Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Where is Your Trust?

If I were to ask you, "where is your trust?" what do you think you would answer? I think there are countless ways we could answer this, but the Bible seems to focus on one main contrast: trusting in man versus trusting in God. There are many, many verses that warn us against trusting in man rather than God, and several stories that illustrate just what happened when Bible characters fell into this trap. Maybe you've wondered, though, what exactly it means to trust in man? As I've thought about this and prayed through it, I think there are 3 ways we fall into this:

  1. We trust in man when we turn to close human relationships rather than or before God for help, comfort, or other needs. Please note, this does not mean it is wrong to ask other people for help, or to desire advice or comfort from others. God places us in families, communities, and other groups of people precisely because He knows we need each other. I think it's really a heart issue here: when troubles come and you are hurting, suffering, or afraid, who do you really rely on, deep down? Who do you seek out before all others? Your spouse? Your parents? A good friend? Is God your go-to source of help, wisdom, and comfort; or is He an afterthought? It isn't that our need for other people or desire to have human connection and "tangible" help is wrong in and of itself; rather, it is when this natural need and affection takes God's place that it becomes a problem. Earlier in Jeremiah, we are given a clear picture of this: "for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water." (Jer. 2:13) Only God is the source of living water, of all that we need and long for. Seeking other people to fill or carry our needs is like relying on a broken vase to hold water; eventually it will fail, and we will be left without what we need (and a mess to clean up, too!)

  2. We trust in man when we seek the advice, opinions, or solutions of professionals and human leaders over God. I think we have been seeing this a lot lately, right? We are living out the consequences of what happens when people turn to human authorities for solutions to major problems rather than humbly seeking God and His wisdom. No matter how gifted a person is, no matter how long they studied a subject or how specialized they are in their craft, nobody has all the answers. Only God does, and only He can guide us through any and all situations we may face. Psalm 146:3 NLT says, "Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there."

  3. We trust in man when we rely on ourselves--our abilities, our strength, our wisdom--rather than going to God in humility and asking for His help. Our society really pushes the idea of self-sufficiency, independence, and not needing anyone else. We are told that we need to look out for ourselves and are applauded when we push through challenges without assistance. Is this really Biblical, though? Aren't we told to live in humility, and that we can do nothing apart from Christ? "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Really, Guys, there are countless verses that tell us not to rely on ourselves. We are just too sinful and flawed to be able to work things out ourselves. Proverbs 28:26 puts this pretty bluntly: "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered." 
So obviously God doesn't want us trusting in man! Just to really solidify this, though, let me share a pretty intense contrast about the consequences of trusting in man versus trusting in God. It's found in Jeremiah 17:5-8.

"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man whose trust is in the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." 

Guys. Are you as struck by this as I am? A scraggly shrub in an ugly desert, versus a thriving, full, fruitful tree by a bountiful stream. Does it get any more opposite?! Let's think through the implications here...

Someone who trusts in man...

  • is like a shrub in the desert. If you've ever been around a parched, dried up shrub, you know they aren't very secure; it is very easy to pull them up.
  • won't see any good come. Basically, there's no hope for things to get better.
  • will dwell in parched wilderness and uninhabited salt land. To me, this gives the picture of living in a place where you don't have what you need, and there is nothing and no one around. Loneliness, isolation, and lack in every sense of the word.
So, trusting in man leads to us being like a shriveled, ugly shrub without good roots that is barely surviving in a barren land where we are alone and don't have what we need. Let's contrast that with what trusting in God brings.

Someone who trusts in God...

  1. is like a tree planted by water with roots soaking in the stream; it is solidly rooted and isn't going anywhere!
  2. has no fear even when "heat" comes because all needs are being met still.
  3. is not anxious for times of drought and doesn't cease to bear fruit. 
So, trusting in God leads to us being solidly rooted and immovable; we have all that we need, which makes us confident and hopeful, no matter what comes our way; and even in hard challenges and intense seasons, we are still equipped to bear fruit for God! What a beautiful, hope-filled picture this is. I want this; don't you all? So let me ask again, where is your trust? Let's pray that our answer can always be that our trust is in God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Fear Not

