Nuggets: Hang Your Hope Up

flicker5-copy-4I’m hanging my hope on …

We’ve all said this at one time or another, or admonished someone else, “Don’t hang your hopes on that!”

Where is it safe to hang your hopes? Are you sometimes afraid to even identify what you hope for, for fear that it will never come to fruition? That if you hang it up, it will dangle precariously and then crash at your feet in a thousand pieces? Another common phrase is “hopes dashed to pieces.” We all know the feeling and the gut-wrenching sound of shattering hope.

So again, where is it safe to hang your hope?

Psalm 62:5 says, “For God alone, Oh my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” That’s the ESV, but KJV words it this way, ” … for my expectation is from Him.”

That word “expectation” in the Hebrew is tiqvah and actually means: cord, expectation, hope.

I can picture a cord with all my hopes swinging from it.

I wrote recently about expectation in marriage and how quickly it can dissolve intimacy. I also read this: It Takes a Lot to Build a Marriage and Only One Thing to Kill It.  I can personally attest to hanging high hopes on my husband–hopes that he often doesn’t even know about since he can’t read my mind. And then, having them hopelessly crushed when he is unable to fulfill my lofty, mysterious expectations.

Do you know why he cannot fulfill them? Because in the end of Psalm 62 it says, ” … power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.”

God alone has the power to meet my expectations. He only knows the desires of my heart (even before I voice them–even before I identify them). He alone is the safe place to hang my hope. 

Where is yours today? Is your hope safe?

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Nuggets: What Christians Must Remember About Donald Trump …

( … and all elected officials)

I didn’t stay awake to watch the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but I did know that at 3 a.m. I would check the results with my baby in my arms–a baby who will keenly experience the repercussions of America’s decision last night.

And praise the LORD.

It’s no secret who I voted for. Evangelical voters turned out in droves for Trump and I have no shame aligning myself with that crowd.

But as I rejoiced, I felt a warning rise up in my spirit:

In recent days, I’ve heard many Christians espouse their strong assurance that God is in control. When it seemed like Hillary might win, we declared that no matter what happened, God is on the throne.

We remembered that it doesn’t really matter who is in office. God sets up kings, leaders, rulers and God tears down the same. We remembered that He does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth in the seas and all the deeps. “HE it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightenings for the rain and brings for the wind from His storehouses.” (Psalm 135:6-7)

Now, lest we rejoice in our new found political stature as conservatives, lest we find hope in supreme court justices, a majority in the US Senate, the US House, a prolife president or the resounding commentary on the outgoing administration: let us remember what we said yesterday as we cast our ballots.

‘It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.’ Daniel 2:21-22

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Psalm 100:3

Nuggets: What were you expecting?

So, my hubby comes out of the field for (what feels like) the 100th time today. This excursion was only a couple nights, but a quick glance back at the month of October and I realize the heavy toll I’m feeling is grounded in the fact that we scarcely had a single weekend together last month.

I’m sitting comfortably at my kitchen table, enjoying quiet time with Jesus and waiting for Eve to wake. He texts me and suddenly my mind is off, thinking about what our evening will hold, happy that he has tomorrow off and conjuring up a myriad of expectations for our window of time together:

I want him to enjoy Eve … I want to feel intimate and close to him … I want physical affection … I want a chance to talk to him … I want him to express an achy “I missed you guys” too … I want him to tell me about what happened out there and how things went … I want to talk to him about some ideas rumbling around in my head … I want to make fun plans for this coming weekend since he’ll finally be home …

Quickly, (thankfully) God stopped my musings.

Haven’t we talked about this before?

This single greatest danger I have allowed to enter our marriage through my own weaknesses is expectation. Expectation of another fallen human being is doomed for failure, reaps disappointment and breeds discontentment and ultimately bitterness.

Psalm 62:5 says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.”

My expectations have no place but in God. There is no one else who will meet them every single time. There is no one else in whom they are safe. There’s honestly no one else who can handle them and no one else who can comfort me when they go unmet.

Where are your expectations today? What are you going to do when someone lets you down?

The Prayer That Works

It’s a wonder I still believe prayer works.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do believe prayer is powerful and effective. It can change the course of history. Earth is still spinning 24 hours behind where it should be based on the creation timeline—ever since Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still. People have walked the planet who never would have without prayer—think of Samuel and Joseph and the Shulamite woman’s son. Peter might have died in prison if a whole horde of people had not been praying for him in the house of a woman named Mary one dark night.

So yes, prayer works, but I have personally prayed for many things that never happened, for blessings that never materialized, healing that took forever and sometimes never came.

One might find comfort in the empathy of Mary and Martha. You remember them, the sisters of Lazarus and good friends of Jesus. Their brother fell sick; they knew he was dying. How they must have frantically scribbled the note; no time for frilly affections or casual comments. They simply wrote, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But Jesus didn’t come in time. Within two days, Lazarus had died. The sisters wrapped him in fragrant cloths and buried him. Then, Jesus showed up.

It’s a fabulous story—one of perfect love, death, miracles, passion, sorrow and elation. But you probably already know that story. Even those who didn’t grow up in Sunday school have heard it and know it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

I’m searching for a new lesson in this story. I’m search for a reason to pray, a way to pray. Because, even if I took some comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to ignore Mary and Martha too (it’s not just me) ultimately, He not only responded to their call of distress but performed a miracle for them. What did they do?

