Finding Hope this Christmas

 

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The lights seemed to twinkle. I sat in the quiet morning the only one awake, staring at my Christmas tree. My Bible was in my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand. I should have been feeling peace and contentment, been delighting in this special season, right? Yeah, not so much. Instead, I was very aware of the wrongness in the world, and I felt depressed, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

“Why, God? Why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you fix it? The world is so screwed up! When are you going to do something?”

“Two thousand years ago”

It always surprises me when the Holy Spirit actually answers me, not audibly but in my heart. (Although, out loud would definitely be surprising too!)

I was out of time at the moment, kids to wake up and get out the door. So I couldn’t keep contemplating God’s answer. A couple hours later though I was alone driving in the car and my thoughts went something like this…

“Yup, the world is a mess; it’s broken. Christmastime can make us even more aware of that brokenness. This deceptive holiday – pretending it should be full of warmth, smiles, and tingly feelings… But often filled with stress, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and frustration. Humph! But, what am I supposed to be celebrating? Jesus. The hope of the world. Baby Jesus. This story is too familiar. God, let me see it new!

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“Jesus coming to earth. This is where everything really changed. Before Jesus: laws, and rules, and animal sacrifices, reminding us that we couldn’t be perfect, that we were separated from God. There were promises of hope, vague prophecies yet to be fulfilled, stories that pointed to something coming, but it wasn’t clear. And then, something crazy happened, something hinted at, but never guessed. The Creator became one of His creations. God quietly slipped into the world. Coming as a baby. The Savior was here. Hope was born.”

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I found myself crying and smiling at the same time.

The world hasn’t changed. It’s still a broken mess. But, Jesus… Jesus brings hope.

This season can be so stressful and full of stuff. But it’s not about the cookies, or the presents, or the decorations, or the parties. It’s not about the perfect experience. At it’s core, Christmas is about a God who slipped quietly into the world because He loved us.

I would encourage you these next few weeks to find a quiet chunk of time where you can really contemplate what it meant for Jesus to come to Earth. Let it sink in and be reminded of the hope we have because of Him!

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The God We Long For…and the Real Jesus

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A couple of days ago I threw a few scattered thoughts out on Facebook.

“What if God cares more about your heart than your outward actions?

What if He wants to heal your deepest wounds and messes more than He wants your behaviors to change?

What if He wants you to understand yourself…your deep needs and longings and the things that trigger you?

What if He cares about ALL of you, the visible and invisible parts?

What if, instead of expecting you to get your act cleaned up, Jesus wants to sit with you in your mess? Sift through it? Sort it out?

What if He is totally okay with that? What if that brings Him joy?

Would that give you HOPE?

It makes my heart sing!!!

Those words resonated with you. I love when the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing at the same time in more than one of us. 🙂

This is the kind of God our souls long for…and the kind that we are afraid doesn’t exist.

But. He. Does.

There are a lot of Jesus impostors out there, even among Christianity, even in the church. This shouldn’t surprise us. Think about it, the most religious people in Jesus’ day completely missed God walking in the flesh right in front of them. Not only did they miss Him, they hated Him, and eventually had Him killed. Ironic. Religion killed God.

But that death set us free from Religion’s power, and the Real God won!

I’d like to re-introduce you to a man named Zacchaeus.

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His profession was traitorous. His character sketchy. He definitely wasn’t a model Jewish citizen. Instead, Zacchaeus had become wealthy by working as a tax collector for the Romans and cheating his fellow Jews out of their money. His behaviors definitely didn’t line up with the Law.

Then one day Jesus was passing through the area and Zacchaeus was curious.

“…he was seeking to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3.

There is so much that we could unpack from these words, but the most important thing is that Zacchaeus was seeking… I love that! Fellow seekers, this gives us HOPE. 🙂

Unfortunately Zacchaeus had a height problem. Unable to even catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed a tree. Perched at the edge of the road, isolated from the crowd, Zacchaeus was ready for Jesus to pass by.

Jesus was also seeking. He was seeking for a messed up, too short, social traitor and religious outcast. Jesus deliberately stopped by the tree, looked up at Zacchaeus, (smiled I’m sure) and said:

“Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today” Luke 19:5.

