The Road You’re On

mystical-road

“Well, could it be that the many roads you took to get here
Were just for me to tell this story and for you to hear this song?
And your many hopes, and your many fears
Were meant to bring you here all along.”

 – Andrew Peterson, from “Many Roads” –


Let me tell you a story about a farm.

I grew up in the suburbs of America’s fourth-largest city. Major league baseball, giant rodeos, shopping malls, and miles-long lines of cars waiting in “rush hour” traffic are all stamped on my memory, normal facets of growing up in Houston, Texas.

I just wanted a horse like all the girls in the books had…and a farm to put the horse on.

But I got older and older….and older. My fanaticism about horses capped at around age thirteen and then started, gradually, to fade.

I gave up on the farm.

But when I was 18, my family moved to rural Arkansas and bought a 23-acre property nestled deep in the winding roads of the Ozarks.

And suddenly we had our farm.

Why Arkansas, of all places? Why when I was 18, and not when I was 8? Why here? Why now? Why me?

When I look back on our move, the winding roads of circumstance are even more intricate than the crazy twists and turns of the mountains.

I didn’t know what was going on then, but these days I look back in surprise at how God led my family through these crooked hills to the place where He’d use us best.

And that’s exactly what He’s doing. He led us home…and now He’s using us to lead others home too.

It’s my favorite place to be.

And, six years ago, I’d have never, ever guessed what was in store.


My favorite Old Testament character is Joseph. I know that the men and women in the Bible weren’t perfect, and their life histories aren’t meant to be moral patterns for Christian living, but something about this young dreamer-turned-slave-turned-prince touches my heart. I love his passion. I love his wisdom and trust in a God who led him down many strange roads. And I love, as the Message paraphrase records, what he said to the brothers who tried their best to destroy his life:

“Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people” (from Genesis 50:19-21, MSG).

Evil. Hate. Revenge. Anger. Jealousy. All of these conspire together against Joseph. And God turns the tables and rips the status quo apart, and life and good and joy spring out of the mess.

There are no dead ends for His children, only “many roads” that deliver us right to the doorstep of destiny.

Where are you in the journey?

Maybe you are at an intersection and can look back to see how God seamlessly fitted together all of the pieces to bring you to this moment.

Perhaps you are in the middle of a deserted road in the blackest part of the night, and you don’t think that it could ever intersect with anything good.

Perhaps you’ve been on the same road for miles and miles, and you’re just desperate to come to a crossroad so you can try something new.

Hold on.

I’ve been just dazzled by a tiny phase this past week–“the patience of hope.”

Wow.

The patience of hope.

I’m not very patient. Often, I’m ready for my hopes to materialize, right now. Immediately. Pronto. “Okay, Lord, now is good,” I pray. “Okay, this is perfect. Now’s Your chance…Lord? Don’t you think this is a good time for an intersection? Lord?”

The patience of hope.

When we believe that God is “up to something good in all our delays and detours,” as John Piper says, how can we rush the road?

Is it a scenic path? Enjoy it. Don’t be staring up ahead and miss what is, right now.

Is it long and deserted? Even there, something good waits. Seek the Lord first. Love Him with everything, and let it overflow. Love the people on your road. Love them hard. The long roads can be some of the most blessed.

Is it full of surprises and uncertainty? The Master Craftsman is in charge of making your road lead somewhere, and He’s promised that every turn will be just what you need (Romans 8:28.)

“But [The Lord’s] joy is in those who reverence him, those who expect him to be loving and kind.”

 – Psalm 147:11, TLB –

What are you expecting? Is your hope patient, because you expect Him to be loving and kind? Whatever you expect, He will be loving and kind. Your hope will not be disappointed.

You are on this one road, out of many roads, for a reason.

And it’s a good reason.


“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

 – Isaiah 41:10, NLT –

A New Day

retro-bike-back-tire

“Yesterday’s a closing door–you don’t live there anymore,

So say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.”

– from “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey –


When I was 6 or 7, I got a new bicycle.

Mom and Dad did all the things parents are supposed to do to teach kids to ride bikes. In fact, I’d been riding all manner of wheeled toys and smaller bikes for years.

But soon after I got this brand new bike, I crashed.

