Hopeful or Hope-filled

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:5, NLT)

Yesterday began the new litergical Church year and the observance of Advent in preparation for Christmas. Around the world pastors went to before their congregations with a message of hope. My pastor was among them.

The question our asked to consider was whether we are hopeful or hope-filled. The distinction he made between the two: hope is typically based in wishes, not certainty. While followers of Christ Jesus have a hope that is settled on the promises and provision of God. The very names we identify our God by should bring a stalwart and solid foundation for our hope: God the Lord (Adonai); God our Peace (Jehovah Shalom); God our Provider (Jehovah Jireh); and God the Covenant Keeper (Yahweh).

So as we face unknown and uncertain times in our lives, and prepare with hope for this season of Advent, I pray that we will face it with the confidence Paul describes in the text above: the hope we have from God will not disappoint us.

Now I’m already anticipating the questions and arguments–probably because I had them myself. “How can you be sure?” “God didn’t give me what I asked for.” “They still died and begged God for more time.” “I am still in pain.” “How can God expect me to wait longer for…” Disappointment upon disappointment.

And that’s where it could end, where we throw up our hands, and toss in the towel. Until we consider a concept that has been twisted and the distortions uplifted to support the disappointments. Ready? We don’t think like God.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that we don’t have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and in the Old Testament, Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

Instead, if we allow God, believe God’s best is always for us, God will give us the desires of our heart (see Psalm 37:4). Believing this this truly enables us to echo with the psalmist, “The Lord is my provider, I have everything I need (Psalm 23:1).”

That’s the hope we build on and live into. That is the hope that will not disappoint. That hope is surely more than a thimble full of wishes.

A Prayer for Hope: Lord, I maintain my hope in You and I hold onto the assurance that what I am praying for is already accomplished in the name of Jesus. Your Word promises “no good thing does He withhold from those that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). I wait upon You for Your definition of the “good thing” You will not withhold from me. As David prayed in Psalm 18:1: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (biblestudytools.com, 6/20/22)

Home Part 3…Unpacking

Confession: I hate unpacking. I’m not a fan of moving either.

Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite Momisms was: a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Trouble for me was I had too many things and never enough places.

Not much has changed.

But I don’t just haul boxes from state to state, town to town, and house to house. There’s this emotional baggage I cart from place to place. And those boxes can be big, and extremely heavy. I’ve been carrying some of those boxes since childhood. And my kind husband has been kind and mostly quiet about the weight and the amount.

I’ve come to understand some of this baggage in new ways over the past two years, and more recently, thanks to Noom.

One of the things in my life that has been skewed and generally out of control has been my response to food and my propensity for overeating and eating unhealthily. It’s not that I haven’t known better (and taught others to do better), but I have lacked both the understanding of why and the willpower to stay committed to eating for health. The lessons provided with my Noom program fee, helped me to see what distortions and unhealthy rules I had adopted and lived by.

And while this isn’t a post about eating rules that sabotage health, the very thought that I continue to live by rules (aka unhealthy baggage) leaves me discouraged and waffling in my hope for things to get better. Unless I decide unpack the boxes, and get rid of the stuff, the thinking, the believing, holding me back from healing and happiness.

But what does it take to unpack the boxes I carried for a lifetime?

Grace. And by this I mean absence of judging and shaming. I’m referring to a gentleness that understands how beliefs are formed, and how they often necessary for survival.

Courage. I don’t see courage as the absence of fear, but as the commitment to move ahead in spite of it. The realization that the goal is important, but so is the process of achieving it.

Support. We were created for relationship. Not a one of us needs to go this alone. I love the biblical image of how during the battle the Israelites were winning when Moses lifted up the staff. When his strength wavered, his friends and family came alongside him and held up his arms. We need to find those who will offer strength and support when feel weak and vulnerable. And we need to find those we can lend support to.

Hope. We have to have that spark that encourages us to keep trying. We have to believe things can be better. One of my favorite movie lines comes from the movie “As Good As It Gets.” The main character wants to see his therapist, but without an appointment. When the therapist holds the line, the character walks out into the waiting room and looks at the other patients and asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Because of the devastation of COVID-19 pandemic, many people are asking when things will get back to normal? When will things get easy and familiar again? When will things stop being so difficult? Why do things have to be so difficult?

Just as there is little sense in carrying around belief baggage that no longer serves, there is very little logic in trying to back in time. Life and time are always moving forward. We can choose to not go along with that, to carry unnecessary baggage with us…but why?

And therein lies my hope. Life is ever moving forward. I was made for life. I was made to move forward. That my friends is what is normal. Not reaching back. Not trying to fix today with outdated strategies from yesterday.

Here’s a terrific piece of good news! The roadmap I choose to follow, the Bible, teaches that God is making things new…every day. And for each day there is a promise: because of God’s great faithfulness, each new day is met with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23-24, author’s paraphrase).