Do you guys know what the most frequent command of the Bible is? The answer might surprise you: "Do not fear." That is what we are told more often than any other command in God's Word, so obviously this is something God knew we would need to be reminded of. While I was reading one of these reminders recently, I realized that almost every time God tells us not to fear, He gives a reason why. "Fear not, FOR (fill in the blank)." There seems to be a few specific reasons that God gives us not to fear, and what's really awesome is that they acknowledge a lot of very common anxieties and worries that I've experienced or heard from others. Here are the things He showed me, and what I'm honestly preaching to myself as I grow in "fearing not."
"After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.'” ~Genesis 15:1

And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'" ~Luke 2:10

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." ~Luke 12:32

I think this is probably one of the most common fears. All of the "what ifs" that rise up in us about the coming days cover a variety of anxieties: "What if we don't have what we need?" "What if something awful happens?" "What if I fail?" "What if nothing works out?" The future is completely unknown to us, so it makes sense that it is a temptation to fear it. We need to remember, though, that it isn't unknown to God. He knows what's going to happen, and not only that, but He is the one who orchestrates it all to be for our ultimate good. As our family has gone through the process of selling our house and buying a new one, there have been many, many temptations to fear the future. "Will our house sell in time?" "Will we get when we need from the sale?" "Will we find a new home?" "Where will we go between selling and buying?" Throughout these weeks of transition, though, I have seen God provide and guide us in amazing ways, and over it all I have strongly sensed Him saying, "Just wait. Wait until you see what I have for you!" Have any of you had the experience of getting an awesome gift or surprise for someone you love, and the barely tolerable excitement of waiting for them to see it? That's the sense I get from God: He's an excited Daddy who can't wait for His kids to see what He has in store. How could we ever fear what is to come when we keep that picture in mind?
Fear: I Have No Value
Fear Not...For You are Precious to Him

"But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." Isaiah 43:1

And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” ~Daniel 10:19

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." ~Matthew 10:29-31

Insecurity. Low self esteem. Social anxiety. Call it what you want, this is another very common fear for us as people, though maybe not one we are as readily willing to confess. As people, we are wired to know and be known, to experience relationship with others that allows them to see "the real us" and still enjoy and love us; and for some of us, the thought of rejection is the worst fear we hold. I can vouch for the anxiety, pain, and distraction that all of this can cause! So what is the remedy? Well, in my experience, there is nothing as healing and freeing in this arena as recognizing the truth that God not only knows us as we long to be known, but He values us and loves us. He created us, forming us exactly as He wanted to; He knows everything we like and dislike; He knows our physical forms; He knows the worst things we have done, and the moments we have been most like Him. We don't have to explain ourselves to Him, or find excuses for our quirks, struggles, or failures. He knows. And He still loves us, delights in us, considers us precious to Him. This week I read a verse that sums this up so beautifully:

"On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: 'Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." (Zephaniah 3:16-17)

This is how God feels about you, and about me. He rejoices over us, to the point of full-on singing. There is nobody on earth who will come close to valuing you like He does, and He has the final say. So how could we ever fear that we have no worth?

"For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you."  ~Isaiah 41:13

"Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel." ~Isaiah 41:14

"Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen." ~Isaiah 44:2

At times it can feel like the work God wants us to do is impossible, right? Whether it's a huge task like leaving home to share the Gospel in a foreign country, or the daily work of training a child through a challenging behavior season, I think we have all come up against times when the work God gives us feels overwhelming. You know what, though? For every single mission or task that God gives us, He promises His help, and the harder the "job", the more He takes over and ensures we accomplish what He asks. I've heard it said that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, but the truth is that sometimes He does. We aren't meant to do the work on our own; we were made to rely on Him and to learn more and more how much we need Him to equip us. As soon as we recognize that we can't do it and ask Him to take over, He sets to work assuring that we succeed. I saw this played out in huge ways on my mission trip to Ecuador this last fall. Guys, I was terrified. So terrified that I spent almost the whole trip out there crying, believing it was a mistake that I went, and begging God to just let me go home. Obviously, I was not capable of this work on my own! Honestly, though, all of that weakness just made this truth even more evident: He comes in where we are the weakest and least able, and He takes over and equips us to do what He calls us to. And it's beyond incredible to witness.
Fear: I Can't Win This Battle
Fear Not...for He Fights for You