I was a tall, lanky little girl, and for the fellow tall people out there, you know that it takes a long time for us to fall. There’s just so much body that has to pass through the air before the ordeal is done with. In fact, that’s probably why I’m afraid of heights. Just walking around is a safety hazard.

For some reason, that bike crash put a sudden halt to all biking. For months, I refused to get back on it. Whether this was before the days of my family’s bike rides or whether my mom was just merciful and didn’t push me too hard to get back on, I didn’t get back on that skinny seat behind those pink handlebars for a long, long time.

It was a year later that I finally got up the courage to try again after my fall.

I was just a little girl who fell a few feet off a wobbly bike. Big deal. It wasn’t much of a risk. It wasn’t so scary. I certainly had the ability to get back up again, even immediately.

Instead, a year passed and I didn’t ride that bike once.

 – – – – –

There are all sorts of things I could say about that lost year. I could highlight the wasted time, or camp for a while on my imagined danger. I could tell you how real and powerful that protective instinct was–so powerful that I can still feel the grasping panic of my bike-riding phobia.

But my childhood bicycling experience is not just a silly story of a child’s irrational fears. It is the story of another thing that we humans allow to define us: our Past.

For 12 months, my abilities and my choices were defined by that bike crash. It didn’t matter that I had successfully ridden bikes dozens of other times. I was too afraid that failure would happen again. I was frightened of being frightened, pained at the idea of another endless moment of falling.

The Past often paralyzes us.

Sometimes it doesn’t take the words of others to cripple us. Sometimes it just takes history.

The Past can define a person in many ways. Mistakes, failures, tragedies, habits, memories, grudges, sins, losses, even the status quo–all these relics of yesterday can profoundly shape and even control how someone lives today.

We all have stories.

I have a story. My story includes a bike wreck that led to a year of lost fun. My story includes emotional highs and lows that threaten to trip me up even this week. My story holds mistakes enough to paralyze me, and sorrows enough to scare me away from fully living.

My friends have stories. They have told me their stories of betrayal, abuse, terror, broken friendships, dysfunctional families, psychological horrors, and medical nightmares.

These things can be devastating! And they often are, because somewhere along the way, we start believing that our Past dictates our future. Even worse, we start to believe that we can never change.

And that is understandable, if you believe in closed systems and fixed pies.

The concept of a “fixed pie” is something I learned about in economics. Think about Thanksgiving dinner, when Grandma pulls out the pumpkin pie. “Fixed pie” means that there is only a certain amount of pie to go around. If Uncle Jerry takes half of the pie, all the other family members have to split up what is left. If Uncle Jerry eats the whole thing, there’s no more pie. End of story. People go away sad and hungry.

This is how people treat life. “I was this way yesterday, and I did the same things today. What makes tomorrow any different?” It’s a fixed pie. You’ve used up all the pie, and there’s no more pie to make tomorrow any different.

But I don’t believe in closed systems or fixed pies.

So let’s try another look at Thanksgiving.

Grandma brings out the pumpkin pie and there goes Uncle Jerry. Everyone is horrified that there is no more pie…and then Grandma brings out another pie…and another…and another.

She is adding pie to the “system.” It is not a closed system (meaning nothing can be added from outside). It is an open system. Grandma’s goodness (and her uncanny cooking skills) can save the day.

You see, I believe that today is a new day, and tomorrow is too. I believe that, as important as the Past is to your story, the Past doesn’t get a say in today.

But I only believe that for one reason.

You can’t add anything to “the system.” You can’t make more pumpkin pie. When a new sun rises, there’s nothing extra in you than there was yesterday.

But there is grace–the only grace that saves, from the only God who saves.

That grace says that, in Christ, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). “My Jesus makes all things new,” as songwriter Andrew Peterson says.

That grace says the same power that raised Jesus back to life is the power that dwells inside of you, by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

Can you change today?

No. Not even a little.

But God can change you, from the inside out.

Whatever the Past is holding over your head has no power over you, if the Lifter of your head makes you new.

Do you know what being defined by the Past is?

In many cases, it is fear. It is fear of letting go of who you have been and trusting God to make you into who you will be. 

Fear always robs. Fear always drives others away. And, most often, overwhelming fear brings about the very thing that most terrifies you. “If you dig a pit, you will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27).

