What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.¬† But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!

 

Remembering God

Earlier this year, I blogged through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. Remember? I took each devotion and wrote about how it impacted me–hot mess and all. In the process, I learned about bravery and how being brave has impacted my life even when I haven’t felt brave. I also figured out that being brave didn’t necessarily look like what I thought it looked like. During this time, Ms. Downs became a favorite author. God used her words to touch my life. Why am I bringing this up now? She has a new book coming out tomorrow entitled Remember God which I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing. I know God will use her words to impact my life just as He used her words from her previous book. In the meantime, I wanted to share what remembering God looked like for me.

When I typed “remembering God” and “remember God” into the You Version search engine, it came back with many results like I expected. Scripture does a good job of showing where God calls us to remember Him and where humans call on God to remember them. It’s like a lot of things in life. Sometimes, we forget about God’s goodness and need to be reminded. God doesn’t forget though, and I think that might be why we are called on so often in Scripture to remember Him. Here are some examples. From Psalm 78:35, “They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.” God spoke of remembering Israel in Leviticus 26:42. “I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. Luke 23:42 says, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”

There are also many instances in Scripture where people asked God to remember them or thanked God for remembering other believers. Nehemiah 5:19 says, “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.” Also, in Thessalonians 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I especially like Ephesians 1:15-16 because I’ve personally used these verses to tell people I’m thankful for them. “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

With all the references to remembering in Scripture, why do we forget God and all He has done for us? I’m not sure, but I think one of the reasons might be because of the fall. Satan doesn’t want us to remember what God has done for us because his job at getting us to believe his lies would be more difficult, and he wants things to be as easy as possible. Doesn’t evil usually work that way?

I also think we let the busyness of our days crowd God out. God is waiting for us to remember, to want to talk to Him, to have a relationship with Him, and sometimes, we just forget He is there.

Finally, we have mistaken impressions of how we need to be when we approach God. Everything needs to be perfect, and we think we need to display the Christian joy everyone keeps talking about. No sadness, and no pain allowed. But, God wants us to come to Him as we are. He wants us to remember Him as we are so He can work in our lives and in our hearts. Then, we can share about His love with a world who desperately needs it.

As I end this post, I want to remind all of us how important it is to remember God and how He is a part of our stories. And, we don’t need to just remember Him. We need to share our stories and how God is important in each of them. Your story might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but it is just as necessary to God and His Kingdom as those stories that have a larger reach. Thankful for the chance to share my stories in this space!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Words Matter

Words matter. Your words matter. My words matter. How do I know this? God used words to create us. From Genesis 1:1-3, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“God said.” God uses words too. And He wants our words to be just as life affirming as His are. It’s why I wrote about my online life on Wednesday, and the decisions I’ve made over the last twelve years. Even when I wasn’t as close to God as I am now, I knew my words mattered. I wanted my keyboard words to represent who I was just as much as my spoken words did.

The author of the devotional knows this too. On Day 12, she spoke of Proverbs 18:21 and how it says that our tongues have the power of life and death. I still believe this. Over the years, I have been hurt by spoken words that weren’t even meant to hurt because I took them a different way than the speaker meant. I also have been hurt by words that were meant to hurt so I know how I speak is important. The author used beautiful imagery I want to quote here. “If there are seeds of courage living in all of us, waiting to bloom, words are the sun and the water that cheer on those seeds to their fullness.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

So my words and God’s words have the ability to make me brave. I guess this post should be full of words today. ūüôā In all seriousness though, there are many examples in Scripture of gaining strength from God’s words and using life affirming words ourselves. Psalm 119:28 says, “My soul is weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word,” while verse 49 of that same psalm says, “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope.”

There are more examples in Proverbs. Chapter 12, verse 25 says, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” I especially liked these two verses from chapters 15 and 16. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” while Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

I could quote several more, but I think you get the point. Our words matter. God wants us to use our words to encourage and give hope to people. He wants us to bless people with our words and use them to tell others about Him. He does not want us to be cruel or unforgiving with our words or use them to judge other people either. It sounds so simple, but it is something I need to work on each and every day. Praying we can all remember to use our words the way God wants us to as we seek to have a heart like His!

May God bless you all today!

The Distance Between Hope and Redemption

Cross posted from my Write What You Know blog

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. So long, in fact, that I thought people had forgotten about it. But people are still finding this blog and following it which has been pretty amazing in and of itself. This has brought me to a decision. I’m going to start cross-posting the posts I write for my Thriving in Grace blog,¬†https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/following-jesus/, in this space to attempt to revive this blog. And come up with some original material for you all to enjoy too.

I’ve never made a secret in this blog of being a Christian, and that is where today’s topic comes from. Hope and redemption–two words that are used often in Christian circles. I never considered though that there might be a distance between them until the other day.