"And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again." ~Exodus 14:13

"Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory." ~Deuteronomy 20:3-4

"Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:4

I think we can all think of times when we were battling something, right? Temptation, addiction, depression, anger...this life is fraught with things that are eager to take us out. The truth is that as Christians living in this world, we all have a very real enemy who is bent on destroying us, using whatever means necessary to accomplish that, and there will be times in our lives when it seems like we are going to lose the battle. Last year I faced a few very intense moments of battle with my depression, and I will never forget the deep, core-level fear that I experienced when I thought I really might be defeated. I can testify to the truth, though, that God really does fight for us, even when we ourselves have nothing left to give to the battle. When I had no one else to turn to and nothing left to fight the battle myself, I experienced God's rescue like I never had before. There is a song called "Rescue" by Lauren Daigle that I think perfectly captures God's protective, warrior heart for His people. This is the chorus:

"I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night it's true, I will rescue you. I will never stop marching to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight, it's true; I will rescue you."

God is an incredible Rescuer, and He promises to save us in the midst of even the worst battles we face; we don't need to be afraid of defeat with Him on our side.

Fear Not...For He is with You

"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” ~Deuteronomy 31:8

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." ~Joshua 1:9

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." ~Isaiah 41:10

This seems to be the main reason we are told not to fear, and it covers any thing we could ever be afraid of: because God is with us. He never leaves us. He is never distant, or unaware of what's happening, or distracted. He was there in our past with whatever happened; He is here now in our current situations; and He will be there with us in whatever future trials or struggles we may have, all the way through our dying day and into eternity. He isn't going anywhere. The God of the universe and Creator of everything, with more power and might and strength than we will ever fathom is always here with us. Why should we be afraid of anything? How can we fear at all when we have this at the forefront of our minds? 

I think this all boils down to a choice: to focus on the fear itself, or on the reason to fear not. It isn't easy, nor is it automatic to suddenly never fear or have anxiety (believe me; I've been at this whole "fear not" battle for several years!) Ultimately, though, I am commanded not to fear--all of us are. And in His goodness, God has given us many, many reasons why we don't need to. The only thing to do now is to obey, and that's exactly what I want to do. How about you guys? Let's move forward together resolved to fear not, for all of the beautiful reasons our faithful Lord gives us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Sink or Swim?

Last week I was stunned by a sudden, persistent thought: "I want to quit." 

Quit what? I tried to puzzle through that vague-but-startling declaration, and after some time and prayer, I realized what I meant. The last few months have felt like swimming through an ocean of changes, chaos, fear, and grief. I've done my best to "just keep swimming" and to stay afloat; to stay above the current of hurt and panic all around me without adding to it with my own fears and heartache by staying positive, encouraging others, counting my many blessings, and otherwise striving to be a light in this dark time. All of these are good things! All of these are things I think God wants us to do! At some point, though, I think I must have made one grave mistake: I started swimming through all this stuff in my own power rather than relying on God. See, He knows I'm a human. He knows that just as everyone around me has been struggling and hurting, I have a whole heap of intense grief and loss that has completely wracked me inside, too. Rather than pausing long enough to let Him or anyone else recognize that or help me, though, I've been determined to keep moving forward and to "just have a good attitude" in spite of everything. The result? This week I fell apart. For no apparent reason. My heart and my mind just kept screaming, "I want to quit! I want to quit!" over and over. As I recognized that, I literally envisioned myself flailing away in some deep, dark sea, and then just suddenly stopping and sinking down, letting all of that grief and fear and anger and loss close in over me while I sink to the bottom and can just rest.

"That's what I want to do," I confessed to God, "I can't keep doing this. I'm too tired; tired in every way a person can be tired. I want to quit."

 And you know what? As soon as I thought that, I felt Him whisper, "What if you did? What if you just quit? What if you just stop swimming?"

I was shocked. "Wait, God. You WANT me to sink? You want me to cave in to despair, and get sucked into all the craziness, and just accept that life is terrible?"

I think He probably chuckled a little bit. "Who says the only options are to sink or swim? What about floating? Why don't you let me carry you for a while."

