Tag Archives: Bible

Not Always Hope, Not Never Hope, But Sometimes Hope

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

I have had a few people ask me why the name of this blog is Sometimes Hope. “If we are called to trust God all the time,” the question starts, “why isn’t your title Always Hope or maybe Keeping the Hope?” I even struggled with this a bit myself. After some thought, here are three reasons I can only Sometimes Hope.

Sometimes I Fall Down the Stairs

Recently I was going upstairs to get my oldest son. I wanted him to clean up the kitchen. I was about halfway up, and then I had a seizure. Not that I remember the seizure. I recall walking up the stairs, then a second later being on my back with intense pain on my shoulder and back.

Having a seizure in such a dangerous place was bad enough. My kids’ response was even more difficult for me to handle. They all apologized to me like it was somehow their fault I had my seizure. As if they could have prevented my pain somehow.

To know that my children feel guilt about any seizures I have makes me sick to my stomach. My kids have enough pressures in their lives. They don’t need to feel responsible for me having seizures. But they do.

In moments like this, I want to curse God and die, like Job’s wife suggested. Questions of His faithfulness rage in my soul, like Asaph in Psalm 73:1 – 2:

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

In this moment, I have a choice: to trust the past faithfulness of God, or to view my current circumstances as evidence of His character. 

Sometimes I Let Myself Slip

There are days when I choose anger and resentment. Once in a while, that choice lasts a week or longer. I just let go of my kind thoughts toward God. I rage and allow my hatred to fester.

If this is how God is going to treat me, screw it! I may as well live my life away from Him. It’s so much easier to just walk my own path. No worries about this Getcha-God bringing sorrow into my life for some unknown reason!

My anger fuels this desire to step away from the God I have known for over twenty years now. Because my life is not working the way I think it should work. Because I have pain and my children have guilt. So I walk away and make my own path, in small ways.

I go through the motions of my faith without allowing any connection to my spirit. I don’t sing the worship songs. I don’t pay attention to the sermons. I let my Bible gather dust. I refuse to pray to God for any reason, even if it’s just to thank Him for our dinner. Slowly, I slip away from God and reassert myself as the master of my own domain.

What I eventually discover terrifies me though. I was not created to walk the Never Hope life. It is a land of confusion with no signposts to guide the way. Some may call this weakness, but I am not able to make my own path without the guidance of my God. Put differently, the antagonist from The Avengers movie Loki had it right:

You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

I Remember Whose I am

The moment always comes. Like Samson, who shook himself and realized he was without strength because his hair was cut. Like Peter, who heard the rooster crow and realized Jesus knew the denial would come. Like Asaph in Psalm 73:23-26, I realize what a fool I’ve been:

Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

I belong to God, and He is mine forever. Even when I fall down the stairs and curse God, I am still His treasure. When I consciously avoid any smidgen of goodness dropped down from heaven like rain in my life, I am still His chosen one.

So I hope again. Not always, because I slip and lose my way. Not never, because I am my Beloveds and He is mine. But sometimes hope.

When God Sucker Punches You

Photo credit: leunix (Creative Commons)

Photo credit: leunix (Creative Commons)

I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing. The medical diagnosis was shocking. Something I was not prepared for emotionally. I’d just been sucker punched. I could look back on the last few years and see how the symptoms fit what had been happening in my life. That didn’t mean it made sense for me today though. Beyond confusion though, I was angry. At God.

How could you do this to me God? I thought you loved me? Where is the love today – did you forget it at home?

I know I am not alone in this feeling. You’ve been there too. We all have. It might be a medical situation, like it was for me. Maybe it’s the death of your child. A divorce. The overwhelming darkness we see on the evening news every day. Unemployment.

This is a big moment in our faith. When things get serious, and we have to decide what we really believe, because what we know and what we see don’t reconcile.

What we see is…well, it’s a disaster. Life is ripping apart at the seams and we just don’t know how to make sense of it. Hope is a distant memory, and things just gets worse when we try to reconcile our reality with what we see in the Bible. James 1:2-4 is a perfect example.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Yes, JOY is exactly how I want to consider my trials. Sheer and utter joy. A trip to Disneyland without lines. And yet, that’s what it sounds like the Bible is telling us to do. What God expects from us, when He’s the one who sucker punched us in the first place. But maybe there is more going on than we realize in the moment.