What?? The crowd’s grumbling reaction tells you how crazy this was! Jesus just boldly announced that He is going to intentionally hang out with an obvious sinner.

Jesus doesn’t give Zacchaeus a list of rules to follow. He doesn’t condemn him, or reject him, or tell him to clean up his act. Jesus seeks, notices, affirms, accepts, loves, and demonstrates His desire to build a relationship with Zacchaeus. And something interesting happens.

Face to face with the real God, Zacchaeus falls apart. 

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” Luke 19:8.

Jesus is delighted! Not because of the changed behaviors, not because of the list of right things Zacchaeus is going to do, but because salvation has been accomplished. Zacchaeus’ heart has been won.

“Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” Luke 19:10.

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. That is amazing news!!

Because that’s me! I’m lost. I need seeking and saving. That’s you too. We are desperately lost, desperately broken, but it’s okay because we are also desperately loved. We are insanely and scandalously adored! Jesus came specifically to seek and save us. He wants all of us, every bit of our broken pieces. He wants to forgive our sin and gently put us back together.

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Coming face to face with the real Jesus will change us. But contrary to Religion’s beliefs, change isn’t the goal. The goal is knowing Jesus. Experiencing Him, believing Him, and allowing Him to make us into the very best version of ourselves.

Religion, even Christian religion, is always about behavior, always about control. And religion never gets God right…because it doesn’t understand who He really is.

The real Jesus doesn’t control. He doesn’t motivate us with guilt and shame. He draws us with loving-kindness. He patiently woos us. He seeks and saves the lost. 🙂

 

Doesn’t that make your heart fill with hope? Explode with love? Jesus is amazing, and mind blowing, and crazy, and I don’t even know what to say! But I’m gonna let Him love me. Will you?

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Finding Answers at Book Club?

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Why are so many of us, former Church People, so cynical and cranky? Even those of us, like me, who haven’t actually left the church? What’s wrong with us?

I’ve wondered about that (and what to do about it) for a while now. Thanks to Mike Cosper, I finally have an answer.

Who would’ve thought it would happen at Book Club? Who would’ve thought I’d ever end up at Book Club? I guess that’s what happens when you make new friends and ask the Holy Spirit what to do next.

I am NOT a literary. I’m not really even a writer, at least not personality wise. That fact is made painfully obvious at every writer’s conference I attend. I actually prefer Math over English because it is concrete and has nothing to do with people’s opinions.

herbal-2562218_1920But there I was, tucked into my corner of the couch, knees curled, a mug of hot tea cupped in my hands, listening to the Book Club members talk about pencils. Apparently there is a store in New York City dedicated to pencils and they were very excited. Then the topic switched to pens and the size pen point they like to use on their paper because of the way it feels. They might as well have been speaking Mandarin. I was that lost. I like black pens. Black pens that write smoothly without leaving excess ink on my paper. And that’s all I got. 😉

It’s good to get out of my comfort zone. Book Club is good for me. It’s good to listen to truly literary people talk about authors I’ve never heard of, and pencil stores in New York City, and favorite pen sizes. And it’s okay that I can’t contribute to those conversations. I’m learning that we need all sorts of people in our lives! We cannot live in a bubble with people who only think like us. It’s not healthy. We need to be stretched in order to grow.

Besides, we are going through a book by Mike Cosper called, Recapturing the Wonder – Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World.

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Reading the title is what convinced me that I needed to join Book Club. I want transcendent faith! Who doesn’t? But as I started reading the introduction, my heart lurched. Trigger words!! This book was actually about spiritual disciples? Sneaky Mike Cosper!

I have struggled with the concept of spiritual disciplines ever since I left my legalistic church/mindset. Sure, I practice some of them, but I don’t call them disciplines. Spiritual Disciplines were too often used in an attempt to impress God and other people with our spirituality. Maybe I didn’t want to go to Book Club after all.

I resisted the urge to pitch the book across the room and kept reading. Near the end of Chapter One, I found this gem.

“But if our starting place with God is the radical grace extended through Jesus, then the spiritual disciplines are invitations, not obligations – ways of being with God, not appeasing Him.”

The first two chapters ended up being a breath of fresh air. Redeeming. Freeing. Then I got to Chapter Three and this huge light bulb exploded in my brain! Everything was weaving together and it all made sense.