Now one of my favorite things in the entire world is to float on water. A favorite memory with my husband was when we rode float tubes down the Deschutes River together; one of my very best birthdays was spent paddle-boarding with a dear friend; and most of my favorite summer memories last year had to do with kayaking on lakes and rivers with my kids and our friends. So the invitation to float rather than sink or swim? That's one I can definitely take God up on.
I think most of us can relate to this scenario, right? The world and all of our circumstances right now are very much like a really big, very tumultuous sea of change and chaos, fear and panic, grief and loss. And even if we haven't been personally affected by current events, I think all of us can look back on a time when life felt as overwhelming as a raging ocean. All of us have to find some way to navigate these rough waters, and it seems to me that we have three options: Swim, Sink, or Float.

What would each of these look like? Well, to me, swimming means doing all of the work in my own power; ignoring the pain and hurt; just putting my head down and pushing ahead no matter how tired, weary, and sad I feel. 
  • It's facing every moment of loss with an automatic reminder to count my blessings, without allowing much time or thought for the pain or grief.

  • It's stopping any acknowledgement of how hard the season is by reminding myself, "Others have it so much worse! You have no place to complain."

  • It's shoving aside the deep ache I feel in missing things that have changed with "it's done and over with, and it's never coming back; you need to just look ahead."
The opposite extreme is sinking, which means not only acknowledging that the waters around me are intense, but choosing to just let them take over while I give up. That looks like...
  • Letting those moments of loss absolutely drown me in sorrow and grief, until that grows into resentment towards God as some kind of harsh, cruel "Taker", which consequently hinders my faith in Him.

  • Complaining about how hard things are, to anyone who will listen, without taking time to ask God for help to get through it and seeking ways to make this season work

  • Pining after my old life, refusing to move ahead, and stewing in discontentment and anger because this is NOT what I wanted.
Somewhere in between those two options, though, is that invitation from God to just float. It's recognizing the circumstances we are facing, and also the fact that we are not equipped to handle them, and then turning to Him for help.
  • When I face grief and loss, I can respond with, "Lord, this hurts so much. I don't understand it. I know, though, that you are good, even in this loss. Please give me your comfort." 

  • When life just starts feeling like too much to handle, I can cry out, "Father, this is such a hard season. I wish I didn't have to deal with these things. I'm thankful for the mercy you've shown and that things are better than they were, and at the same time I am struggling so much. Show me what to do, and strengthen me." 

  • And when the thought of so many things changing brings with it the awful, deep ache that honestly takes my breath away sometimes, I can confess, "Jesus, I miss my old life. I miss my friends, my routine, my dreams. I don't know how to move ahead in this season, but I know you have me here for a reason. Help me to be content."
As I was talking to a friend of mine this week about all of this, she shared some very cool insights about "just floating". When we float, we are able to rest and notice things around us more, whether that is the scenery around us, or even others around us who may need help. Floating puts us in a better position to be aware of the beauty still around us, and also available for what God wants us to do, because we aren't so busy fighting through the waters ourselves. 

The verse I've chosen as my life verse is Psalm 46:10, which says, "Be still and know that I am God." 

Another translation says, "Cease striving and know that I am God."

 If you, like me, have been striving with all your might to swim through challenging waters on your own, will you take that invitation from Him in this season? Cease striving, be still, and let Him take over.

And if you've allowed the sea to overwhelm you and cause you to sink down, I can tell you that I have been there before, and I know that if you call out to Him, He will "draw you out of deep waters" as Psalm 18:16 tells us. Let Him pull you up and show you the good things that can be found when you rest in Him.

Seasons of rough waters are intense and overwhelming at times, Guys, but we serve an incredibly faithful God who promises to never leave us or forsake us, and who says that He will equip us for every good work. We can trust Him to carry us through; all we need to do is float.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Worth the Loss

I think all of us are acquainted with loss to some degree or another. Some of us have lost tangible things, like jobs or homes; some of us have said goodbye to relationships or loved ones; and some of us have seen dreams or goals fall apart in front of us. No matter what type of loss we face, I think we can all agree on one thing: it hurts (sometimes unbearably so). This week when I was reading in Philippians, though, God gave me a very different view of loss--in fact, pretty much as opposite a view of loss as a person could have. 

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ....one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:7-8, 13-14)

To me, it seems like God views loss in a very different way than most of us do. Here is what I took from this passage.