God has the long term view of who we are becoming in the pain we are experiencing. He sees the end from the beginning and rejoices over the maturity we arrive at through the sorrow we go through now. It is from this place of eternity that God calls us to rejoice in trials, and it is the ultimate test of trusting Him. It comes down to a single question:

Do you trust God more than you trust your circumstances?

Answering this question is perhaps the key to writing the story of our life. As we learn to say yes, we are able to walk into a place of greater favor with God. To see life through His eyes, with His perfect vision. Our wounds get healed. We find hope. We discover the courage to move past our pain and into the destiny God has for us. We get unstuck.

 

What is NORMAL?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the word normal, for a few reasons.

I have well-meaning individuals in my life who keep asking me, “When will you stop having seizures and get back to normal?” I have to remind them that I am an epileptic, and this IS normal for me. To them, normal seems to mean not having seizures, so both me and my daughter are abnormal. I know I am sounding mean-spirited, and playing word games a bit here, but the insinuation unfortunately hangs in the air every time sometimes ask me when I will get back to normal.

One of my oldest friends is a future television screenwriting star – I know you will all know her name someday, and I will be able to say, “She watched my kids when she was 12, but I didn’t know she was 12, because she didn’t look 12 and certainly didn’t act 12” and people will be jealous – and she is just brilliant. Truthfully, she is one of the most well-spoken and thoughtful people I know, and also happens to be African-American. Regularly, people she comes across of all races and genders are SHOCKED at how intelligent and thoughtful she is FOR A BLACK WOMAN! So, apparently to many people it is normal for a young black woman to be ignorant, or uninformed, or not inarticulate. Again, the unintended consequences of others’ expectations produces frustration.

So, what should normal look like in the church, and what if anything does the Bible have to say about this? Believe or not, there were racial and societal tensions in the first century too, and the Apostle Paul had to instruct the early churches on how to deal with them in a God-honoring way. Most of the epistles have a verse or two on the topic, so let’s just pick one. Galatians 3:26-28 says:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Said differently, in Jesus there is no racial differentiation, no social status, no gender break…just lovers of God. Oh that we would learn to walk in that today! When we see the teenager sucking her thumb in the Sunday service, might our heart be filled with joy that she’s worshiping God by raising her hands during worship, instead of our minds being filled with judgment that her parents let her act that way. When we see the autistic girl struggling to find her way in the raucous junior high ministry, might we befriend her and encourage our children to do the same, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Truth is this – whether we are in Christ or not, we are all abnormal. We are all broken. Sin has touched us all, messed us all up, warped our minds, distorted our emotions, blinded us from the best in ourselves and others. So really, we are all in process, and either moving toward God or away from Him. Let’s decide together to stop defining normal and just encourage one another along the path toward Christ, day by day, moment by moment.

Then God said, “Go to this 10-Hour Meeting?” “Ummm….God….I Don’t Mean to Complain, But….Are You Sure This is What You Meant By Full Time Ministry?”

Sometimes, following God’s plans for our life does not turn out exactly like we imagined. I remember being in Bible college over a decade ago and hearing someone in chapel say this: “In 15 years, less than 75% of you will still be in full-time ministry. So think of your 3 closest friends. If you think all of them will still be in ministry full-time, then guess what – it’ll be you whose not!” Bad statistical analysis aside, I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t be the one to fail God by walking away from my calling to full time ministry. Boy how my perspective has changed.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I just finished up two days full of meetings with some high-powered business professionals, in preparation for two more days full of meeting with even more high-powered business professionals. I am not exaggerating either – I literally had thirteen hours of meetings in the last two work days. But here is where it gets weird: I know that I am in the center of God’s will for my career right now. I also know that I am still called to be in the ministry. How’s that work?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some thoughts on this. It’s pretty easy to draw a hard line between paid professional Christians AKA pastors and “everyone else” too quickly, and even to think it’s in the Bible somewhere. Too bad you cannot really find it anywhere.

Rather you see that –

we are all called to be priests,

we are all given spiritual gifts,

we are all responsible for exercising discipline,

we are all expected to move from glory to glory,

we are to grow in maturity until we are not moved by every wind or wave of doctrine,

we are all called equally to be co-heirs with Christ in His kingdom.