So while I hate unpacking, I’m ready for a lighter load. And looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday’s Word—A Day Late…Again

All right. I did it again. I feel a little like the Reese’s Cup guy: Sorry…not sorry.

There was no way I was going to get the weekly word posted yesterday. I thought maybe. I thought several times: I need to get to it. But I was glued to my TV all day. I needed to be.

I needed the return to decorum. I needed to feel the healing that comes from change. I needed ritual. I needed the ceremony. I needed to feel connected to something bigger than me…and something positive.

I went to bed thankful. And I woke up literally formulating this post. My first thoughts at 4:12AM were this post.

My prayer is that you can see and feel hopeful.

One of the highlights of the day was the reading by the Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Her words bring me to tears…in the best kind of way.

Hope will make us brave enough to be it.

Selah: Still in the Darkness

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In darkness we often find fear. Not seeing…not knowing. Where should we go? What lurks beyond our sight? Panic!

What if God is leading us to a new place of trust…in him?

What if instead of panic and fear that pushes us to run—a foolish choice at best since we cannot see where we are going—God wants us to sit still?

This morning I had a conversation with another believer who was describing how God pushed aside her daily To Do list and offerered her his instead.

And there was only one thing on it.

What if God is inviting us to set aside our busyness and multi-tasking ways and do his one thing?

What if we got still in the darkness—the unknown—believe God’s word and promise, and just wait until he showed us the next step to take?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13)

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Selah: Mercy for Sorrow

After recounting a gruesomely long list of horrible things that has happened to him, the writer of Lamentations pens these words:  “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: (Lamentations 3:19-21, NLT).”

Remembering the negative things which occurred in our lives is one thing, ruminating on them is completely different. Each has it’s own power. Ruminating, going over and over and over, leaves us feeling powerless and throws us into a state of hopelessness. We give up because we begin to believe things will never get better.

But we can use remembering in a different way resulting in a much better outcome. Notice in the verse above: the quote doesn’t end with a period—there’s more to this!

Here’s what the author adds after the colon: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’ The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord (Lamentations 3:22-26, NLT).”

God’s love goes deep and has no end. His mercies are new every morning.

What is my part in this? What do I need to do to receive this daily portion of mercy? Hope in him. Search for him. Wait on him.

Selah.

Tracing and Anticipating

I wrote this in 2009 and posted it as a note on Facebook–it came up as “memories” reminder. I’m reposting it and will edit it later. I needed the message.

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Our three year old grandson, Asher, started pre-school this fall. From the get go, we knew he was a bright child. He even came on his due date. We watched Baby Einstein videos with him until we all knew them by heart. Very early, he knew his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

At Pre-school they are teaching the kids their letters and numbers and having them trace them. Asher walks around with his left hand in the air, at the ready for the next thing to trace. If he isn’t tracing the letters, he’s counting how many characters or letters are in the word or string of words. He traces letters on the TV, on boxes, on books, from the newspaper, or on the shirt someone has on. One day, I found him sitting on the floor in the dining room. We have a shelf there with accident/spare clothes for him. He had all his spare shirts lying out and his own shirt off. When I asked what he was doing he looked at me with that “isn’t it obvious, Mema” look. Then, as matter of factly as he could, he informed me that he was tracing. Every letter around him screams to be traced!

Reflecting on Asher’s tracing, I began to see three components that made Asher such a good tracer. First, he walked through his day, minute by minute and room by room, anticipating, no expecting, that there would be letters to trace or count. What do you eagerly anticipate? A quick read of Romans 8 paints a clear picture of what we need to be anticipating.

Anticipating that God is at work, that he has a plan and it includes us, drives us, spurs us, motivates us to be ready. Asher walks around expecting to find something to trace. His little hand is often in the air, making circles, like an airplane getting ready to land. The word tells us we are to be ready, to always have an answer when someone asks us what are hope is about.

Could you do that? I’m not asking if you know some specific plan or canned presentation. I don’t care if you have scripture memorized, but can you (from a sincere heart) tell someone, “This is where I was. This is what God in Christ did for me. And this is where I’m headed.” It’s your story, are you ready to tell it?

And finally, I have been so impressed by Asher’s focus. His questions reveal his passion to learn more. He listens to all our conversations. I know this because often my words come back to me through him. It has caused me to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it. We’ve even had to resort to spelling things we want to keep above his head. Everything he sees is an item to trace. If he’s not tracing letters, then his finger runs around the circumference or perimeter of an item. Some days he carries his step stool from room to room so that he can be sure to catch whatever you’re doing.

Right now Asher seems to be practicing the fine art of learning. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence’s continual practice of the awareness of God. And I started to wonder: what keeps me from anticipating God at every turn? Do I have preconceived and limiting notions about who God is and what he can do? What keeps me from being ready? Is it fear, or busyness, or ignorance of the urgency, or God help us: lack of love? What keeps me from being focused? The enemy is the expert at divide and conquer. If he can get us to thinking in terms of sacred and secular, he knows it’s just a short distance disconnecting our head and heart.