We are spiritual beings living in a disenchanted world. Our modern culture doesn’t embrace the supernatural and mysterious anymore. We have logical answers and a scientific understanding for everything. It’s cut, and dry, and over. And this disenchanted world is totally unsatisfying. We long for more.

The Christian culture has bought into this idea too. We don’t expect God to actually show up, so we go overboard to “make an experience” in our church services, retreats, youth events, etc. As Mike says,

“If we’ve primed ourselves to live in a world where God doesn’t show up, then we have to figure out how to make something happen on our own.”

As a result, we live from one emotional high to another, but it doesn’t really satisfy and we kind of know that it’s fake. So we end up cranky and cynical.

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We don’t know how to have an ordinary, every day life with God. We don’t know if it’s really possible. We are so busy seeking the big moments (and yet feeling cynical about them) that we miss the still, small voice of the Spirit.

“All of our religious efforts grow from hearts that long for redemption, for transcendence, and that most of all long to connect with God.

The mountaintop experiences don’t satisfy, but the presence of Jesus does, and he’s promised that he won’t forsake us” Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder.

I love this!!

Sometimes I just get so overwhelmed with the problems in our modern church. I’m frustrated by all the people who are blissfully ignorant of the problems and content within their Christian bubble. I’m angry at all the hurt that happens and gets covered up in the name of “Jesus.” But as I’ve read books, and written, and heard your responses lately, I’m also encouraged.

There are a lot of us cranky people out there! And we are seeking after Someone who will satisfy our desire for more. He probably won’t come in a whirlwind or a burning bush, but we are gonna find Him. We are going to learn to hear His still, small voice in the ordinary moments of our lives. Because He promised we would…because He wants to be found!

And we ARE the church. So, there is hope!!! 🙂

Fireflies, Chili, and Hope

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“You are the light of the world…No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket…” Matthew 5:14-15.

How strange would it be…if you sat on your porch one summer evening and watched as one firefly after another flew into an open container. Instead of floating free, blinking their lights in the summer dusk, the fireflies huddled together. Willing captives in a jar.

And yet, I think many Christians do the same thing. Somehow, protection and safety have become more important than being the light of the world. They huddle together around common ideology and values. Protecting good things like marriage, family, the sanctity of life, and moral absolutes, but refusing to engage the culture and the people in it.

If this life really is a vapor and just the beginning of the adventure, what have we got to lose? Do you believe that?

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“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” Matthew 5:14.

Wouldn’t it be odd…if you had a pot of homemade chili simmering on the stove, but despite adding multiple teaspoons of salt, it never became seasoned? Finally in frustration, you shook some of the salt into your hand, licked your finger, pressed it into the salt, and put it in your mouth. The salt was tasteless.

The same thing has happened to the church. Christianity is often something that just happens on Sundays. A religion separate from the rest of life. It is protection from hell, if we even believe in hell, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

If God really exists, and if the Bible really is the history of His interaction with humanity, and if this life is just a vapor and the beginning of the adventure…well, that changes everything. Do you believe this?

There are things on my heart that I need to tell you. This might be the strangest and most disjointed blog post I’ve ever written, but that’s okay. It’s real. 🙂

The darkness is very dark. This world is a mess and getting crazier by the day. It’s scary, I get that. But it’s not about safety and huddling, or about just getting by.

We were made for more. You were. And you know it. There is a restlessness that’s growing. A longing that can’t be satisfied. Because we were made in God’s image…made to be magnificent…made for a relationship and an adventure.

It can’t be about someone else telling you what to believe, or where to go, and what to do. It has to be about you and Jesus!

It can’t be about what people say, what the intellectuals think, or what is popular to agree with. It must be about you and Jesus!

It’s real, guys. Jesus is real…everything we see on this earth is just a shadow compared to Him and the adventure that is coming.

And because of that truth, we can do it. We can live the life that He has given us. It might not be easy, or safe, or comfortable, or fun, but that’s okay.

We all long for significance. We want to make a difference, to be important. But Jesus’ Kingdom is strange. It’s backwards, inside out, and upside down. The first are last, the last are first, and the Most High God became the servant of all. Think you are weak and powerless? You are the perfect candidate for adventure. Think you have gifts and abilities? Jesus might pick you to clean toilets. 😉 But either way, it’s okay because it’s about Jesus’ Kingdom and His plans.

