Therefore, I Hope

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“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 –

 

 

 

 

The Best Place to Be

 

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“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– P. Yogananda –

Every once in a while, I stumble across something that thrills me through and through with so much joy that I realize what souls were made for.

It’s not always the same thing.

Sitting in the sun sharing Chex Mix with two children whose father abandoned them, loving them in their blunt, innocent pain.

Nina at the nursing home, who wheels her chair up until she rams the piano bench and keeps offering to be my sister, since I don’t have one of my own.

It’s not so much a place or an activity as a pattern. The Lord sets me in opportunities, and I realize with surprise that this is what I was created to do. This is where I belong. This is where my strange, mysterious, unexplainable mix of qualities can flesh out healing and love and joy.

On Thanksgiving Day, a friend and I were discussing personality types over turkey and mashed potatoes. We have very similar personalities, so we were enjoying comparing our in-common experiences with people.

“I often tell people ‘I understand’ when they are telling me about terrible things I have never experienced, ever!” I confessed to my friend. “I know I haven’t gone through those things, but I feel a little of what it must be like.”

Sometimes, that can be a lot of pressure. To discern the pain that someone is feeling and knowing that you have to do something is a big responsibility. Another friend wrote me about a woman fighting sex trafficking, who said:

“I know too much to not do something.”

Story of my life. Like that woman, I know too much not to do something.

Recently, another friend and I were talking about this mysterious piece of me, and I felt a little overwhelmed.

God has given me this strange, crazy ability to be able to deeply feel people’s’ pain, absorb their discomfort, cry their tears, exult in their joy.

And it’s a little scary. I have to be vulnerable–not only to my own life’s trials, but to all the pains and aches and bright places of the lives around me. I have to open myself up to others even when, at times, I long to insulate myself from the suffering of a broken world.

But as I thought about my personality this week, I realized something:

My happiest moments–the times when I feel most alive, full, and complete–are when I am loving God (and loving others through Him) in the context of my design.

That’s the best place to be.

If you’ve been questioning how you were made, wondering why you were given a particular gift…If you’ve been struggling to understand your calling…If you’re afraid of the hard, painful work of sharing love with the hurting and the hopeful…If you’re wondering why your life has played out the way it has, to bring you to this very place–this encouragement is for you.

“Our constant sacrifice to God should be the praise of lips that give thanks to his name. Yet we should not forget to do good and to share our good things with others, for these too are the sort of sacrifices God will accept.”

 – Hebrews 13:15-16, Phillips paraphrase –

I’ve come to believe that it takes vulnerability to embrace God’s gifts in our lives. The point where He made me to be strongest is also the point with the most potential to overwhelm and devastate me.

But it’s worth it.

When I’m doing what I’m created to do–and surrendering myself to coming out the other side changed and even scarred, if necessary–that is when I best worship God with my life.

When I am faithful to my design, my soul sings, because that is what it was made to do.

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too risky to do what you know God have gifted you to do. Maybe it’s outside your comfort zone. Or maybe it’s your immediate instinct, but it costs you.

Are you afraid to give your special design, your amazing gifts, to God in worship? Are you running from your compassion, your teaching ability, your serving heart, your analytical mind, your artistic talent, your leadership capabilities, because you fear that diving in will cost too much?

I sometimes feel the same way.

But we know too much to stay quiet and unmoving:

“Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathise with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent.”

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Phillips –

We are the rich of this world–many of us literally, all of us spiritually. As Christians, we have everything we need to do the works that God has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). “By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory” (1 Peter 2:3, CEB).

That means He has given you resources and personal gifts that are too precious to waste. And trust me, nothing will give you greater joy than resting in the love of your heavenly Father and then sharing His love in the context of your design.

It’s what He made you to do–glorify Him by doing what He commands with a redeemed heart of love.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17, NIV –

If the Spirit of Christ fills us, we are equipped. We are ready. Nothing can hold us back from joyful obedience, when we surrender to His Spirit. He gives us all we need. Trust God with how He made you to love and go take the risk of loving. Put those scary, wonderful gifts He’s given you to work.

It sometimes hurts. It sometimes bursts over you with fullest joy. Sometimes, it is a mix of bitter and unexplainably-sweet.

But the center of His design is always, always the best place to be.


“And God is able to make all grace [every favor and earthly blessing] come in abundance to you, so that you may always [under all circumstances, regardless of the need] have complete sufficiency in everything [being completely self-sufficient in Him], and have an abundance for every good work and act of charity.”

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, AMP –

Hungry and Lost

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“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

– Matthew 10:29-31, CEB –


She was lost.

Standing right in front of me, searching everywhere to be filled, but finding nothing to satisfy her thirst.

She cried, begging for help. “Someone! Anyone!”

I stood right there, holding out everything she needed.

But she walked around me, into me–would have walked through me if she could have–scouring the area for nourishment.

All along, I was there. She just couldn’t see me.

