family.  And even when the process of refining had only just begun, the value of the diamond was recognized by everyone who heard him speak of Jesus. In his final year, Nabeel opened his life to the world and allowed us all to watch as the Lord cut facet, after facet, after beautiful facet to reflect the love of the God who does not always heal, but who always suffers with us.

I don’t wonder why Nabeel died because I know the King has the right to claim His treasure whenever He judges the time is best to do so.  Nabeel Qureshi joins the ranks of men like Oswald Chambers, Peter Marshall, and Jim Elliot.  Their lives were all cut short, but they will continue to bless millions of people for generations to come in ways that God alone can understand.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of Nabeel Qureshi.