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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

When my pastor shared a statistic in a recent sermon, I allowed my gaze to settle on the faces of those around the room. How many felt a painful stab of recognition when he mentioned the hidden epidemic?

It might have been the young mama who attends church each week while her husband serves the country in a dusty land halfway around the world. Or, perhaps one of its victims was the teen girl who shifted uneasily at its mention. She’s the one with the dare-you-to-say-anything expression—physically distanced from her family; arms crossed in an attempt to fend off well-meaning attempts to approach her. Maybe the words penetrated the heart of the smartly dressed elderly woman—the woman whose smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. When I greeted her, she mentioned that her husband refuses to venture beyond the confines of their home. Could she be the face of the statistic?

Who, I wondered, are the lonely ones?                back-1822702_1920

 The statistics are alarming. The General Social Survey reveals that the number of people without one close friend has tripled since 1985 and more people than ever report feelings of chronic loneliness.

In our LinkedIn, Facebook-friendly world, why are more people battling with the pain of loneliness than ever before?

I believe loneliness stems from our deep soul-need to know and be known—intimatelypersonally…unreservedly—and to be loved and accepted despite the knowing.

I invite you to join me this month as we explore 16 Days–Breaking the Chains of Loneliness. Our families, churches, and communities need women willing to reach out—women called to pray, serve, and encourage. Let’s be lover’s of the lonely!

And, Friend, if you are a lonely one? I’m praying for you! God knows your need–your heart. He whispers your name and promises to “never forsake or leave you”.

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The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Hebrews 1:1

The wind is elusive—an idea felt; a reality discerned through its visible impact on the tangible.

Silver ripples dancing across the face of a lake that only moments before lay in repose—glassy and motionless. A sudden rush of sound sending hundreds of burnished leaves to the forest floor like gilded feathers pirouetting in the sky. A high-pitched roar of anger propelling icy pellets of white against an exposed face.

I can’t see it, but I believe the wind exists. I can feel it—an invisible, unstoppable power. A thing of beauty that demands respect. An uncontainable, indefinable entity.

In the same way, I have faith in Jesus–the invisible God-Man who displays His glory in the beauty of creation. Each towering mountain arching heavenward and every tender petal unfurling at the prompting of morning light. God surrounds me with observable reminders of Truth.

I can’t see Jesus, but I believe He exists. Some might call this blind faith. The sort of faith based on nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky optimism or a myopic view of being human—ignoring the big questions about suffering, death, and purpose.

But I’ve witnessed it—lived it.

His authority transforming the broken places from deep inside; resurrecting hope in a loved one who had none before; breathing life into the lifeless.

No, my faith isn’t an endless well—a spiritual place of self-created hope. I’m not a version of Super Christian or someone who believes every story posted on Facebook or printed by the Associated Press.

Instead, my faith is less about me than it is about the One who is faithful. And when I waver? Those times that I doubt Him? I remember who He is and what He has done. I grapple with my mustard seed faith in prayer—showing myself real and vulnerable to the God who already knows my heart. Still…He remains true to his promises. Hope. Peace. Salvation. Jesus.

 If you’re walking in doubt today, friend, cry out to Him. He bends down from heaven to listen to even a whispered prayer. Remember what He has done for you and that His desire is to give you good gifts. Eternal gifts.

Beautiful…imperishable…holy gifts for having just enough faith to believe.

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

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I could see it crouching over her—almost visible in its size and heaviness. Depression. And dragging on its heels, you would recognize Pain and Despair if you looked carefully enough. Sliding slowly into the worn, wooden chair my friend attempted a weak smile as her hands gripped the thin paper cup and its warm contents.

The loud whirring of an industrial coffee grinder erupted over the chatter of the other customers and I asked, “How are you?”

“Desperate,” she replied.

And I thought back to a horrible night when another dear one was desperate and he begged God to help…to show mercy. And it was all he could do to survive physically when his soul felt as if it were drowning in an ocean of isolation and despair.

Then she uttered the words all of us have thought, but few are brave enough to utter in the presence of another—her heart bleeding its hurt from the inside out, “God is good…right?”

When the pain seems bigger than God, how do you answer a question like that?

I didn’t want to offer platitudes. Holy sounding Christian-eze. Cheery look-on-the-bright-side responses. Just what I knew to be true.

“God is still good. I know He is—I’ve seen it.” And I held her hand as we prayed—for comfort…for healing…for hope.

And don’t we all need hope, Friends? When nothing seems to penetrate the dark we need Hope desperately. A Hope that destroys the strongholds and promises deep, abiding soul-peace. Abiding Hope that lives larger than the problems of this world.

Lord, please! Give your child hope today!

 My words seemed almost foolish as I bent my head in a coffee shop asking for what seemed like the impossible. But, I have come to know this God–the Hope-Giver.

