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Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned  in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –the Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-13

wind-treeContentment is so fragile, so subjective. If we truly desire to be content no matter our circumstances, or believe we’ve achieved it, soon something comes along to test this resolve. I can’t resolve to be content. And I’m tired of faking it.
I often see verse 13 plucked out of this paragraph, and yes, while always true, the apostle is specifically saying we need help to be perpetually content in every situation. The fact that Paul makes a point to say he needs God’s strength to achieve this tells me that continual contentment is important to have and yet impossible to achieve alone.

I live in a world that constantly tempts me to desire comfort and ease as a replacement for contentment, and it is quick to tell me what it will take. The latest fashion trend (which appears to be 90s Grunge at the moment-ehh, no thanks). Newer furniture. Bigger home. Perfect body. A newer-faster-cooler car. The latest app to make life easier. Healthier junk food. Stress-free relationships-job-commute-vacation-etc.

Deficiency or pain or discomfort or unrest or disunity or human imperfections (ours AND others’) will always be with us. ALWAYS. Contentment is going to need to be more deeply felt, more firmly established, less apt to be plucked away the moment something goes wrong.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
(She) will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.” Jer. 17:7-8

What shakes your sense of contentment? I confess that for me, and more lately as I am “feeling” age gaining, it doesn’t take much. How do you respond to adversity, or a rough day at work/home/with kids? Boneheads on the road? (um, I’ve never seen any…) Unsatisfactory customer service? Mind-numbing political rhetoric? Facebook feed? How long does it take for you to turn from the source and reach deeper for the Source, for the Lord’s strength and larger eternal perspective, for peace that passes understanding in the midst of discontent?

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Neuralizer1My 91 year old father-in-law suffers from dementia. Beneath his confusion, he’s still the kind, selfless soul he’s always been, a man whose polite manners and devotion to God are still evident even in his befuddled state. He’s unable to grasp that he lives in a care home. Most of the time, he thinks he’s on a ship, in a church, or waiting at a bus station. People walking past are characters in a TV show. But ask him about specific battles of WW2, or which heads of state were meeting to discuss a peace treaty, or what king ruled Great Britain in the 800s, and he can tell you real history in surprisingly accurate detail. I know–I have to Google most topics on my phone as he talks just to keep up–and he’s right.

His ability to remember history, whether it be World, American, or his own, is stronger the farther back we go. Present events are beyond his ability to grasp. Perhaps, as a form of blessing, his mind retains what it wants to remember and blocks out what it doesn’t.

I don’t know how dementia works. And I don’t know why we remember some things and forget others. In my case, this is usually to my dismay. I find it distressing that I can remember hurtful words, but can’t remember all the cute things my children said as toddlers. I’d prefer it the other way around.

We remember the bad so well (or maybe I’m the only one?). I suppose the biblical notion of forgiving AND forgetting is too foreign to our human nature. We are so good at remembering the mistakes of others—especially if those mistakes affected us.

But the Bible says that when God forgives, he also forgets.

Do you find that notion hard to grasp? As in, God, I’m really grateful that you’ve forgiven me, but you aren’t really going to forget about that, are you? You’re God, you know everything. How can you forget what I did? What she did? What he did?

In my upcoming novel, The Memoir of Johnny Devine, John wishes the infamy of his Hollywood years could disappear. Even more, he wishes people could forget his past and see him in a new light, the light of God’s redeeming grace. But getting people to completely forget each other’s mistakes isn’t easy. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible.

If only those nifty memory neutralizers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith used in Men In Black were available. (!)

If you’ve ever made a mistake, or worse, made a full-blown career of sin, and later repented to God, who forgives and forgets, how do you face people who will never forget? God can throw our sin into the sea of forgetfulness, so why can’t people?

We can’t. Period. Past mistakes linger like a permanent stain in our minds. John (and we) can’t do anything about those stains. But perhaps there is use for them. Perhaps the memory we can’t erase can serve a beautiful purpose.