1. Nothing holds as much value as knowing Christ more. 

"I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Nothing compares to knowing Jesus more. Nothing. Do you believe that? No earthly relationship, no matter how close and enjoyable; no astounding success, no matter how hard you worked to get it; no victory or triumph, no matter how hard the battle was that led to it; no dream realized, no matter how incredible it seems...nothing. It doesn't matter how much you think that thing you want most in the world will make you happy; in comparison to knowing Jesus, Paul says it is rubbish (literally waste, food scraps, and one translation even says excrement!) We have to get this main point down, let it sink into our hearts and take over completely, in order to really understand what Paul is saying in the rest of this passage. If we don't, we will stay stuck where loss will always mean grief, suffering, pain...and we will never be able to move forward into the "gain" Paul tells us about.

2. Loss still means suffering

Paul says that he "has suffered the loss of all things"...he suffered. It still hurt to lose those things. It's ok that we hurt when we lose things. I don't think that God is telling us that we can't grieve or feel sorrow over things being removed; in fact, He even tells us that there is a time to grieve.

Ecclesiastes 3:4-- "[there is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."  

Remember, when God first designed the world, He never intended for there to be grief or loss or death or sadness. Loss is a result of sin, and it hurts. Something else I've seen is that the things with the most intrinsic good--the closest relationships, most impacting jobs, most fulfilling dreams...those hurt the most to lose. So it isn't that Paul is saying these things are rubbish in and of themselves, things not worth crying over or getting upset about losing; it is that they just can't compare to the incredible gift of knowing Christ and growing closer to Him. So please don't take this as me saying you can't grieve or feel upset when you lose things (if I did that, I would probably be the biggest hypocrite ever!) but rather an acknowledgement of the fact that while loss absolutely does cause suffering, we don't want to stay stuck there.

3. Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead.

Sometimes I think we have this expectation that things here on earth will last forever (or at least for our lifetimes) when God has something much shorter-term than that in mind. We want a family business that extends through generations; a legacy home that is passed down to grandchildren; relationships that we grow old with...basically, we want things to last. But...what if God has other plans? What if His timeline is shorter than ours? What if He gives us some beautiful blessings to enjoy and learn from and savor for a season...but then He gently tells us it's time to be done, and He removes them in order to help us know Christ more? Maybe those things that we want to cling to and make last forever would end up somehow turning our hearts from Christ, or at least keeping us stunted in our growth and knowledge of Him. I know for me, the times I have experienced loss are the times when I have pressed in even closer to God and have learned things about Him that I either never knew, or needed to experience in a deeper way; and I never would have learned those things if He hadn't allowed the loss to take place. I think that's how loss somehow becomes gain; it isn't that having that beautiful blessing in and of itself was bad or wrong at all; it's that keeping it outside of the season set by God for it could cause us to grow stagnant in our faith and growth, and Him removing it allows us a deeper fellowship with Him. 
One of the gifts I got for my birthday this year was one of those cool stickers you put on water bottles, and I don't think it was a coincidence that I received this gift the same day that I read this passage in Philippians. God likes to reiterate important lessons in my life by repeating the message to my heart, and I'm pretty sure this was one of those cases. The sticker simply says, "Jesus is worth everything you're afraid of losing." He really, really is, Guys. Let's choose to believe that and live it out through every loss-made-gain.

"Lord, thank you for giving us things that hurt to lose. Thank you that we get to experience blessings and gifts that are so good and meaningful that we really care when they end. I pray, though, that we will not let that ache and suffering keep us from releasing them to you or leave us stuck in what you want us to leave behind. Help us, Lord, to strain toward what lies ahead, to see the great gain of knowing you as far surpassing any loss we experience in this world. Keep us in mind of your goodness and faithfulness, meet us where we're at with loss, and allow us the amazing benefit of gaining Christ through every loss. AMEN."

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Confident Expectation

I was reading in Romans last week for Bible time, and I was struck by some verses in chapter 15. 

Verses 4 and 13 say, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope....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."
Did you notice the ongoing theme here? The word "hope" is repeated three times in these two verses, and something that I think we could all use in this season of life is hope.
John Piper explains that "Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future — it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen — it is confident that it will happen. There is a moral certainty that the good we expect and desire will be done."
A moral certainty. This isn't flimsy, maybe-or-maybe-not, "it could happen" hope. No, this is solid, assured, confident hope that anchors us solidly in place, no matter what happens in the world around us.