And knowing Him is the best hope of all.

So I keep praying for the impossible—until Hope responds to the heart cry of His child. And, He will—because He is good.

 

Scripture for Reflection

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“What do you dream about doing? What are your hopes for the future?” When I asked the questions, the young man looked at me—his dark glasses framing serious blue eyes.

“I don’t have a dream,” he said, shrugging with something like resignation.

“Then I’m going to pray God gives you a dream,” I responded—sounding more certain than I felt.

Shouldn’t everyone have a dream? The idea of something that inspires hope? Excitement? Possibility?

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I think so…but this dear one—and many others—struggle with such joy killers as depression and anxiety. I’m not talking about the blues or generic concerns, but the sort of life-altering conditions that overwhelm with their intensity and duration. If you’ve experienced these types of struggles, you understand what it is to feel as if the future holds no promise…no hope.

 

The Church tends to throw Bible verses in the direction of those who experience the pain and loneliness of mental illness. Other believers—even the wise and well meaning—spiritualize the situation or question their fellow-Christians faith. You just need to pray more!

 

Fortunately, awareness is growing and more people are sharing their stories—reminding those in the middle of the storm that it will end. The rains may rage for a time, but one morning you will awaken feeling the sunshine on your face! Your hopelessness will be replaced by promise and your joylessness with laughter. Friend…you will release your burdens and dream again!

 

In the meantime—remain under your doctor’s care, seek wise counsel, and develop a support network. And, continue to rely on the truth of God’s love for you despite how you may feel.

 

Friends and family of those living through the hard of mental illness? Listen. Ask how you can help. Pray that your friend, child, husband, or other hurting one will soon be able to dream again.

 

Recommended Books/Resources:

Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengston

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.bdsalliance.org)

 

 

 

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Giving God me was a moment in time—a five year old with cropped hair and knobby knees raising her hand in Sunday school. It was one of the rare Sundays my family attended church, but I met Jesus there and took him home in my heart.

That sweet encounter put me on the road to my forever home. I was as good as signed, sealed, and delivered to heaven’s doorstep.   But, that day was also the beginning of a relationship—one marked by trial, misunderstanding, faithlessness, and inexplicable, beautiful love.

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I’ve discovered that giving God me was more than the promise of Life. It’s a decision I choose to make—or not–each day and moment-by-moment. Some days I succeed. I loosen my grasp on my expectations…my fears…my hurts…my vulnerable places.

But there are times the struggle is painfully hard and I hold stubbornly to my life—unwilling to give up control of thoughts…circumstances…relationships. It’s a spirit fight—like Joshua and the angel—waged in weakness when needing God’s strength; borne out of mistrust while having experienced God’s goodness.

Three years ago, I engaged in the battle of my life. It rocked my family to the core and sent me to a place of such pain and confusion that life lost all promise and hope. I wasn’t sure I would survive the anger…the loss…the heartache.

And I wrestled with God—unwilling to give all of myself to Him. I didn’t always realize He was there with me in the filth, the dirt—holding onto me while I pushed Him away. I refused to look at Him…certain I didn’t deserve the love engraved on His palms. I shouted…I wept…I doubted my Savior. Still—He remained.

In the moment I finally gave all of myself? I realized complete freedom for the first time. Giving all of me to God was the exchange of chains for freedom,  self-condemnation for Christ’s acceptance, and the brokenness of the past for transformation in His mercy.

Friend, are you wrestling with God right now? Can I gently remind you that He guards you…protects you…loves you—even when the journey seems dark and lonely. Despite how you may feel, you are not alone. Why fight against God when He will do battle on your behalf? We know Christ intercedes for us in heavenly places—the victory has been won! Let’s give all of ourselves to Him today!

 

Scripture for Reflection

Gen. 22-23 But during the night he got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He got them safely across the brook along with all his possessions.

24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.

26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

29 Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”

The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.

30 Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” (MSG)

 

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The familiar ping of the phone alerted me to a new message. A hurting friend and I had been sharing our thoughts and discussing the razor-edged struggles of the hard in her life. A loved one had said things….done things. She wanted to know–could the relationship recover?

I paused before responding. I don’t see the way. I don’t know how the hurt can be redeemed. I don’t have any great wisdom to offer. The words I chose? With God all things are possible. And you are worth it!

Tears blurred my miniature screen when this dear one answered —I feel worthless.

I understood. These words? I owned them for years. And I wonder…how many of us have been in that place? How many of us have felt the thrust of the enemy’s arrow digging into the tender flesh of our hearts with messages that seem more real than the love letters written so many years ago through the hands of those empowered by God himself.