Perhaps the light of Grace shines all the brighter when held against darkness.

Perhaps hope is far sweeter when offered to the truly hopeless.

Perhaps God’s likeness growing more evident in a once-ugly life is the most stunning beauty of all to behold.

Perhaps…if we can’t erase the stain, we can use it to stir compassion in our hearts for others and pray they find the same hope of forgiveness AND forgetfulness we have found.

Perhaps.

JDmemes7

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I recently thumbed through a 10+ year old journal expecting to be entertained, if nothing else.

Good grief. IRS instructions are more riveting.

The pages were filled with tedious moping about all the things I longed to change about myself. On and on and on, like a broken record. Just skimming over that stuff now is depressing.

Journaling is healthy, of course. I’m all for it, especially when it comes to keeping track of answered prayer and God’s faithfulness—that’s important to remember. But some journaling, while good for getting gunk off your chest, is just self-centered, navel-gazing pathos (yeah, I know, it’s probably just mine). What I find sad about those years is how long I pined for change—to be a slimmer woman, a holier Christian, kinder mom, more pleasing wife, truer friend, etc. How sad that I clung to such a singular focus for so long, especially when the journals show no indication I ever arrived at the changes I so desperately sought.

At some point I quit journaling. Maybe I finally got fed up with the monotony of repeating myself and the despair of continual failure. Who has time or energy to change when you spend all your time in front of the mirror cataloguing all your flaws?

Actually, I think God finally lured me away from such a self-centered focus. I think he wanted me to stop believing lies about who I was supposed to be, and start making the most of what I have right now. Begin accepting who I am, cellulite and all. Embrace the gifts and interests and purposes God placed in me when he made me. ME, not some air-brushed, magazine cover girl.

I haven’t journaled in well over a decade now. Looking back, I can see many positive changes that have occurred over time. Quiet, lasting changes that came after I gave up trying to bully that unhappy woman into being someone else. Somewhere along the line, God gave me a truckload of patience. And grace. And a great peace in knowing that “he makes all things beautiful in its time.” (Ecc. 3:11)

Maybe it’s a Rapidly Nearing Five-O thing, but now I find the things I stressed about for so long don’t really matter all that much. What matters to me now is to live and love people today instead of putting it off. Listen more. Pray more. Care more about what Jesus thinks and less about what people think. See eternity in every moment. Live each day like a heaven-bound soul.

Q: What about you—have you ever needed to let go of some elusive longing in order to embrace life now?

 

 

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The Fourth of July came and went for us this year without explosives. Not even a sparkler. My husband and I just don’t get excited about fireworks anymore since our three kids hit their 20s. (This will likely change when we get some impressionable grandkids.) But with or without explosives, I don’t know if we have ever spent Independence Day giving a lot of thought to our freedom.

In fact, I had to do a little surfing to refresh my knowledge of Independence Day and remember that our colonial ancestors were angry over taxation without representation in Parliament. It wasn’t so much about the taxes, but the principle. The tyranny. The bully who insisted on taking and giving nothing in return.

I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in America today, and am very grateful for the many who have sacrificed family, health, and lives to make freedom possible. Freedom from tyranny is a good thing.

Freedom from condemnation is also a good thing.

Romans 8:1-2 says:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Because of what Christ did for us, it is possible to be in right relationship with our Maker, and for that I’m very grateful.

I am proudly tyranny free,

thankfully condemnation free,

and reluctantly sugar free.

But there’s one freedom I wish I didn’t have . . .

It’s the freedom to go my own stubborn, selfish way. I often take God and his amazing grace and fresh mercies for granted. I ask, plead, seek, then get an answer and go on my way. Or worse—ignore him altogether and just wander around doing as I please.

Until something goes terribly wrong, or until I’m faced with something I can’t handle on my own . . .