For years my most persistent prayer was, “Lord, please heal me of this eating disorder! Take it away! I love you God, I love you with all my heart. I want to be obedient. Help me to put this idol behind me and to live for you alone. Help me Jesus!”

Now, there’s nothing ultimately wrong with that prayer, but I heard a pastor say recently, “Nothing moves the hand of God like the love of God.”

Look at their prayer again, or better yet, see if you remember it. What did they say to Jesus?

Compare their petition to mine.

Me: “Lord I love you, please help me!”

Mary and Martha: “Lord, you love Lazarus! He needs you!”

What drove Jesus to respond to the sisters; to come and resurrect Lazarus, was not their love for Him, but His own love for Lazarus!

It’s time we re-worded our prayers. More than that, it’s time we rewired our hearts. It’s a false belief, but nonetheless the underlying motive most of us employ when seeking God’s favor—that if we love Him more, if we convince Him that we are completely “sold out”, He will capitulate and favor our request.

God doesn’t need His ego stroked. He does not bend His ear to earth because we are radically devoted to Him. God bends low to hear us because of His love for us, his unwarranted, unprecedented, deadly, life-giving love.

Psalm 25:4-7 says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

God’s love is so unbounded that it overrode my theological errors. Although I often pleaded for healing based on my love for and promised commitment to God, He reached out and healed me for the sake of His Son Jesus, whose radical love cost Him His life in order to reconcile the whole world to its Creator.

Now, I am praying again; I am praying differently. Now I am praying for healing for others, for broken bodies, broken marriages, aching hearts, physical needs and more. Some of those I’m praying for do not love Jesus, and oh the wonder of the truth that their lack of love is not the deciding factor in God’s answer.

Even those of us who love God, only know love because He loved us first. If the answers to our prayers hinges on the veracity of our love for God, we are doomed. Thanks be to God, that the prayer He hears, the prayer He answers, a worthy prayer cries, “Lord, I am the one you love!”

Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

CS Lewis and Complete Freedom from Anorexia

I hereby designate C.S. Lewis “My Favorite Author”. But then, maybe by simply reading Predatory Lies, you figured that out before I did.

This morning, I got an email called, CS Lewis Daily. Never one to disappoint:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.

It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

When I was fighting for freedom from my eating disorder, I ran up against this conundrum.

Could I not retain “myself” or the habits I had established that afforded me some imaginary modicum of control?

Could I give up counting calories but continue obsessively exercising?

What if I was willing to get treatment, as long as I could weigh myself everyday?

Could I continue to pursue the self-centered desires of my heart and keep personal “happiness” as the great goal of my life and at the same time surrender my will, my life, my eternal salvation to a God that I claim to love and trust?

And this is what I found: Just like cutting the grass can keep it short, but will not produce real, nutritious wheat; managing aspects of my eating disorder might keep me alive but would never result in freedom.

To mature and blossom in freedom, I must necessarily uproot the  grass and allow Christ to remake me–to make all things new. The change must be complete, a destruction of the old to allow the new to take root and flourish.

How to Be a Faith Hero

What would it take to be listed in the “Hall of Heroes”, Hebrews chapter 11? What made people like Abraham and Sarah, Barak and Rahab, David and Daniel and the others stand out? Do you think you have heroic faith?

Romans 4:19 says, “And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.”

Maybe that’s what it takes—maybe the kind of faith God wants us to have never doubts, never weakens, struggles or asks questions.

Before you get too discouraged and give up, knowing you’ve already had a few doubts or questioned God a few times, let’s take a close look at Abraham’s life.

In Genesis 17, God told Abraham that He would give him a son and that through Abraham God would make a might nation. But Abraham was already 100 years old and Sarah was really old too! It hardly seemed possible that they could have a child. Abraham reminded God of this fact:

“Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. ‘How could I become a father at the age of 100?’ he thought. ‘And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?’” (Genesis 17:17)

Abraham laughed at God! At first, he didn’t believe that God could really do what He said.

Later on in Genesis, Abraham was following God on a journey toward a promised land. He came to a city called Gerar. There, he told his wife, Sarah, to lie and say that she was his sister, because he was afraid that the king of that place might kill him in order to marry Sarah himself because she was very beautiful.

God never tells us to lie. But Abraham doubted that God would protect him, so he took matters into his own hands.

If we look through the rest of the Bible and examined the lives of the other faith heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11, we’d find that they sinned, failed and doubted God sometimes, too. Gideon did not believe that God would deliver the nation of Israel through him. David disobeyed God and committed adultery. Jacob deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing. Rahab was a prostitute, and Samson rebelled against his parents and acted pridefully.

God doesn’t expect us to have perfect faith. Even the men and women that the Bible commends for their strong faith, doubted sometimes.

One of my favorite Bible stories is in Mark 9. A man came to Jesus asking Him to heal his very sick son. Jesus told the man, “‘Anything is possible for the one who believes.’” With great honesty and humility, the man replied, “‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’”

At the end of the story, Jesus did heal the man’s son.

Don’t be ashamed if your faith wavers, if you have questions or difficulty believing. Ask God to help you with your unbelief and to strengthen your faith. The Bible says that God knows our hearts. Tell God about your fears and questions; He is big enough to handle your doubts and to give you answers.

Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.