This is Only Temporary

In the midst of the COVID-19 Quarantine I feel like everyone keeps telling each other that this is only temporary. No matter how true that statement may be, at week seven (for us in Southwest Missouri), it is starting to wear on us. I am fully aware of the need for us to be separated from each other and I know that it is saving lives.

My lilacs are beautiful, but their beauty too is only temporary.

Please stay with me as I share with you some thoughts I had a few years ago about things that are seen as temporary.

How many times do you hear the word temporary when it is not coupled with something unpleasant? Yes, I am still thinking too. Temporary is almost exclusively linked with something bad or at least unpleasant. “There is a temporary discomfort” – is code for it really hurts but you will live. There is a temporary delay in service. All associates are temporarily busy, please hold. Temporary might be one of our least liked words because you have to go through something unpleasant before things will get better.

        Unpleasant might be the largest understatement of the year for what you have gone through. What you are currently going through seems anything but temporary. It could be the death of a loved one, an end to a relationship, or a job experience where you were treated unfairly. You lost something that gave you your identity or a hope for your future and honestly you don’t know what to do next. Other times things are so big that catastrophe is the better word and nothing seems temporary at all.

            Nothing makes any sense and you feel overwhelmed by all of the emotions flooding you. Honestly, numb is a better word to describe how you are feeling. How could any of this be temporary? My whole life is gone? My plans and my future are gone too. You get tired of people telling you that “it will be okay” because this is not okay; nowhere near okay. Then you hear that “God has a plan for you”. Yes, I am sure God has a plan, but right now in the midst of this mess, I do not see a plan. I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring.

            Hopefully you will still have someone you trust who will speak truth into your heart during your time of tragedy. My family’s catastrophe was an EF-5 tornado that spared our lives, but not our home and a car. It did not spare our community when 1/3 of the town was destroyed and 162 lives were lost. We considered ourselves fortunate and blessed, but we were still homeless. A new baby would arrive in ten days now without a hospital to deliver in and no contact with my doctor. I didn’t know what to do. In the middle of this time, I became easily angered. The little things made me the angriest and I was unable to hide it any longer. The tornado did not make me angry: it exposed the anger in my heart. That anger was beginning to spill out on all of the well-meaning people with their godly platitudes. I had enough of “God has a plan”, “It will be okay”, and “God works in all things”.

            It was in that moment when my college mentor wrote me a quick note. The words I still recall to this day are “this is only temporary”. If any other person had told me that, I would have wanted to punch them in the face. However, Jennifer’s words came with wisdom and personal experience. You see, just a year earlier her family survived the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. Their lives had crumbled down around them with absolutely no warning, but she was reassuring me that God was still faithful and this was temporary.

            I cried when I read Jennifer’s words. Not because they were a new thought, but they came from a heart that had experienced something so very similar. Jennifer did not have all of the answers, but had personally witnessed God use something horrible for His good. For me, right then that was enough.

            I share this with you, because yet again Jennifer’s words are making me cry. It is for a different reason this time. Jennifer was recently diagnosed with aggressive malignant gliomas (a type of brain cancer). Jennifer’s cancer is inoperable and the chemo and radiation she will be doing will all be palliative in nature. It just means they will try to shrink the cancer, so Jennifer can have the best quality of life. There is no cure for her form of cancer.  

            In the midst of this pandemic, I keep seeing people on social media saying all kinds of things about how to stay safe from illness. The most prevalent in Christian circles, is that if you have enough faith, that faith will be like the blood of the Passover lamb that saved the people of Israel. If you have enough faith, then God will spare you from CV-19. That same sentiment has been said before of people having faith and being spared any number of diseases.

            They post many verses from the Bible as their proof that God is going to protect a person of faith from illness and any other bad thing that could happen. This kind of physical prosperity gospel is not the kind of “good news” that I know about Christ.