The author who penned the old hymn Come Thou Fount knew exactly what I’m feeling. It’s such a beautifully honest testament to the frailty of the human heart. I’ve included the song on a video below. Take a moment to listen and let the words soak your heart with truth.

I love the last verse. In fact, I am this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it

Seal it for Thy courts above

Ah Jesus, how quickly I can wander off and lose sight of You. It’s not in my frail-yet-stubborn nature to stick close to Your side, not without Your Spirit’s kind, persistent help. Please bind my wandering heart to You, by Your goodness and sweet grace.

Amen.

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WATCHING THE MONSTER INFERNO FILLING THE SKY out the window of her Colorado Springs home, my friend Beth Vogt penned the word “Trust” with a steady, deliberate hand on her blog earlier this week . Take a moment to read her post.

Many Colorado Springs residents, including Beth, were forced to evacuate their homes when the fire jumped a ridge and turned its destruction toward town, obliterating the hills and skyline in giant plumes of rolling black smoke and flames reaching hundreds, maybe thousands of feet high. I’m studying the pictures in horror, praying for rains and a swift end, praying for my agent, Rachelle, and other friends, and those battling the inferno including Rachelle’s husband. The fire both lights and blackens the sky as it bears down on the city. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen.

If we apply my favorite “tree planted by the stream” analogy (Jer 17:7-8) to my friend Beth’s situation, then she is a perfect example of a tree threatened by heat and facing a choice. She can respond by either reaching her roots deeper into God’s sustaining stream, or holding her ground with all she’s got and hoping to God the scorching storm doesn’t reach her inner core.

I’m picturing Beth cramming her car with what treasured mementos she can. “It’s stuff,” Beth says quietly of what she leaves behind. Just stuff. I can only try to imagine how that must feel. And as she inched along the jammed traffic heading away from danger, she reminded herself This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Beth chooses Trust. Why? How? What gives us the hope and assurance that we really can trust God in times like this?

When good things happen, some of us are quick to say, “Hallelujah, God is good!” Yes. That’s great—he deserves credit for good things. But when we’re facing the loss of our home and livelihoods, or struggling with serious illness or some horrific situation or impossible burden, do we still shout “Praise the Lord!”?

Probably not. Not only would that look just a little bit psycho, some moments are just not Hallelujah! moments.

In those moments, do you ever doubt God’s goodness? If God is good in good times, isn’t he good all the time?

I heard a saying once and presented it to a character in one of my novels:

Faith isn’t trusting God to give us good things; Faith is believing in the goodness of God in spite of tragedy.

If I’m giving God fist-bumps when things are good and going my way, yet curl into a fetal worry-ball when things are crumbling around me, then either God or I am being really inconsistent. One of us is fickle.

I’m going to take a wild guess it isn’t God.

No matter how bad things look, God’s not fickle. So that leaves me – I’m the flip-flopper. When I cave in to worry and fear over difficult circumstances, I’m forgetting God’s goodness and ultimate love for me. I’m human (shocker!), so it’s easy to focus on the flames and forget that God always, always has my ultimate good in mind. It’s a challenge to see it. In fact, sometimes it’s impossible to see what possible good could come from suffering. But if we claim God’s goodness and faithfulness in good times, we must continue to trust him in the bad.

I like to create noble heroes in my novels – in fact, I sometimes get in trouble with critique partners who think my heroes are too perfect. So I have to give them a flaw or two. But God is the ultimate Hero, the most noble of any hero ever imagined. We can always count on him to do the right thing, even when what we see seems anything but right. Not only right, but happening for some greater good, because so great is his love for us, demonstrated on the Cross.

In the midst of tragedy, God is with us, closer than we know, and doesn’t take our suffering lightly. It has meaning. If we can claim God’s goodness in good times, we must learn to trust God in the worst of circumstances. This is the very essence of biblical Christianity.