Maybe you’ve believed the lies, too. The messages burning in your heart may have been lodged there since childhood—the result of words spoken by a parent, a teacher, or peers. Perhaps you were burdened with the weight of worthlessness when a marriage begun with promise ended in betrayal. Is it even possible that your own past—the sins you can’t seem to forget—prove you are worthless?

But Jesus wants to affirm you. He’s not offering a positive mantra for personal repetition or a feel-good, I-believe-in-you word of false praise. He wants to give you so much more!

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Listen… do you hear his voice? Just as He did with the disciples, Jesus is calling you to follow him. He shouts out your name–a personal invitation to leave your nets behind–those things that entangle and threaten to drag you into dark waters. Leave them in the sand, Friend. Like refuse scattered along the water’s edge after a storm, you can shed your hurts…cast off the lies…release your burdens.

I’m not suggesting Jesus is an easy answer. The world is still a place of broken people. Suffering continues. Tears still flow. Certainly, Jesus didn’t mince words when he said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

So what does Jesus offer? He gives Himself! The God who gave you life reassures you of His love.

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would never forget you! See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT).

The God of the universe and creator of all things loves you so passionately that when He spread His arms wide on the cross He was thinking of you! You are that valuable. What a beautiful, amazing affirmation!

Friend, in all of our difficulty and doubts let’s respond to Jesus. Will you follow after Him? Because one beautiful day we’ll celebrate a heavenly homecoming and Jesus will have been our destination.

 

Encouraging Bible Verses

 (Exodus 33:17 NKJV) So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

(Psalm 100:3 NKJV) Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

(Isaiah 43:1-3 NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. {2} When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. {3} For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

(John 10:3 NKJV) “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he callshis own sheep by name and leads them out.”

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

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A heart-rending scene in the movie Forrest Gump elicits uncomfortable emotions every time I revisit the movie. Why? Because I relate to Jenny—the young woman who returns to her family home only to be reminded of the pain and destructive secrets experienced in a place that should have been one of innocence and laughter.

 

Not Enough Rocks.pngPausing, Jenny leans almost involuntarily toward the ground where her hand wraps itself around something solid…indestructible. Determinedly, she hurls a rock at the faded, abandoned home in the distance. Glass shatters and one rock after another finds its mark—again and again–until Jenny presses her heaving body against the earth in exhaustion.

“Sometimes,” her companion laments, “I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Do you find purchase with those words, dear Friend? Can you understand how deep a wound this woman may have experienced?

And you—what about you?

Do you carry around scars, too? Maybe your hurts grew in the promising relationship of marriage. Oh, the hope you had the day you pronounced your love for one another. Now, perhaps, the dreams have all but disappeared and you wonder if your aching heart can bear the loneliness any longer.

Or, it could be that the dreams you held for your child have been destroyed. An imposter stepped in and occupied their place—substance abuse…depression….a precious one’s death.

Maybe your hurts were borne in a moment of a friend’s unwarranted betrayal…a workplace disagreement…or, perhaps, even at the hands of other Christians.

Oh, yes. The pain is real.

But what I know? Throwing rocks will not relieve the ache. The stinging words of retort meant to shame our offender…the dissolution of an unfulfilling relationship for another…the temporary solace found in a habit turned master—none of these “rocks” provide lasting satisfaction.   Instead, these stones will hang heavy like a weight—gradually pulling us deeper into resentment…remorse…regret.

But The Rock? He is the place of refuge…restoration…renewal. If we just unfurl those tightly curled fists and allow the rocks to tumble to the ground—each bitter thought and every cry of the heart—our faith will grow bigger, our hope greater, and our love deeper.

Scripture to Study (Genesis 38-46)

Consider Joseph’s story.

Because he was his father’s favorite, Joseph’s brother stripped him of dignity, threw him into the bowels of a pit, and sold him for next to nothing to slave traders. Remarkably, Joseph survived—and he survived without allowing hatred to implant itself in the dark places of his heart.

Instead, Joseph chose forgiveness. Beautiful, undeserved forgiveness.  

Joseph decided upon generosity. Life-giving, beyond expectation liberality.

The one who had been cast aside offered grace. Bountiful, unwarranted blessing.

 

-How do you imagine you would have reacted in Joseph’s situation?

-What is your response to those who have caused wounds in your life?

-Do your thoughts or actions align with the truth of who God says He is?

-What one step can you take today to let go of your grasp on a past hurt?

 

 

 

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We are, if we have chosen the good part, sitters at the feet of Jesus, just as Saul
of Tarsus sat at the feet of Gamaliel; Christ is to us our great Instructor  

–Charles Spurgeon

 

An uncommon God, He lived as a common man. Exchanging the beauty of heavenly glory for human flesh, Christ—the One who had strolled through the streets of heaven–walked the streets of everyday towns filled with common people burdened by common problems.