What is holding you back? What do you think you will never escape? What part of your past seems to control you?

I’ve got good news for you.

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him.”

 – Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB

This is not just like all the other days you’ve ever lived.

Today is the tomorrow that Anne Shirley talked about, fresh and new and free of mistakes.

Today is the new-mercies day.

Will you cling to the fears of the Past? Or will you let Jesus make all things new in you?

“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

 – Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT –

 

 

 

The Definition of You

morning-after

What you believe changes you.

Even in salvation, belief—albeit “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8)—transforms our thinking by the power of Christ.

What do you believe about yourself? What defines you?

Hidden patterns of thinking often hold more sway over us than we know. What internal dialogue do you carry on with yourself? In the quiet of your heart, what do you call yourself? Beloved of God? Or something less?

I have heard plenty of stories. People crippled from making decisions because of what others might say. Men and women believing themselves to be beyond hope and value. Children who think there is no future for them. Girls who believe no one could ever love them or find them beautiful. Christians who live like risky love is optional.

And here’s something you might not know: defining yourself by anything other than God’s truth is unbelief. And unbelief is sin. So what lies are crowding out the way God defines you? This week we will talk about the words that shape our lives.

Words of Others

Words are powerful, especially if you believe them.

As I get older and hear more stories of other people’s lives, I am beginning to realize that my wonderful family, although not perfect, does not represent the norm for family life…or even the norm for Christian family life.

Shocked, I’ve heard tales of the horrible things that professing Christians say to one another…and, even more heartbreaking, the awful things that brothers and sisters in Christ believe about themselves because of those ungodly words.

While upholding personal responsibility for choices, Jesus had strong words for those who cause “these little ones” to stumble. He said it was better for these calloused souls to have a millstone tied to their necks and be drowned. It is such a weighty, serious thing to influence another soul toward sin. Sisters! What a horrible thing to cripple and destroy someone else from living abundant life in Christ!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the power of reckless words (and, how much more, intentionally-harmful words!) But what if you’ve been on the receiving end of harmful words—and who hasn’t been? Are you doomed to be crippled all your life by them? What if you have heard so many lies about your worth and purpose that they all sound true now?

If you belong to Jesus, here’s something you need to hear: His words are the only ones that ultimately matter. (If you don’t belong to Jesus, hop back a post and read about how you can find hope.)

The only way to combat lies is with God’s truth. Can’t tell if you’re believing a lie? Write down what you believe about yourself, your past, and your future. Make a list. Take each statement and find out what God thinks about it. Here are some examples of lies you might be believing, and the truth that exposes them:

“I always mess up.”

 As humans, we all mess up, whether sinfully or by mistake. But what does the Bible say about this? For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9, HCSB). Is it true that you have no hope for improvement? Not at all! “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). What about when you sin or make a mistake? Does that make God stop loving you? “[Nothing] can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Nothing, not even ourselves, or our frequent failures. What grace! Repeat the truth to yourself and trust it. It is a sword that can cut those lies into pieces.

“I don’t have a choice. This is just the way I am.”

 If you belong to Jesus, that thought is a total lie. Not only does that line of thinking avoid responsibility, but it also destroys hope. I have good news for you! “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things are long gone. Look! Everything is new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, paraphrase). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, GNT). Where is this power coming from? How can you change? For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority(Colossians 2:9-10, HCSB). As children of God, His Spirit fills us with the exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead! If He can change a dead body into an ever-living one, we should never believe that we are incapable of change. He can transform you. Do you believe His words?

“No one can love me. I am not worth anything.”

 Our sins are repulsive to a beautifully-holy God. But humans are His special creation. Without Christ, it is true that we deserve all of God’s just punishment. But humans never lose their value. Unlike any other creation, we are made in God’s image, to be finite reflections of his infinite attributes. Furthermore, if you have embraced the hope of the gospel, your life was purchased at an inestimable cost—the death of the God of glory. You are valuable because of Who made you and Who loves you, not because of anything else. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

These are just a few of the lies that others can tell us, or that we can even tell ourselves. Are you letting your opinions or the opinions of others define you? Or is the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly (Colossians 3:16)? Release your grip on the things that cripple you and reach out in faith to the only words that really matter.