God knows, he sees, and he cares more than we can know. For whatever reason, pain happens, but we can trust that God will use it for some greater good. He never wastes our pain.

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18


Do you ever find yourself fickle about trusting God?

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Have you ever heard of the Three Minute Testimony? It’s a 3 minute story of your life before and after coming to Christ to share when the opportunity arises.

Only three minutes? Uh . . .

This week at church, Pastor J asked us to break into groups to work on our stories. (I love being put on the spot to say something comprehensible on command. LOVE it. LIVE for it. So much that when I first suspected what he was about to do, I sweated for 5 solid minutes trying to think of a legit excuse for slipping out before the breakout session.)

But I’m glad I stayed. I had an interesting conversation with a sweet old lady in which we both learned some cool things—like how very different our salvation experiences were. She came from a Christian home and had loved Jesus as long as she could remember. Growing in her faith had been a steady, gradual journey.

Aaaaand . . . then there’s me. I’ll share my story shortly. For now, let’s just say finding Christ was a little more dramatic and my faith journey has not been a steady breeze. But it has been a journey of miracles, joys, and unimaginable distance traveled nonetheless.

This dear lady admitted to me that she hesitates to share her story because hers isn’t “dramatic” like some. With a smile, I said maybe her conversion experience wasn’t as radical as some, but I think whether you were a hard-core sinner or a cuddly toddler when you came to Christ, the daily sanctification or growing to be more like Jesus process is one of the most dramatic experiences we will ever know.

Dramatic, and for some of us, painfully slow. One faltering step at a time.

Perhaps you too have struggled with brokenness, pain, anger, addiction or other life-controlling issues and despaired of ever changing. Maybe, like me, you have felt like giving up. Please don’t do that. Hang on and let me tell you my story.

Before . . .

Because of numerous broken homes, broken people, and broken me, I grew up feeling abandoned, abused, and easily humiliated. Frequent moves as a kid meant I didn’t keep friends long. I became the oddball loner, the taunted outcast. I was the ugly girl with holey socks and high-water pants who just couldn’t seem to play the game like everyone else and turned to food for comfort, which ensured that I was both ugly and fat. Then because of added abuse and criticism at home, I went from sad kid to pissed-off teenager, finding the acceptance and approval I craved with the stoner crowd, skipping school, getting high and looking for trouble. Caught in the middle of a gang war at my high school, I dropped out and went to the local community college hoping to at least graduate. But though it was a new school, I gravitated to the same crowd. (It was hard to miss the perpetual cloud of pot smoke hovering over the center of the college cafeteria.)

And I still hated who I was. Changing schools hadn’t changed me. I became more deeply entrenched the college drug crowd, caught in a spiral sucking me down. I couldn’t function in class because I couldn’t say no to getting high. I couldn’t break free of the pressure, the familiar. Even though I wanted an education and a shot at a future, I was failing school at sixteen and felt powerless to change. I saw a future of partying and waking up in jail, or worse—never waking up again.

I’d heard about Jesus enough to know that he died on the cross for my sins, but didn’t see what good that did me. I wanted out of the life I hated but could not escape. Hopeless, I couldn’t see my life ever changing.

Meeting Christ . . .  

I remember getting stoned before class one day, then not being able to follow the lecture and wishing I wasn’t high to the point of silently begging God to sober me up. And oddly enough, my mind soon cleared. I began reading the Bible and discovered David talking in the Psalms about God’s presence and love and how he gave David power to succeed. I thought David was either crazy, or he really did know God. Maybe God was real. If he was as powerful and caring as David said, maybe he could help a dumb, hopeless girl like me.

One night I put God to the test by “challenging” him to take away my 5-year smoking habit. When I woke the next morning, all cigarette cravings had vanished. I was free of an addiction I’d failed repeatedly to kick. Not only was God real and capable of helping me, but he had answered me exactly as I’d asked. Not only did he want to help me, but more importantly, I understood that he wanted me to trust him. I gave my life to Jesus that day.