I want that. Don't you guys? 
So how do we get this kind of hope? Is it something that we can conjure up ourselves if we just have enough will power and positive thinking? Or is it something we just sit around and wait on God to provide?

I think the verses I read actually give us some pretty cool insights into how we get hope.

1. Hope comes from and is realized in God Himself

First, we should recognize that hope is something that both comes from God, and is actually perfectly realized in God Himself. It is a gift that He gives to those who follow Him, the One who is ultimately our true hope as the Rescuer and Redeemer of our souls. He provides us with the more temporal hope needed to live life in this broken world, but is also the Eternal Hope that is promised to us when we accept Jesus as our Savior. Our hope is not in wealth, relationships, security, health, or peace on earth...it is all in God Himself, who is the Provider of all we need for living here and now, and the Reason "here and now" isn't all we have to cling to!

2. Hope comes through the encouragement of Scriptures

I can't even count the number of times I have faced a challenge or felt lost in grief or confusion and been encouraged by something in God's Word that brought me hope to keep moving forward. One of the ways that God often chooses to provide hope to us is through the truths found in the Bible. Another translation of verse four says, "For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." The consolation, instruction, and promises found in God's Word bolster us up in even the hardest storms of life, giving us hope to cling to for today and for eternity.

3. Hope comes by the power of the Holy Spirit

In a lot of ways, there is no way we can hold on to hope without the power of the Holy Spirit equipping us. It is not an easy thing to cling to hope in the midst of intense trials, to keep moving ahead when our flesh screams at us to quit, to strain our eyes looking for light in the darkest seasons. We need to be supernaturally empowered to do this, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Much like with the fruit of the Spirit, I believe that the trait of hope grows in us as we allow His Spirit to work in and through us in the many different circumstances of life. We can't create hope ourselves; it has to be planted, tended, and grown in us by the Holy Spirit.

4. Hope comes from endurance

Up to now, the ways we've talked about how we receive hope have had very little with us doing anything. It seems to be in large part something that God gives to us and equips us to hold onto, and isn't something we can conjure up on our own "fake it til you make it" style. No, real hope has to be given by God Himself. Does this let us off the hook then, and allow us to passively sit around waiting for Him to drop hope into our laps? Not exactly. Like most of Biblical living, we do have a part to play in the gifts God gives us. In this case, one of the ways we receive hope is through endurance, or "brave perseverance" as another translation says. When we face trials and difficulties in this life, we have a choice: to be a victim of our circumstances, or to bravely persevere. Earlier in Romans, we read that "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3-4) 
The way that we respond to our suffering has a direct impact on whether or not we will have hope. In this way, we do have something of a "say" in how much hope the Holy Spirit will be able to grow within us. If we choose to give up, play the victim, and stop trying, the Spirit doesn't have much to work with, does He? But if we endure our struggles (even if all that looks like is crying on the floor and begging God for help and hope rather than giving up...I've been there), that will lead to stronger character, and that will result in hope.

5. Hope comes from joy and peace in believing

In order to receive hope, we must believe--believe what? From what I've studied, Paul is speaking here about a belief in God that results in complete trust and faith in Him, reliance on His provision and goodness, resting in Him and knowing we have peace with Him. Maclaren's Exposition of the Bible tells us that "the attitude of trust is the necessary prerequisite condition of God’s being able to fill a man’s soul, and that God’s being able to fill a man’s soul is the necessary consequence of a man’s trust." It is only in believing in God--in all that He says He is and all that He tells us in His Word--and seeking to live in a way that we know we have peace with Him that we can have hope. Even in the worst trials, deepest griefs, or hardest challenges, we can have hope as long as we know we are "right with God." On the other hand, if we are living apart from Him, not in line with what He tells us to do, not relying on Him or trusting in Him, then even the best circumstances will hold no peace and no hope for us.

So you see, there seems to be a little bit of give-and-take when it comes to having hope. It is a gift given by God and realized in Him, through His Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, in order to be able to receive this gift and have it flourish within us, we are called to endure our sufferings and to live in complete trust and reliance on God. Even here and now, with the intense circumstances of our world and the personal and widespread trials that have resulted, we can have hope. And when we have hope, it often causes others around us to stop and take notice, and to ask us how we could possibly have hope right now. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..."