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He–who had known perfection–surrounded himself with the imperfect. He willingly gave up abundance for poverty, worship for rejection, and self for others.

hands-731265_1280Why did Jesus—who once stooped to breathe life into dust—bind himself to the earth…to men and women whose feet carried them further from truth and deeper into the deception of self…of false hopes and misplaced dreams…of willfulness and rebellion?

 

Because He knows what we are made of. (Psalm 103:14) And simple dust, once stripped of protection, shifts in the wind—sometimes mere inches while at other times it is moved completely from its place…drifting and unsettled. For hundreds of years, Dust had lived under the dark curse of sin–tossed about this way and that.

No one remained untouched. Suffering. Disease. Death. Corrupt men subjugated innocents to forced labor—stealing youth and hope. Outcasts—considered less than human—suffered in pain on the edges of the city while rotting flesh ached for relief. Human souls cried out to heaven and Jesus was the answer. And in becoming like the rest of us, God made clear the extent of his love for Dust.

 

A love so encompassing and grace-filled that He intentionally wandered from place to place—offering forgiveness, speaking words of love, and bringing the kingdom of heaven to aching, hurting people. And, unlike any other god before or since, the man named Jesus died to save Dust. The same feet—soiled and dirtied from travelling to the dwellings of Despair and Need—were nailed to the tree. Their blood flowed downward and marked the hill at the base of the cross. And blood and Dust became inseparable.

Jesus gave everything for this woman of dust. He gave everything for you, too, dear Friend. And at the nail-scarred feet of Jesus we receive the life of a common man and an uncommon God. 

Scripture for Reflection

Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down, and from you receive instruction… (Duet. 33:3)

…and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. (Luke 8:35)

…but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

 

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I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
                                                    I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me.                                                          Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:19-23)

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It sits on the edge of the wind-blown prairie and the Montana sky–an unknown town to most.  A strip of slender asphalt bisects the small rows of homes where Highway 3 snakes through the rock and golden grass.  A stranger passing through probably wouldn’t bother to wonder about the people living there or notice the two quaint churches pointing their steeples toward heaven.  A casual passerby wouldn’t care that the bar–a gathering place for regulars most nights- becomes a family hangout when the basketball team scores a victory.  And few will thank the farmer–the one pulling his hat down low on his tanned brow as he gazes across miles of burnished wheat–for getting dirt beneath his nails so that others can enjoy bread on the table.

But to me?  Well…Broadview is much more.  Broadview–and her people–are a significant part of my story.  It is a place of family…of pain…of remembrance–and of promise.

I left home when I was eighteen–certain I could evade memories…redefine myself…become.  What I didn’t realize was that God allowed me to have memories–both good and bad–in order that I would also have hope.

Through the eyes of hope I can look back and thank God for his mercies to me.

My family was broken, but the Father gifted me with 200 other people who cared–from the youth pastor and his wife to the school janitor.  My English teacher…the basketball coach…my 4-H leader.

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My grandfather lay in a hospital–his chest stitched from stem to stern while the fields were ripe for the harvest. A line of red and green combines dotted the landscape–each trolling the field and spitting shaft in the air.  The Life Giver sent his workers so that a farmer and his grandchildren would know the feeling of satisfied stomachs in the winter.

My childhood home lay smoldering–a heap of ashes.  Yet the Provider gave more than needed when donations from a lone Pancake Breakfast were stacked in front of us.

Broadview.

Insignificant?

Not at all–those 200 people made a difference.

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Brilliant shafts of light passed through the windows as I sat silently…listening for God to instruct my heart.  Closing my eyes, I invited Him to meet me during these few quiet moments set aside for prayer and reflection.

Glancing at the sheet of prompts held in my hands, I struggled with the response–not because I didn’t know the answer…but because I did.  Today’s devotion penetrated with the question…What are you excited about?

The answer surfaced quickly–an undesired intruder provoking speculation…questioning…uncertainty.

What was I excited about?  

Nothing.

I feel as if I’m living in limbo…wondering about God’s plans for my children, my family, and my life.  And like a man standing on a mountain top in the midst of a snowstorm, I can’t see the other peak just beyond the valley.

Pausing, I wonder if my honest answer is unacceptable to God.   Ungrateful…unworthy…unholy–the words penetrate my heart and guilt’s shadow presses near.

Grappling with both the question and the answer, I realize my longing for more–more of holiness…more of  beauty…more of Christ–is the deep desire to know my Creator; to live in the perfection of  an Eternal Garden.

Today, though, I am living as all people do–in this strange Temporary of joy and pain, hope and fear, celebration and sorrow.

The Psalmist shared the same feeling–I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.  I’m thirsty for God alive.  (Psalm 42:2). Dear Friend, my soul yearns for the day I am fully in His presence and surrounded by glory.  That is a Forever excitement.

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