After . . .

In all honesty (this you expect from me, right?), mine has not been a straight shot, express train to freedom, shining success, and spiritual maturity. Which is possibly because I’m bent on learning things the Hard Way. I believe God answered me in such a powerful way that day because he knew how stubborn, fearful, selfish, stubborn (I know, but it bears repeating) broken and dysfunctional I was when I came to him. He knew what a long journey this would be—a long, bumpy road filled with tripping, falling, defeat, success, depression, rebellion, and some running away. He knew. And he has patiently, lovingly led me back, picked me up and encouraged me to hold onto him and keep going, time after time.

Because of the past, I have had a lot of catching up to do on the road to becoming a girl after God’s own heart. To be very honest, I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I can possibly count. I’ve been beyond sick of making mistakes and disappointing people. But eventually, God taught me to be more patient and accepting of Camille—by his forgiving, patient example. Not that he wants to leave me a mess, but to encourage me to keep at it, keep getting back up, keep learning to spot the obstacles and potholes before they trip me up. He forgives me, cleanses me, showers me with mercy, empowers me by his grace, and nudges me onward to be more like him. Teaches me to share with others the boundless, unconditional grace he’s shown me. Reminds me I’m his precious daughter. One day, one step at a time. Because he loves me more than I can possibly understand this side of heaven.

I’m not where I’d like to be in this becoming more like Jesus journey. Of course, it’s not like any of us will “arrive” anywhere while here on earth, because this journey takes us all the way home.  But I do find myself in awe sometimes when he invites me to stop and look back and see how far I’ve come from that sad, angry, hopeless girl.  I am not discouraged by how “long” the road has been, but rather, I am incredibly grateful for how far he’s brought me.

Yes, I still struggle with selfishness. I still fight to lay down my will and take up my cross daily. I still get easily bruised and filled with self-doubt when someone disapproves of or criticizes me, but God so faithfully pours out his love and forgiveness, and patiently keeps me focused on his promise:

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you

WILL carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (emphasis mine)

I love him so much.

So—have you ever prepared your 3-Minute Testimony? If you want, you can post it here, or if you have it posted on your blog or website, feel free to share the link.

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Pastor J began a Heaven series last night and he ended his message with Phil Wickham’s Heaven Song. Have you heard it?

As the song played, I looked around the sanctuary to see if I was the only one fighting tears. I wasn’t. And yet, I think people were being touched by this song in very different, very personal ways.

When Phil first sang, “I want to run on greener pastures, I want to dance on higher hills,” I thought, I don’t even dance now, why would I dance in heaven?

And then I thought, why don’t I dance now?

As the song played, tears came to my eyes as a totally new revelation stung my heart: I’ve lived nearly 50 years a prisoner of humiliation. Easily embarrassed, inhibited by insecurities, imprisoned by self-consciousness and fears. And I will probably spend the rest of my earthly life bound by these things.

But in Heaven . . .

I had never thought of heaven as a place of freedom from shame. I’ve worn shackles and chains so long I’ve learned to live with them—forgotten they’re even there. What would it be like to live without crippling fear? Emotional pain? Humiliation? Without the destructive effects of sin or shame or selfishness or any of the things that limit us here?

Will I dance in heaven?

Yeah. Thanks to the spirit of God speaking to me through a song, I can (almost) see myself dancing with abandon and joy. Without a single self-conscious thought. I’m going to dance with Jesus and we’re going to laugh!

And not at my dancing!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Heaven will be a place of many incredible, unimaginable joys, including freedom from the shackles and chains we’ve been dragging around. Please take a moment to listen to this song. May it help spark and fan into flame whatever your heart quietly longs for.

More on Heaven:

Pastor Jeremy’s Heaven: Looking Forward To Home Series

Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspective’s Ministries

Alcorn’s Life Promises sample chapter

www.heaveniq.com

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