If you let Jesus define you, and nothing else…

Your joy will be full….

…and the truth will set you free.

 
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.”
 – John 8:36, GW –

Therefore, I Hope

flower-in-the-rain-1391359782G9e

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –


Something buried deep inside the human soul clings to hope.

Once I heard the story of a baby born months prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. Four months early. She was incredibly small, her skin bruising dark from the gentlest touch, her internal organs so delicate that they could give out at any moment.

Her parents didn’t know what to expect. The baby, whom they named Juniper, seemed always on the threshold of death. But time after time, she pulled through the night. Her tiny chest would still be rising and falling the next day, no matter how many times she flatlined in the night.

Her father began reading to her every day. Inexplicably, the child’s heart rate would lift as she heard her father’s voice reading a story he loved and wanted her to love too. He imagined that Juniper was interested in the story. I imagine that the voice of her father broke into that baby’s pain and gave her something to cling to.

She made it. Today she is five years old and bouncing with good health.

As unbelievers, her parents and the others who tell her story discuss ethical implications, viability, Roe vs. Wade, and the unearthly aura of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit they affectionately call “Nick-u.” They have straddled life and death.

In their daughter’s story, they perhaps see evolutionary triumph, or the inexplicable emotional attachment of a parent to a child.

I see the hope that God kindles in the heart of every living soul, a will to survive. Juniper’s survival declares to me that nothing is by chance, and living isn’t a coin toss. Living–hoping–is engrained in us.

Someone once said, 

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

It’s true that, short of despair, we grasp furiously at existence. Something deep inside drives us to “live and life abundantly,” and as long as hope lives, humanity’s will to survive is incredible.

I believe God placed this desire in us. More than just an instinctive fight for supremacy, hope is a highly spiritual thing.

Do I have a reason to take another breath? Yes or no?

Humans again and again weigh their options in the balance, stacking up pleasure against pain, measuring heights of clarity against depths of confusion.

Those who do not believe in the hope of God often lose sight of hope entirely. Rejecting the possibility of His goodness and power, they unknowingly reject the one and only unshakeable hope.

People pin the happiness of their existence on many things. Wealth, pleasure, love, success, conquering. When their anchor of hope can no longer hold them down, what is left for them?

Every object of hope changes, fails, ceases to satisfy.

Except Jesus.

He never changes, never fails, never ceases to satisfy, because He is our Creator God. He made us to thrive in His presence. Nothing else can ever quite fit the bill.

You know, I’ve set my hope in other things. And I see people around me all the time trying to fit something human into this God-shaped need. It just doesn’t work.

So a world full of people are on a desperate hunt for hope…and only a few actually find it.

What does Christian hope look like? What does it do?

Hope is something believed in, something that keeps people alive, some ideal they see as worth their devotion. Hope is our internal answer to the “why” of existence.

Christian hope is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as your only chance for this life and the next. It is placing the weight of your belief in His simultaneous divinity and humanity, His death that satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, and His miraculous resurrection breaking the power of sin and death. It is giving Him sway over your entire being, which, incidentally, is already His anyway. You stop running from Him and start running to Him.

This hope is a true anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

This is why, really, only Christians can be real Optimists. Of course things in this world are messed up. Of course it is sometimes awful, painful, and dark. But something good is coming. We know this for certain.

This is why the theme verse of this post rings true:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –

Christian hope can propel us through absolutely anything. We have a Savior who is both near and powerful, strong and kind, just and overflowing with grace.

To grasp on to this hope, we fix out eyes on Him.

He is the already-salvation who makes life livable, and the not-yet salvation who, one day, will make all things new.

Do you have this hope? If not, I assure you that nothing else you try is going to work. Jesus is the only hope that will satisfy the cries of your soul. Believe in Him.

If you have believed, but the pain of life is smothering your hope, don’t be afraid. Keep believing. This life may be marred, but it is marred beauty. It may be corrupted, but it corrupted joy. It may be dark, but darkness can never overcome light. Very soon, the marring and the corruption will end and the dawn will become noonday. Believe in Him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. In believing, you take hold of what is sure to happen, because God never fails, never changes, never ceases to satisfy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–the same Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

Therefore, I hope.

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

 – Luke 12:31-32, HCSB –