            I decided to look through scripture, dig into commentaries, and see for myself what many of these verses are saying in the context of the scripture that is around them. Please know that I don’t want to take away any hope that might come from these verses. On the contrary, I want to put them into a greater context, so that you can see a greater view of what God wants to tell us. There are some things we just can’t understand without looking into language, historical significance, and cultural relevance of the scripture.

            Since when I am writing it, it is Passover, I want to start with what Jesus prayed for His disciples on this night. In John 17:11 (NIV), Jesus prays, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.”

            In the NIV, the verse states that Jesus is praying protection over His disciples. When you look at the KJV, you will see “protect them” translated as “keep them”. David Guzik said, “no one kept being a disciple of a dead rabbi”. Jesus wanted His disciples to be kept by God the Father, and kept in unity. The most difficult and confusing twenty-four hours of their lives were about to start and they needed to hear their master praying for God to keep them.

            You see, the protection here wasn’t a protection from evil in the world. Jesus wasn’t praying that they would have a supernatural force-field around them and nothing bad would happen to them. He was praying that when the evil came, that God would keep them in unity with Him. It was a promise of presence.

            Another scripture that can be used to “prove” that God will protect you is Psalm 91:14. I want to look at verses 14-16 (NIV),

            “’Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.’”

            All through this Psalm, you see the writer (probably David) talking about the evil that is around and the protection of God. The Psalter says in this passage of scripture that because he loves God, God will rescue him and protect him, because he acknowledges God’s name. If you stop right there, then it gives all appearance that our omniscient God works like a vending machine or genie in a bottle. There is an equation. I do “this” and I have the protection of God. If that was the case, then why does it say in the next verse that God will be with him in trouble? Matthew Henry describes our protection here (as in all of this psalm) as an eternal deliverance. We have the reassurance that our soul is eternally protected. In the meantime, God gives you His presence in trouble.

            Sometimes that trouble seems to fly in the face of what you read in verse 16, that God will satisfy him with a long life and salvation. The satisfaction here is God’s satisfaction with the person’s life and his/her work. “A man may die young, and yet die full of days,” Mathew Henry.

            Moving back into Psalms again, I want to go to Psalm 32: 7. The scripture reads in the NIV, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Up to this point in Psalm 32, David is singing a song of repentance. He repented of his sin and praises God that He provides forgiveness. David knows that trouble will come and sometimes we are the source of it. That requires repentance. Matthew Henry describes it that when the troubles come, hiding in God will keep you from the sting of the trouble. Instead of being in the middle of the trouble, you will find yourself in joy, surrounded by songs of deliverance. “Trouble shall do me no real harm when the Lord is with me, rather it shall bring me much benefit, like the file which clears away the rust, but does not destroy the metal.” Spurgeon. Just like pruning a fruit tree hurts the tree, it makes it more fruitful. When trouble comes because of our own sin, and when we repent of that sin, we will find ourselves curled up hiding in the protecting arms of our loving God.

            Our God is Love. Because of that, if we want to be like God, we need to be loving as well. Paul states that love is a fruit of the Spirit. The most quoted passage of love in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 13. If you look at verse 7 (NIV), you will see about love that, “It always protects, always trusts, always, hopes, and always perseveres.” Here in a passage talking about love, we see that love is a protection. Spurgeon says, “Love does not ask to have an easy life of it: self love makes that her aim. Love denies herself, sacrifices herself, that she may win victories for God and hers shall be no tinsel crown.”

            All of this brings me back again to thinking about Jennifer and her diagnosis. Eric and Jennifer are a family that demonstrates what love is on a daily basis. I learned what true hospitality was by being always welcome in their home; never feeling like I was an imposition. They love God and have shown that love to others in the most practical of ways. Whether it was a meal shared, a car fixed, a fishing trip together at the pond, or a demonstration on how to get the best distance out of your potato gun (it was college). If they could help, they did.  