Take heart, my friends, believe the truth, seek the Lord, and hold on to hope. Jesus wins! It’s not over yet! ❤

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There is No Magic Formula, But We Still Have Hope…

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In my last post, I wrote about ways we try to manipulate God, twist His arm, and push the right buttons on His “heavenly vending machine” to get what we want. While most of us would never come out and say it this bluntly, the formulaic way we treat God speaks for itself. We believe the lie that there are specific spiritual steps we can follow to achieve a desired outcome. We try to claim Bible verses (out of context) and say they promise things like physical healing. And when none of these things work, we blame ourselves or others for a “lack of faith” (as though there is a certain amount of faith that is guaranteed to make God do anything).

Perhaps we create formulas because we are trying to grasp for a feeling of control in a shaky, frightening, and often heartbreaking world, trying to make sense of things we don’t understand.

Even though we believed, prayed, and did everything we could…

  • The cancer still won
  • Our marriage still fell apart
  • We still miscarried
  • I’m still single
  • My husband is still looking at porn
  • Our child still died
  • I still lost my job
  • We still didn’t get pregnant
  • We still went bankrupt
  • They still don’t love Jesus
  • The world is still a mess

How do we reconcile a supposedly good, all-powerful God and the “good” things that He fails to accomplish? Believe me, I wrestle with this often!

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I think we start by expanding our minds. We throw away the understandable “god in a box” that we have created in our own image. We allow the real God to be bigger, greater, and just more than we can comprehend. Does the Bible say that God is good? Yes! All-powerful? Absolutely! Does He still choose to let bad things happen and take good things away? Yeah, actually the Bible says that too. Check out one of my favorite verses.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:6b-7

I found this verse after our second late-term miscarriage. Even though I didn’t know why God choose to take our baby, it was comforting to me to know that He never lost control, it was something He did, and He was big enough that He didn’t owe me an explanation. Maybe I can’t possibly understand God or make sense of Him, but a God that huge who also promises He is good and loving is something I am okay with.

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If there are no secret keys, no hidden formulas, no special chants, no magical ways to get God to do our bidding, then what can we expect? What has God really promised us? The answer might surprise you.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:20-21

Let’s get this straight, we’ve been promised trouble, temptation, and persecution? That doesn’t sound like a very nice promise! I thought life with Jesus was supposed to be warm fuzzies, roses, and sunsets? You know, easy and peaceful?

You might hear some Christians say that, but it’s not exactly in the Bible.

The Bible very clearly tells us that the world we live in is broken. It happened at the Fall, when sin first came into God’s perfect universe. Creation is broken so we have things like disease and natural disasters. People are broken, so they make choices that hurt not only themselves but also those around them. We will face trouble BUT look at the other promises in those verses.

Jesus wants to give us peace! He encourages us by reminding us that He has overcome this world. He is faithful! He will provide a way out of the temptation. And in chapter 14 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them (or us) alone; he is sending the Helper (the Holy Spirit).

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So, life is going to hurt, but I will never be alone? That’s right. And a God who is more, and better, and bigger than I can ever imagine is in complete control even when it doesn’t look like it? Yes. And He wants to walk with me through life, to help and comfort me, because He loves me? Yup!

He wants to walk so close with you that He actually lives inside of you. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

I don’t know about you, but rereading that last paragraph brings tears to my eyes. It’s so much better than a vending machine, or a magic formula guaranteed to bring me what I want! HE is a real, living, incredible, loving Being, who wants meHe wants to be friends with me and help me. He wants to give me peace and joy, despite the brokenness of this world, not based on anything I do or don’t do, but simply because of His amazing grace!

How about you…are you willing to believe in and trust a God who is way too big for you to twist His arm, who might not always give you what you want, who is impossible to understand, but who is in complete control and will walk with you through each heartache in this broken world? I sure am!

 

Let’s Be Honest…

2016 was not my favorite year. And from what I see on social media, I’m not alone in that feeling. I came across this great meme a while back on Facebook:

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This image pretty much sums it up for me! Yikes! That’s not to say that there weren’t great moments and fabulous people in my life, because there were. I have many blessings that I am grateful for…but it was still a hard year.

