Hostages of Hope

I’m not really sure how it happened.

Maybe it’s because I keep re-reading that crazy gratitude book.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent more time in the Psalms this year than any other book of the Bible.

Or maybe it’s because I finally got fed up with being fed up and did something about it.

Or maybe it’s a combination of these things, swirled together by the Lord in His perfect timing to finally begin producing a change in me that’s been a long time coming.

I hardly recognize myself.

I’m positive. As in optimistic. As in not cynical. As in I have hope.

And those of you who know me well know this is a radical change indeed.

I used to quip, “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist.” And I always knew it was a cop out. What I really was was stuck in feelings of hopelessness, even after – well after – I became a Christian.

And I know I’m not alone. A lot of (most) Christians live in doubt and bitterness and anger and depression and cynicism.

But we don’t have to.

(It’s taken me YEARS to believe that to be a true statement, by the way – that we can choose to have hope. It can be a lot more complicated than it sounds, which is why it often feels impossible, but it’s not. And that’s another post for another day.)

Not only do we not have to live in hopelessness and cynicism, upon further reflection, I think, as believers, we mustn’t.

Here’s why.

To not have hope – to adopt a cynical, hopeless perspective about ANYTHING – is to disbelieve the power of Christ.

As Christians we believe that Jesus bore the punishment we deserved for our sins on the cross, died and rose again. We believe God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and the evidence of that acceptance is that Jesus was resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

If we are convinced the resurrection happened, we are also convinced of God’s total sovereignty (Psalm 103:19). After all, if He can make a dead man rise to life again, as impossible as that sounds, can’t He do anything (Jeremiah 32:27)?

Can’t He redeem any impossible situation we find ourselves in?

Hostages of Hope
image via sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

If we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must have hope in ALL seemingly hopeless situations. There’s no room for cynicism and/or giving up and/or losing hope in anything or anyone if we believe in Christ.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL FOR ME! I can’t emphasize enough that I am NOT a naturally sunny person with a pleasant disposition. You will never catch me with a “Life is good” bumper sticker on my car. Hear me when I say I am not an optimist writing this pie-in-the-sky blog post. To hope when it seems illogical, to hope when it is uncomfortable, to hope against my natural will is just as difficult for me as it is for you.

It’s hard to not let people and circumstances affect our having unwavering hope in Jesus’ ability – His desire, and His ultimate plan – to rescue and redeem everything.

When we find ourselves feeling hopeless and cynical, I think the underlying cause is that our hope has subtly shifted from being in Christ to being in man (others or ourselves). We have to find a way to put our hope back where it needs to be.

Here is one practical way I have found to do that. When you catch yourself having a cynical/hopeless/depressed/angry thought about anything, staunchly refuse it by asking God to take away that feeling and to replace it with hope in Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). And then make yourself find something to thank Him for in that moment (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is a simple exercise, but it’s very difficult. Don’t worry – you don’t have to do it perfectly. But you won’t begin to change unless you start. You will find, as I have, the more gratitude you offer, the more hopeful you will become. You’ll feel yourself begin to change. Others will notice a change in you. You’ll go from being a hostage of negativity to a hostage of hope. And I think that’s exactly what the Lord has in mind for us when we become believers (Romans 6:22).

“Never partake of the cynical view of life.” –Oswald Chambers

 

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Living Open-Handedly

So I am starting something new.

(Well, new to me. I actually stole the premise for it right out of Ann Voskamp‘s book.)

Ann talks about living with your hand open, a metaphor for being willing to receive whatever the Lord gives – good or bad – with thanksgiving. And once He gives it, we are to keep our hands open, being willing to allow Him to take it back whenever He decides to, and giving thanks for that too.

Living Open-Handedly
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

I love the image that so succinctly expresses the heart attitude of dying to self, of agreeing with the Lord, “Your will Your way.” Living open-handedly expresses to God that we trust Him. Even when things don’t make sense to us, we trust He will give us what we need when we need it, and we trust He will take away what we don’t need anymore in His perfect timing as well.

As an extension, when we have open hands, we put no demands on God to bless us in exactly the way we want Him to at the exact moment we want Him to in the exact place we want Him to. Instead, we allow Him to put whatever gifts He wants in our palms. This opens our eyes to the unexpected blessings all around us.

As simple as this concept is to explain, it is incredibly difficult to live.

I just finished teaching this idea over the last 6 weeks, and I found myself demonstrating it physically in class for my students. I would lay my hand open for all to see each time I spoke about trusting the Lord, and I would snap it shut in a fist of fear and insecurity to emphasize distrust.

I guess this gesturing while teaching got into my subconscious because a few days ago things started to get interesting.