            You never doubted if Jennifer loved Eric. You never doubted that Eric loved Jennifer. Their love for family was so much that after having five kids of their own, they adopted two more. They loved the people of Haiti and served there for over a decade. Eric was serving when the earthquake hit in 2010, and worked behind the scenes to organize the international aide. Jennifer led her children in the praise of God while their new life in Haiti literally crumbled around them. They praised God, they loved people, and they served.

            If you were the type of person who thought that if you are good enough or have enough faith, bad things will be kept away from you, then by all accounts Jennifer and Eric should never have illness. However, if you talk to them, you will clearly see that what they have done has come from a heart in relationship with Christ: not obligation to Him. They love God and the fruit of that abiding relationship OVERFLOWS in their lives. They have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Their love of Christ and their obedience to Him, overflows to the point that is splashes over on others.

            Like so many other Christians right now, I am struggling. I am struggling to come to grips with a dear friend and mentor who is facing a diagnosis that, for all intents and purposes, seems excessively cruel. Compounding it all is the forced distance and separation. I know that I am not alone in this at all. Maybe that is why I feel so compelled to write about it.

            I know that many Christians will address other hurting believers with 2 Corinthians 4:17. In the NIV, it says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If I may be so bold as to say, this seems too flippant- a Sunday school answer to real struggles in life. Platitudes neatly wrapped up and delivered to a hurting soul. The scripture is still truth, because it is God’s word, but it can hurt instead of heal when someone brandishes it like a Band-aide to a hemorrhaging heart.

We are hurting: I am hurting. I know the truth of the scripture. I know that the here and now will be NOTHING in comparison to what we will have in eternity. However, if we dismiss the hurting of others or our own hurt and confusion, I fear we miss out on something with Christ. Wrestling with the pain and struggles in life doesn’t push us away from Christ it draws us near to Him. We abide in Him. We cling to Him. We don’t understand the “why”, but the comfort of the “who”, who holds us satiates us until we are safe in His arms.

In the end, I am left with the thought that life was never meant to be this way. That is why Christ had to come and die, because of His love we have the chance for it not to be this way anymore.

I want to share with you pieces of the last two Facebook posts Eric has made, because this is what the hope of Christ looks like.

 “Hello friends, it wasn’t the news we wanted, but we will walk the path before us with dignity and grace, knowing that the Lord is with us. Jennifer’s pathology shows that the tumors are aggressive malignant gliomas. We are working on a treatment plan with her doctors that will give her the best outcome and will share with you all when we know what that looks like and when it will begin. Thank you for continuing to pray. We have great hope in Jesus that extends beyond the reaches of what this world has to offer.”

“We continue to pray for healing but whatever the outcome we have no greater joy than knowing Christ and placing our hope and trust in Him. The medical community can give us their best effort, but Christ has already given His all on our behalf.”

So now, I cry and I pray. I cry because I am sad, and I cry because I know that if I don’t get to see Jennifer again this side of eternity, OUR loving God will make a way for us to meet again.

I pray, because I know my God is the God of all creation. I have a God who can completely heal, because I have seen him do it. I have a God who can walk with a child of His through cancer and deliver them on the other side of it, because I can testify to it by the lives of people I love. I have a God who can take His child home to glory and be completely healed, because I have watched a soul slip peacefully and silently into the arms of their loving Father.

Our pastor, Matt Derfelt, said on March 29th, that Jesus was the most unexpected player in the story of the world. God was creative and made our salvation a child instead of a conqueror. Pastor Matt went on to say, “It is so like God to do incredible things in unusual ways.” And so, I pray. I pray because my creative God will use all of our hurt, all of our pain, all of our suffering, and all of our confusion to bring about His glory.

I want to leave you with these words again: “I cried when I read Jennifer’s words. Not because they were a new thought, but they came from a heart that had experienced something so very similar. Jennifer did not have all of the answers, but had personally witnessed God use something horrible for His good. For me, right then that was enough.” God will bring something for our good and His glory out of all of this. I don’t know what that will be right now, but for right now, that is enough. This is only temporary.

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