What a gift it would be to be able to share that hope with others! I pray that we will be those people who not only have hope, but are able to share it with a world that desperately needs it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Make Summer 2020 Count, Part 2: 20 Books Read in Summer 2020

Our next post in the summer collaboration with Raising Rices is all about something near and dear to my heart: reading!!

Helping my kids develop a love of reading is such a big goal of mine. I want them to be able to gain the same joy, excitement, and sense of "escape" I get to experience with reading, and I also know the important benefits that come from being an avid reader.

Why Read?
  • Reading sets the stage for the rest of a child's learning. Children who read more have an easier time learning different skills, and they are also able to learn more independently since they can read and understand directions for homework.

  • It allows kids to develop their own interests and passions, and gives them the chance to do their own research and learning about things that they love. 

  • It is physically relaxing. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, reduces stress, and makes it easier to fall asleep.

  • It grows vocabulary, giving them more understanding of words we use on a daily basis as well as introducing them to new words they may not otherwise encounter.

  • It helps us to grow in empathy with others. When we read about people in stories, and especially the way they think, feel, and respond to different circumstances, it helps us to grow in seeing other peoples' views and to understand how they may be feeling.

  • It gives us more connected relationships. Reading together as a family can be a very sweet and special time of bonding and connecting, and has the potential to build sweet memories.

  • As believers, reading can strengthen our relationship with God and help us to grow in character and faith, first and foremost through reading His Word, and also when we read devotionals, Christian living books, and other faith-building material.
So hopefully I've convinced you that making an effort in reading is worth it! Here are some ideas to help you fill your days with some great reading:
  • Make reading time a special, comforting time. Maybe you can set up a little reading corner for your kiddos, or make your kids their own little "book baskets", filled with some books to read, a little blanket, a drink, maybe a snack...If reading is done along with other happy and comforting things, it will help kids to see it as a joy and not a chore.

  • Sign up for summer reading! Even this year with libraries and bookstores closed, there are summer reading programs available! Some libraries are offering their programs online, and a few have opened up enough to allow for in-person pickup of reading charts. Look up your local library and see how they are handling summer reading this year. It's amazing what a fun sticker chart can do in inspiring kids to read!

  • Let your kids help you choose which books they want to read (if you're worried about them choosing something you won't approve of,  or will be overwhelmed by all the options, have them select from a set of books you've already approved.) If a kid chooses the book, they are much more likely to have a vested interest in it!

  • Make reading a family affair. Read aloud to the kiddos while cuddled on the couch, or curled up on a blanket outside. Or, have a "reading party" where everybody grabs a few books and sits together reading on their own (or looking at pictures for pre-readers). I am particularly fond of this option because it means I get to read a book I love while still enjoying time with my kids.

  • Use the awesome (and totally free) printable from Raising Rices! This fun sheet has a wide variety of different books for kids to color in after reading them, making it super easy to ensure our kiddos are getting a nice wide range of genres to enjoy. 
Our goal this summer is to have our kiddos read 20 books! This might seem like a big number, but if you tailor the lengths of books to your kids' reading level, it should be totally do-able! We hope you will join us in making this summer count by growing a love of reading in your kids (and yourself, too!)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