I found myself sitting in my usual writing spot, and I felt my heart wander down a “my will my way” path. In other words, my proverbial hand snapped shut to God. I recognized this ugly feeling and decided to fight back. I literally opened my hand and laid it palm up on the table. And I prayed, “Lord, whatever You want to give…”

This small, physical act changed my heart in that moment.

God didn’t give me what I had wanted moments before. And I was okay with that. (If you know me at all, that’s a miracle in and of itself.)

I closed my computer and drove to my next engagement, which happened to be at my church. I walked through the empty hallway with my hand literally opened, whispering to the Lord, “Whatever You want to give…” I had no expectations in that moment. If you had asked me what I wanted from the Lord, I couldn’t have told you anything specific…

I went to the restroom and came back out, and there was a surprise gift from the Lord, a sweet friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. I smiled wide, not because I got to see that friend (although that was nice), but because the Lord had personally responded to my open hand.

The next day this introverted mom was feeling a little anxious about a day full of extroverted 4 year old. We went to a school function at my older daughter’s school, and on the way out, I physically laid open my hand and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord…” I pushed through the doors, and there was another friend, standing in the lobby. She said, “I was just thinking about you!” – an unexpected gift I wouldn’t have had eyes to see if I had snapped my hand closed to gifts that day on account of my day not including any “me time”.

This morning I had coffee with a friend. We planned to go to a location I don’t normally go to because it’s 5 miles out of my way (I know, first world problems). I opened my hand as I drove and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” Then a text came through. My friend wanted to change our location back to my regular spot. “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” She and I had a perfect 2 hour chat, and that was gift enough, but He gave more. Another friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, whom I was missing just the day before, “happened” to come in the shop.

And I smile. Not because of the gifts He gives, but because the Giver is so lavish! So personal! So concerned with me and you and all our hearts’ desires!

As I am learning to relinquish my demanding spirit – my need to control how and when He blesses me – He is gentle and encouraging and rewards my efforts.

I may look crazy, walking around with my right hand turned palm up. And I’m sure I sound crazy, mumbling prayers under my breath. And the whole thing may be crazy, but doing this – literally living open-handedly – opens my heart to Him. It’s changing me.

And it can change you too.

Try it?

New Podcasts: One Thousand Gifts

This past Wednesday I kicked off my teaching series I’ll be in for the next 5 weeks, One Thousand Gifts.

As with the past two series I’ve taught, I am recording each lesson and posting them here.

image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re still considering coming to the course, give Lesson 1 a listen to see if the class might be for you. If it is, great! Come join me (Wednesday nights, 6:30p, Central Church) live for the rest of the course if you’re in the Memphis area.

If you’re unable to join me live but are still interested in the course, I’ll post the weekly podcasts here so you can study along at your own convenience.

Have questions, comments, or snide remarks about the course? Contact me below.

Next Class: One Thousand Gifts

There’s a book out, and depending on how long you’ve been reading this blog or following me on the social media, you’ve heard me plug it a few or a million times. Because I think it’s a game changer.

So I’m going to teach it.

Again.

A couple of years ago, I taught New York Times’ best-seller One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, to a small group of women who, like me, didn’t want to take the summer off from growing spiritually.

And we had a grand time.

So I’m teaching it again, this time on Wednesdays at 6:30p, at Central Church. The class will run January 22 – March 5, and there is free amazing childcare for those of you who need it. (For your kids. Not for YOU. So let’s get that straight.)

Now that the details are out of the way, let me tell you about the book, and, subsequently, the class.

One Thousand Gifts is a book that entwines the author’s personal story, ripe with hardship, just like yours, with the study of the concept of thanksgiving in scripture. More specifically, we’ll see how Ann’s life was radically changed when 1) the accounts of Jesus giving thanks came to life for her, and 2) she took on a challenge from her friend to begin keeping a gratitude list.

I KNOW!

I can feel your eyes rolling.

Lest they roll clean out of your head, let me beg you to give this concept the benefit of the doubt. Developing your gratitude muscle will enhance your spiritual life (which is your whole life, by the way). Your relationships with God, others, and yourself stand to get a whole lot better when you understand and practice biblical thanksgiving.

Who really needs to take this class?

– pessimists

– realists who are, let’s face it, pessimists

– cynics

– people who feel unhappy the majority of the time

– people who feel like the biblical directive to “rejoice always” is impossible

– people who have trouble sensing God in their everyday lives

– people who honestly want to change

– people who have already read the book, experienced awesome life change, but time has passed and they’ve fallen back into their thankless ways (this is the category I fall into, people, so, no shame. Or shame on all of us… let’s go with no shame.)

– all people everywhere

You in?

Awesome! Do me a favor and sign up here so I can get a head count. If you don’t have the book and want one, I’ll sell you one in class. Bring the cash money or a check. If money is a problem but you’d still like to take the course, email me below. If you already have the book, DON’T START READING IT. Please and thank you. Any other questions? Email me below.