I’m normally a pretty optimistic, positive, hopeful person. And I normally look forward to a new year with excitement, anticipation, and a sense of adventure. However, on New Year’s Eve, as I enjoyed some quiet after my kiddos were in bed and while my hubby was still out partying with the youth group, I realized that I’m struggling to look forward to 2017. The clock striking midnight wasn’t going to magically erase the hard things that would be following me into the next year. 

I know that a lot of you understand what I’m talking about. Most of us carry around heaviness and burdens. (Some of us just hide them better than others.) We live in a broken world and it hurts! Life isn’t peaches and cream, there isn’t always a “happily ever after”, and the prayers we pray through tears don’t always get answered in the way we want.

That said, we still have hope. Praise Jesus!

My husband and I are almost finished with an incredible book called “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken. We love and hate this book at the same time. It is challenging our beliefs and stretching our faith. (If you haven’t read it, you should make it a goal for your new year.)

The first half of the book is the author’s story of being a missionary/relief worker in Somaliland for six years. Nothing goes well, he fails in every attempt, there are no new believers at the end of his years of sacrifice, and the believers who were there before him have been murdered. Despite Nik’s best efforts, he hasn’t put a dent in the overwhelming humanitarian disaster that exists. Finally, his son unexpectedly dies. Talk about a crisis of faith…

But, the story doesn’t end there. In the second half of the book we find Nik traveling around the world discovering personal stories of Christians living in persecution. His own faith is restored as he sees the faith of these believers and hears stories of how God is incredibly real to them despite terrible situations.

That’s kind of how I feel.

I’ve faced some hard times this year. I’ve felt defeated, confused, alone, frustrated, and empty… But, in those broken places, I have also experienced God’s grace free and undeserved. I have been humbled in a good way, and as a result, I have seen Jesus more clearly.

I don’t know how your 2016 went, but I do know that we can face 2017, despite everything, with confidence. We can have hope because we have a Savior who is bigger than our circumstances, who meets us in our pain, and who loves us unconditionally. We can trust Him even when we can’t trust anything or anyone else. He’s got this and He’s got us. And that’s enough.

 

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Finding Hope this Christmas

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The lights seemed to twinkle. I sat in the quiet morning, the only one awake, staring at my Christmas tree. My Bible was in my lap; a cup of coffee in my hand. I should have been feeling peace and contentment, delighting in this special season, right? Yeah, not so much. Instead, I was very aware of the wrongness in the world, and I was feeling depressed, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

“Why, God? Why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you fix it? The world is so screwed up! When are you going to do something?”

“Two thousand years ago”

It always surprises me when God actually answers me, not out loud, but in my heart. (Although, out loud would be surprising too!)

I was out of time at the moment, kids to wake up and get out the door. So I couldn’t keep contemplating God’s answer. A couple hours later, I was alone driving in the car and my thoughts went something like this…

Yup, the world is a mess; it’s broken. Christmastime can make us even more aware of that brokenness. This deceptive holiday pretending it should be a time of warmth, smiles, and tingly feelings, but often more a time of stress, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and frustration. Humph! But, what am I supposed to be celebrating? Jesus. The hope of the world. Baby Jesus. This story is too familiar. God, let me see it new!

Jesus coming to earth. This is where everything really changed. Before Jesus: laws, and rules, and animal sacrifices, reminding us that we couldn’t be perfect, that we were separated from God. There were promises of hope, vague prophecies yet to be fulfilled, stories that pointed to something coming, but it wasn’t clear. And then, something crazy happened, something hinted at, but never guessed. The Creator became one of His creations. God quietly slipped into the world. Coming as a baby. The Savior was here. Hope was born.

I found myself crying and smiling at the same time.

The world hasn’t changed. It’s still a broken mess. But, Jesus… Jesus brings hope.

I would encourage you these next few weeks to find a quiet chunk of time where you can really contemplate what it meant for Jesus to come to Earth. Let it sink in and be reminded of the hope we have because of Him!

 

Stay tuned! I’ve got more to say about Jesus. 🙂 Up next, how Jesus destroys our false views of God!