It Will Be Worth It

Back in February, I got the chance to have a girls' getaway on Mount Hood with some sweet friends. We had a great time going out for dinner, playing games, and just catching up, and then after spending the night in our cute little cabin, we packed up and drove further up the mountain to find a good spot to enjoy the snow. On our way, my friend Nicole made a suggestion, "Hey! What if we did a little hike to Mirror Lake? It's really beautiful, and not too long of a hike!" I was up for anything as long as I could be with friends, and our sweet friend Susan agreed with that plan, too; so we all headed over to the snowy-but-beautiful Mirror Lake trail. We made it to the parking lot and starting getting into our snow gear: layers of thick coats, snow pants, and heavy snow boots. Then we began tramping our way down the trail, stopping every now and again to stare in awe at the literal "winter wonderland" surrounding us. The trees were dripping with icicles, a pristine blanket of snow glimmered on the ground, and there was an almost-holy hush in the woods as we picked our way along the path. We whispered to each other in wonder, taking it all in and stopping to snap photos (not that any picture could adequately capture the beauty God had placed before us), and continued cheerfully on. This was the way things went for a good while, just enjoying the scenery and breathing in the crisp air, happy to be out in nature and literally worshiping God as we witnessed His workmanship. 
After some time, though, I started to feel the physical strain of wading through the deep snow in heavy snow gear; being under five feet tall does not lend itself well to traversing snow drifts, and it wasn't long before I was sweating and even gasping for breath a little! This was hard work, and I started to doubt my abilities to get all the way to the lake. I asked my friends if they knew how much further it was. "Oh, it's just a little ways! We're more than halfway there!" Nicole chirped from the front, easily stepping over a pile of snow with her long legs that I knew I would have to plow through head-first. Still, I wanted to try to make it to the lake, so I said nothing more as we moved forward. A while later, we came to the bottom of a very high hill, with the trail winding its way back and forth across it in dozens of steep switchbacks that made me literally tear up in despair. "Wait. We have to climb that?" I choked out. My friends picked up on my discouragement. "I'm sorry, Mary, I really thought it was closer!" Nicole lamented, "I think they must have had to make a new path, and the shorter one was buried in the snow..."

Do we need to go back?" asked Susan in a concerned tone.

As we were talking, a few people passed by us, coming down the trail from the lake. One of them paused, seeing the expressions of doubt we wore, and he said earnestly, "You guys are almost there! Just up this trail and over the top. It's worth it. I promise." With that message of hope, the three of us decided to continue on. I won't lie: that was the hardest hike I have ever done, and it wasn't fun. I shed literal tears of frustration and exhaustion, angry that I wasn't able to handle it more easily and seriously doubting that any view could be worth something this hard. I didn't think it would ever end as we took turn after turn after turn, winding our way slowly (I mean agonizingly slowly) up the hill. We didn't talk. We didn't notice the scenery. We just kept our heads down and plowed desperately ahead, one heavy step at a time. Finally, after what felt like hours, the ground leveled out, and we could see a clearing through the trees just ahead. We stumbled our way over the last few snowdrifts and came out on the other side of the forest, and were immediately struck dumb by what lay before us. The view was breathtaking: a glimmering clearing of fresh snow, surrounded by white-capped trees rising up on all sides. We could see the beautiful blue sky streaked with swirls of wispy clouds, and rays of sunlight fell slanting all over everything, giving it all the appearance of a field of glitter. We stood there catching our breath and staring around at everything, drinking it all in with so much gratitude and wonder, and also a resolute agreement: it was worth it.
As I think back on that day, I can see so many similarities in that journey up the hill to the lake and this season of life we are all facing. This is a hard, hard time in history. Worldwide pandemics; enforced quarantines and curfews; job loss; economic turmoil; unbelievable tales of social injustice; and so much grief, anger, fear, and confusion in the world that it literally takes your breath away. I don't know about you all, but there have been many, many times I have wished we could just go back; turn back the clock, forget we ever got on this stupid path, and go back to the security and peace of everything before this. Here's what I keep coming back to, though; it's going to be worth it. I don't know what things will end up looking like, and I don't know how it's all going to work out; but I do know this: 
  • God has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • He will cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28)
  • He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • His steadfast love never ceases, and His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:21-23)
  • Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed (Rom. 8:18)
I believe that God is working through all of our current events in a myriad of ways: bringing people to faith who would otherwise never know Him; drawing families closer to each other and to Him; helping us all reassess our lives and figure out what we want them to look like; and revealing things we would have been to busy to see before (like sins to overcome, skills and talents to share, or beliefs to reevaluate). And beyond the work I believe He is doing here and now, I also know that we have the hope and promise of eternal life with Him. Even if this broken world never gets better, we get to go Home to a new world where there is no sickness, no death, no pain, no hate, nothing bad at all!
I know that right now things are so hard for so many people that all they can do is put their heads down and power through one step at a time, but I hope I can encourage you, like that man on the trail to Mirror Lake encouraged me, to just keep going; while I may not be able to see or explain what God has in store for us after this season, if the view is anything close to what we experienced that day in February, I promise you all...it really will all be worth it.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 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." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18