Look forward to seeing you in class!

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

Eyes to See

I like God’s sweet reminders that He is intimately involved in, and, indeed, arranges the details of my life.

Last night I read this out of that fabulous book I recommend to all people everywhere:

I have to seek God beauty. Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down to something else.

Ann Voskamp‘s words rung true as I read them. Yes, we are made for worship. Will we worship the created, or do we have eyes to see past the creation to the Creator of all that takes our breath away? The Creator – He is what actually deserves our worship. The beautiful creation is only beautiful because He made it so. Without Him, there would be nothing to arrest our wonder.

I put down the book, finished with that thought.

Well, was finished. But God wasn’t.

He smiled to Himself, excitedly anticipating my joy when He would bring up the subject again 13 hours later – His not-so-subtle, personal message to me that He is always with me, ordering my days, looking for ways to tell me, “I love you so.”

Sitting in the corner of my usual coffee shop, desiring to write but lacking a subject, I thumbed through my Bible. I’m 9 days behind in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve been behind all year – 30+ days behind at times.

But our sovereign Lord knew I’d be x days behind long before it came to pass, and He has continued to meet me just where I was throughout the year.

This morning was no exception. Having writer’s block, I decided to read my prescribed chapters, 9 days late.

Galatians 4. Paul is speaking to believers and says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,'” (Galatians 4:6).

The Holy Spirit in us has one cry – Father! The Spirit has one job – to point the believer to the Father.

Thinking, slowly, the Spirit connects the dots for me. The words from last night’s reading of Ann’s book come back to mind. We are made for worship. We all worship something all the time. But we get to choose what or whom receives our praise. Will it be the created or the Creator?

The Spirit, living inside each believer, cries, “Creator!” – a synonym for Father, but no less biblical.

My heart fills, warm, and God’s smile is wide. He brims with joy as He watches me realize He has ordered the reading of that chapter of that book on that night, the night before He has ordered the reading of that chapter of Galatians, 9 days late, the very next morning.

The Holy Spirit gives me the eyes to see Abba, Father, when I’d otherwise miss Him. I need the supernatural lens to see the supernatural work of the Lord in my life.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the Spirit that has enabled me to see your personal love for and joy over me today. Help the readers see You in their details today, and may they be filled with joy when they do.

Now is our Time for Grief

My kids and I talk about Heaven a lot.

My 3 year old is just trying to wrap her brain around the concept of Heaven. She knows it is a place where God lives, and if you love Jesus, you get to go there. When I remind her of these facts, she inevitably says, “I love Jesus! When can I go to Heaven?” I always tell her the same thing, “When God decides it’s time.” And she always tells me the same thing, “I want to go right now…”

My 5 year old has more complex thoughts about Heaven. She mostly wonders what it will be like. She wants to know details and  wishes God had given us more descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. She wonders if we will all live in one big house, or if there will be lots of houses… She wonders if the houses will be made of gold… She wonders if we will walk or float in Heaven… She wonders if we will be singing praises to God all the time or just some of the time… She wonders if there will be Burger King in Heaven… I don’t tell her that would be my version of Hell.

I like my older daughter’s imagination. I like how she daydreams about eternal life with the Lord. I can’t tell her for sure what Heaven will be like other than Heaven will be all good and no bad (which is why I’m pretty sure Burger King won’t be there…).

I am more on my younger daughter’s plane, longing for Heaven, no matter what the details are. I know it’s good, and I want good now. I know it is pain-free, and I want pain-free now (Revelation 21:4).

But it’s not time yet.

Jesus was talking to His disciples right before his murder, and he told them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

The immediate context of the passage is Jesus describing the Jews’ joy over finally killing the “blasphemer”, Jesus, while the disciples grieve over the gruesome loss of their Friend and failure to understand the spiritual victory that was taking place. Jesus is telling the disciples their grief will turn to joy on the third day when He rises and proves Himself God by defeating death.

The broader context, I suggest, is the modern world enjoying their sin while the modern believers grieve over the state of brokenness we find ourselves in. People are broken. We don’t work right. Bad stuff happens. Pain is the norm. And believers grieve because we know in our hearts and from the scriptures THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

But just as Jesus told His disciples, He tells us today, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”

The believer knows Jesus is coming back. We’ll either go to Him or He will come to us, and our joy will be unbounded!

But it’s not time for that yet. Sure, we can experience joy today while we daydream about Jesus coming back. But that joy is limited. Bounded. By the confines of broken people in a broken world.

No, now is our time of grief. Expect it. Accept it. But don’t get stuck in it.

Instead, learn to view the pain differently.

I’m learning by revisiting One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

Now is our time for grief, and we will not waste that grief. We will use it to experience the Father more deeply.