Think on this last one for just a moment – seriously, stop reading this blog and think about this – CALLED EQUALLY TO BE CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST IN HIS KINGDOM. Perhaps we ought to take the title sons and daughter of God more seriously than we do, because it seems like God does.

Instead, we settle for so much less, we settle for the idea that our tithe pays the salaries for the brightest of us to do the ministry, to serve us, to sing to us, to speak to us, to teach us, to motivate us to live better lives. It is as if we expect the paid professionals to life their lives for Jesus, so we don’t have to. Frank Viola has a lot to say about this, and says it better than me, so I would point you to his blog to get a better grasp on this radical but true idea.

But I digress – how does this relate to two days meetings, and how do two days of meetings relate to ministry? The Sermon on the Mount helps here:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Jesus

The boardrooms of the business world are a pretty dark place, and far too few thoughtful followers of Christ carry His light into this particular dark corner of the world. I just spent thirteen hours trying to shine the light of Jesus into a pretty dark place. I am trying to pick up the mantle of the priesthood, to walk into the call to ministry, to grow into maturity. Sometimes, I grabbed that bowl and hid my lamp, I am more than a little ashamed to say. It is difficult to always stand for righteousness, to stand apart, to stay pure, to demonstrate the love of God to broken and cruel people. My hope is that the light of God outshined the darkness of me.

No guilt trips here, but just an honest question, and perhaps some self-reflection. Where are you carrying your light as a member of the royal priesthood of the tribe of David? Are you stepping into your call to ministry, or letting the professionals do all the work? I’d love to hear your story, of how you are sharing the kindness of Christ in your daily life, so please share.

Scripture bombs

Ever been real with someone and they respond with a Scripture bomb?

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It’s related to a Jesus Juke but is a little more defined. What happens is this: you share something personal in your life, usually something you’re struggling with, in the hopes of getting some encouragement or at least a kind ear. For me, it’s usually with someone I trust, because I tend to be a tad private and closed. Instead of kindness or hope, they quote you a Bible verse, then walk away. BBBBOOOOOMMMMM!! You’ve just been Scripture Bombed!

Don’t mishear me. I believe the Bible is the best source of hope and encouragement on this planet, but sometimes your hope needs skin. That’s what community is for, because a book, even a Holy Spirit inspired one, never gave a hug, or smiled, or shared a lunch with you. Only the Church of God can do that. Maybe that’s why the Scripture bomb is so destructive. Because we know in our hearts that we should expect more.

I never know what to do when I get a Scripture Bomb. What about you — ever been the victim of a well meaning bomb? Ever given one (I know I have)? How do you respond?

The Devil’s Favorite Words

As we come up on Thanksgiving, I’m still in a pretty heavy place because of my seizures, but I got some insight into why this evening. It’s because I have been listening a bit too much to the devil’s favorite words – What If?

I have my first neurology appointment on Monday, and a lot could change after this appointment. The odds are my license will be temporarily suspended, based on the frequency and uncontrolled nature of my seizures right now. I will also most definitely have a great deal of other tests done, from EEGs to blood tests to MRIs. But this isn’t where the problems lie. The problems come in when I start listening to my enemy when he whispers in my ear:

What if…my seizures spiral out of control even more?

What if…I have a seizure while I am on an airplane?

What if…I am told I am forbidden to travel by my physician, which is a required part of my job?

What if…my children start losing respect for me due to my memory loss from my seizures?

What if…I forget something REALLY important, and it hurts someone I love?

What if…I lose my job?

What if…what if…what if?

The crazy thing is this – any or all of these things could happen, and really they could happen in the next week. But that doesn’t mean I should allow these What Ifs to rule my life. Hopefully, I can share the way that I am learning to deal with these attacks and encourage you.

Recognize the truth

It is so easy to call these What If’s something different than what they are. I can convince myself that I am just operating out of my natural personality type, which lends itself toward problem solving. I can say that I have a responsibility to provide for my family, and these things must be considered in light of my duties.  I might even state that it would be abnormal to NOT worry about these questions. Each of these statements is true on some level, but they skirt the issue.