This drama played out last week in the goat pen. Our smallest baby goat wobbled around in the straw and nudged my knees, desperate for a drink. She cried hungrily. But she refused to drink out of the bottle I held out to her. It was full of milk, heated to just the right temperature so it would warm her belly without burning her. I had done everything necessary. But she wouldn’t drink.

I held the bottle closer to her face. She ignored it.

I brushed the red-and-yellow nipple against her lips. She shook her head and ran away.

Watching her run, I grew frustrated. “Just drink!” I told her. “That’s all you have to do.”

Tinier than her brother and cousin, the kid didn’t seem to be growing much. I was concerned that she wasn’t getting enough food.

After several ineffective efforts to get her to drink, I settled on a solution. I grabbed her head in one hand, the bottle in the other, and held her mouth to the nipple. She struggled and tried to back out of my grip, but I held her. It was drink or drown, as the milk slid out of the bottle into her throat.

She drank.

Struggling every so often, she drank the milk I forced her to take. It didn’t kill her. She didn’t like it much, but it gave her the strength she needed to keep going.

As I crouched in the pen with a bottle and a very stubborn baby, I realized that God does this to me.

Suffering, so often, is God holding my head to the nourishment I need. Hard things are often His way of making me get close to Him, when left to myself I’d just walk away. I’m like that little lost kid, wandering around her pen looking for food when the source of it was right there all along.

When God puts me in a headlock, I kick and struggle like that little goat. I squirm and bawl and cry. “Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me? Why are you making me go through this?”

And all along, as I throw my tantrum, His truth and strength and love flow into my unwilling body and fill me.

This is how trials make us stronger. They aren’t mistakes. They aren’t blips on the radar that God somehow missed.

Sometimes, when we pray for health or safety or prosperity or a good day, God says no.

Most of the time, we’re no smarter than that baby goat. We don’t know what we really need. We just know that it doesn’t feel nice to have big hands clamp down on you and hold your head still.

But these hands holding us are steady and strong, and the God of these hands sees our true need. He is willing to do what it takes to fill us up, even when we don’t know yet that the pain will turn into a good thing.

She’s learning. When I go to the pen now, she’s already at the fence, crying for milk. She knows. She finally knows that I’m bringing blessing.

Friends, life can be hard. But let’s stop struggling in God’s hands.

He knows exactly what we need.

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
―Francis Chan, Crazy Love―

How Long Will You Love Worthlessness?

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Just days ago, I had to wonder…

If when my life takes no faith, am I truly living?

When it all comes down to the bare basics, the end of the matter, shouldn’t faith reside there?

Maybe it’s all resting on one question:

Do I believe God or not?

Do I believe Him when He promises abundant life?

Do I honestly think I can take Him at face value–that His face alone will satisfy me?

Do I believe He can fill my soul, delight me more than anything?

As much as I tell myself that I want Christ, how much do I really?

Sure, maybe I don’t desire some things that are bad–worldly and out-there–but do I really believe He totally satisfies?

Do I really believe?

Do I?

Sitting in repentant silence, I knew, of course, that I believed God deep down. But how small that seed of faith was–how much it needed to grow. What kind of faith was this, that produced so little fruit? And the apostle James warned that faith without works is dead (James 2:14).

Mine was just barely holding on.

Holding on by a thread of devotion–a very real place in my heart that knew Jesus was more to me than the whole world.

But what did my living say? It said that after I “pay my time” reading Scripture, saying a prayer, that I was done. I could go look for satisfaction in other things now–in movies, books, friends, television, internet. Not bad things–not at all. But what was I trusting for happiness? And why in the world shouldn’t praying bring me more pleasure than a chat with a friend? Why didn’t reading my Bible satisfy me as much as getting that next novel in the series…

I sat cross-legged beneath a stairwell, asking hard questions in my journal. Close beside me, my computer began to play the Psalms on audio, Chapter 1, 2, 3.

Then, Chapter 4. The narrator spoke right to me:

 “How long will you love worthlessness?” (Psalm 4:2b, NKJV)

Oh, for grace to believe that He will give me every good thing! For faith to treasure Him and cast away worthless things.

But I was afraid, terribly afraid.

Afraid that by seeking Him above all, I’d miss out.

Afraid to be stodgy, miserable, depressed. Afraid, so afraid, to give up my way.

Afraid to obey without feelings–yet being a slave to obey my feelings.

But, see, Psalm 4 was still playing.

Soft words, pinning like barbs to my soul.

“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly….Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:3,5, NKJV)

So while I was wondering if it was worth it to sacrifice, God sent His words out with so much power that my soul stood still. My heart filled with wonder at the next words:

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.” (Psalm 4:7, NKJV, emphasis mine)

He will fill me up, more than anything in this world ever could.

He has a better Story than any other novel.

He has a greater Love for me than any romantic writer could dream up.

He has more abundance, pleasure, joy in His presence, than a host of friends could supply.

So I open self-stuffed fists.

I surrender.

I believe.

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.”

– Isaiah 55:2-3, NKJV –