When I was in seminary the second time around, a Sunday School teacher asked our younger daughter, Beth (Asher’s mom), what she wanted to be when she grew up. Beth’s answer struck the teacher enough that she made sure to tell me. Beth’s answer was, “a student like my mom.” There is always a need for us to put into practice what we know, but oh, that God would rekindle in each of us the insatiable desire to learn.

Then we would, like Asher, be anticipating, ready, and focused.

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What are you waiting for?

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7, ESV

The world says: Don’t just stand there, do something.

The world warns that if we wait to act the future will be shorter.

The world’s pattern is typically: ready, shoot, aim.

God says, “Wait.”

Henry Blackaby encourages, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”

Do you know what you’re waiting for?

Do you know who?

PRAYER: God, I don’t want to be doing something or anything just to fill up time. I will wait for you to tell me what I’m waiting for. For only in knowing that will I have any hope of finding my purpose.

Shhhhhh.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:5, ESV)

When I have to wait, I am typically not silent about it.

I can find all kinds of ways to grumble and complain about the waiting. The line’s too long. The Musack is too annoying. I’m wasting time.

I am learning all the grumbling in the world will not make the wait shorter or more enjoyable.

Perhaps if I allow silence into my waiting…if I will quiet my mind, my heart, my spirit…I will hear another voice speaking and assuring me the process is the point.

PRAYER: God who dwells in silence and whispers, quiet me and speak so I can hear.

Book Review: Lost & Found–Sarah Jakes

I hadn’t even made it out of the introduction and I was already in tears and convinced I would probably need to purchase a whole case of this book. For sure, I wanted to share it with my grown daughters who had experienced many of the struggles Sarah describes…and grown up under the microscope of being a pastor’s daughter.

This story is so much more than just the recounting of a “PK” gone wild…it is the truth of the gospel: there is grace. A contemporary Christian artist puts it this way:
You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far
That you can’t get back when you’re lost,
Where you are is never too late, so bad, so much
That you can’t change who you are,
You can change who you are (Who You Are by Unspoken)

The level of courage that Sarah Jakes demonstrates as she shares the gritty details of her choices and how far she feels she moved away from what she knew and the grace that could save and sustain her seems to come from someone much older than just twenty-five.

This book is gift of hope. Hope for the one whose made devastating life choices, and hope for those who love them.

When I started reading I purchased a little pad of sticky notes and started writing down the points that stuck out to me. I gave up somewhere in the second chapter–there were just so many. This would make an excellent women’s study, broaching topics and examining feelings that often stay hidden and do so much damage.

Sarah makes this statement in her conclusion: The chapters of my life I’ve shared with you within these pages reveal some of my darkest hours and most painful disappointments. But as a broken window acts as a prism, filtering sunlight through its cracks I hope that you can see the many beautiful moments of color dancing within my rooms.

I recommend this book very highly and am proud to have it on my bookshelf.

I received a copy of this book to read from the publisher in return for my review.

Book Review: The Turning

Not what I expected…but exactly what I needed.

And yet, as fresh and captivating as this book was…it is exactly what I should have expected from Davis Bunn.

The invitation on the back cover is “take the turning and walk the unlikely road.” From cover to cover that is what this book is. It is a non-stop invitation to turn from the familiar, to turn from the comfortable, to turn toward the One who calling his people to himself and to his work.

The big irony in the story for me was how God infused and used those who should be without hope to rekindle hope in others while the one who tried to convince others hope was dead was hanging onto hope the tightest…or so he thought.

Hope is not a dream. It’s God’s reality for his people and this book hands you that truth, page after page turning page.

My favorite part of the whole book was Aaron’s sermon from Isaiah. It’s worth the price of the book all by itself.

My favorite quote comes from Ruth as John is facing a task that he doesn’t feel qualified for. She tells him, “No one is saying you don’t have reasons to refuse. But God is asking each of us to stretch beyond what we think we can do. That’s what it means to be called.”

The message is simple, the challenge is life-changing. I give all the stars possible because it calls to reach for those stars…and for God. Turn the pages for yourself and delight yourself in the journey.

Read chapters 1-3 of THE TURNING by Davis Bunn for free: http://statictab.com/fvrrsxz

Sweepstakes:

Davis Bunn is a four-time Christy Award-winning, best-selling author now serving as writer-in-residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Defined by readers and reviewers as a “wise teacher,” “gentleman adventurer,” “consummate writer,” and “Renaissance man,” his work in business took him to over 40 countries around the world, and his books have sold more than seven million copies in sixteen languages.

Visit Davis at davisbunn.com or theturningbook.com/

I received a complimentary copy of The Turning from River North Fiction in exchange for my honest
review.

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