The full truth is ugly, so I want to avoid it, to pretend it doesn’t exist, but my desires don’t make it go away. The truth is this – my enemy is trying to rip joy from my life and replace it with fear. Check out what I Peter 5:8 says:

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

This verse clearly says that the devil wants to devour me, and he is actively prowling about looking for an opportunity to do just that. So these What If’s are not just my personality, not only me being responsible, not merely normal actions…no, this is a battle for my life. So, how do I win the battle?

Drawing Near

Flip just a few pages back in the Bible, and you’ll land where I did – with the solution in James 4:7-8

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

It’s not easy, but here is how I defeat the fear that wily lion growls at me. I stand firm. I don’t listen. I recognize him for who he is, and remember that I don’t belong to him, but to Another. Then I draw near to my God. As I draw near, He will remind me again of who I am in Christ, and of His unending love for me. This doesn’t always lessen the volume of the roar right away, but eventually he wanders away to find a new victim.

We misunderstand HOPE

This has been a tough week for me, so I was thinking last night about hope and feeling a little sorry for myself in the process. As I started spiraling a bit into sadness, I was brought up short when I realized that I was not focusing on my true hope…and I am pretty sure that I’m not alone. Hope is one of the many words we misunderstand in our jaded culture, and to our own detriment. Because we misrepresent it to ourselves, it is easy to think we are bereft of hope, and this is a horrific place to find ourselves in. Truly, anyone who is in Christ cannot be without hope. Yet we do not apply this promise to our lives, because we think hope is something different than it actually is.

Sometimes we think of hope as a wish or a preference. “I hope the Arizona Cardinals win 14 games this season.” This type of hope is almost trivial. Nothing bad will happen if the Arizona Cardinals don’t win 14 games this season. Sure, we may be temporarily bummed, but nothing is lost.

Other times we attach hope to something that sounds more like lust. Christmas gifts are the best example of this. “I hope I get the new iPhone as a gift this year.” Really what we mean here is, “I really want an iPhone.”

Yet another parody of hope is a desperate but unfocused longing for a better future. This is when we need something to happen to maintain some emotional stability, or to avoid pain, or to enhance our security. “I hope my mom beats cancer.” This is no small thing. If this hope is unfulfilled, pain and sorrow will most certainly follow.

But WHO CARES if we misunderstand hope? Why does it even matter? Good question. If we misunderstand hope, then we will find ourselves disappointed, not only in hope, but ultimately in the God who claims to be our hope. We all give lip service to the idea that our hope is found in Jesus, but this often becomes nothing less than a platitude we unhelpfully share with those in real pain. Romans 5:1-8 gives us a clear picture of where hope is grounded, how hope grows, and what the proof of hope is –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Hope is grounded in the peace with God we have access to through Jesus. This is good news indeed. No matter how dark the paths we seem to traverse in our life might become, our peace is settled. We do not have to convince God to love us, or even like us.

Hope grows through trials. I wish this wasn’t true. I want to grow in hope while experiencing nothing but joy, but that’s just not how it works. When everything is going our way, we forget Who is blessing us, and we end up taking credit for all the great things happening in our lives. When all our own abilities to manage a situation fall short, we are left with a choice: Will we trust that God is still for us, on our team, loving us, caring for us…or not? Each time we choose God, our hope is strengthened. But this is no easy decision. It is far simpler to forget the proof of our hope.

Our hope is proven in the sacrifice of Christ while we were sinners. We should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus took the penalty of our sin upon Himself before we made any efforts to prove our worthiness for this love. This fact stands firm and unchanging, no matter how difficult our circumstances. Before we even have the capability to earn anything from Jesus, He proved Himself as our hope by settling our debt of sin.

So I was considered all these things, I found comfort. Yes, there are things that I do not understand in my life. Yes, I wish I could feel the presence of God a bit more some days. Yes, I want my daughter to not have any more seizures, I want her autism to go away, and I want to understand why in the world my epilepsy would resurface. Instead of these wishes, what I get is the reality that the very same God who created the universe with a word, who came up with the ideas of gravity and planetary rotation and solar flares and waves…is for me. This is what real hope looks like, even if I am left stumbling in the dark in the meantime. When you find yourself at the end of your hope, where do you turn?