First, to gain some clarity, let’s define each of these words. Hope is to cherish a desire with anticipation or to have trust and reliance while redemption is the act or process or an instance of redeeming. Those of you who are Christians might have also heard of redemption being spoken of as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

So, hope is a desire and redemption is action. Both are spoken of in Scripture. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope¬†¬†for and assurance about what we do not see.” ¬†Romans 3:24 says, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption¬†¬†that came by Christ Jesus.” (the action Jesus took by dying on the cross for us)

Both of these are necessary for the Christian faith. If there is hope without redemption, no change is ever made, and we won’t experience God’s love in this world. If there is redemption without hope, we are just doing good deeds without knowing the why behind them. Therefore, it is possible for a distance to develop between these words like I spoke of earlier.

I’ve experienced this distance myself in recent weeks, and I wasn’t sure why. A distance between me and my Lord and Savior. Human beings do a good job of hiding their inner selves from the people around them. We can even hide the deepest part of our souls from ourselves. Of course, they’re not hidden from God, but he can’t start to help us or start the healing process until we are willing to let them bubble up to the surface. That takes us being willing to ask ourselves the hard questions or having trusted people in our lives who are willing to ask us the hard questions. I had one of those moments last week, and once he asked the question, and I answered, I felt the layers of distance between hope and redemption dissolving through the tears. It was not something I had considered, but it was something which was totally correct. It was rejection and insecurity from my past I had not dealt with.

Oh, I thought I had, and maybe to a certain extent, I had. But, I was under a mistaken impression which God corrected in those moments in that office and in the moments for the rest of that day. What was that impression, you ask? I thought I could deal with and then put rejection and insecurity in the back of my heart, and it would stay there, never to come out again. It took me awhile, but with God’s help and my friend’s help, I finally figured out life doesn’t work that way.

That was what brought me back to the distance between hope and redemption. I can’t work on my issues until I’m willing to take action and bring closure to the distance. God wants me to take my fear of rejection and my insecurity to him each and every day when I wake up. This will not be something I will ever “get over”. I will leave these fears at His feet and pick up the truth of who He is and who I am in His Kingdom as I live this crazy messed-up life of mine. The distance between hope and redemption disappears as I know without a doubt I am God’s daughter, and nothing will ever change that!

 

God’s blessings on you all today!

Grieving with Hope

The last eight days have been a perfect storm for my family. Not only have we lost the instrument through which God was providing for us, I lost a precious friend on Tuesday. Her daughter is one of my best friends, and I have known the family for almost thirty-one years. I mention that because I don’t have a lot of those kind of friendships which have stood the test of time since I moved around a lot as a child. So, losing even one of those friends is painful.

Since I found out on Tuesday, I’ve spent a lot of time by myself trying to process this punch to the gut I was feeling. Losing this precious lady hurts a lot. She was like a second mother to me. But as I thought and wrote and did all the things I usually do to process something painful, I realized I had embers of hope stirring in my heart. Words that said this lady was okay now and that we would all be okay too. What words were those? She was a Christian like me so she is now with Jesus and celebrating having a whole and healed body. Would I really want to take her away from Jesus? Of course not. I am looking forward to seeing Jesus one day myself.

But, the pain, the pain of grief can be overwhelming. In addition to this lady, several friends of mine here have also lost loved ones this week. There is a loss involved with someone going to Jesus. The people they were closest to will no longer have them in their lives. They will no longer be able to call them or spend time with them. Their absence will be noticed at holidays. A void will be present that was not present before, and this void is painful.

I don’t think we, as Christians, know what to do with grief. In general, I don’t think people know what to do with grief. They think the person that is grieving should take the proscribed amount of time off from work and then not talk about it anymore. We are uncomfortable with people who show the emotions of grieving, and most of us don’t know what to do to help them. Yes, we have hope in Christ, but there is also pain, a dichotomy to be sure.

God knew we would have pain though, and there in an example in Scripture showing us that Jesus experienced pain in loss too. It was when He lost His friend Lazarus. The story is told in John 11 with verses 32 – 35 showing His sorrow.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

They ended up taking Jesus to the grave where he called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb which would seem to negate His pain. That’s not the point though. I think God was wanting to make sure we knew that He understood our pain because He had experienced it Himself.

We will have pain in this life, but those of us who believe in Him have hope too. A tether to hold onto, I think. A rope to bring us out of the deepest recesses of the pit. And we have someone too, who stays with us until we’re ready to take a hold of that rope. Jesus understands our grief, in a way no one else can, and that is why I can grieve with hope.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Enduring Hope

Every summer, my church chooses a theme for Wednesday nights, and all of the speakers relate their stories to this theme. I’ve learned a lot about my faith and about my brothers and sisters every summer since being at this church. ¬†God does mean for us to learn from Scripture, but He also means for us to learn from each other.

So, this summer the theme is enduring hope, and I thought I would try, this morning, to speak to this topic. The first thing I did was to type the term into my You Version search engine to see if I could find some Scripture. I wasn’t optimistic about finding any kind of match because I had never seen these two words linked anywhere in Scripture. At least, I didn’t think I had.

God surprised me though. There were two verses that had both of those words written in them. The first was Romans 15:4.

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

The second was from I Thessalonians 1. Verse 3 says, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t know if either of these verses was referenced when deciding on the theme, but I liked finding these nuggets from God’s Word which have encouraged me this morning. These verses have taught me a lesson I think God needed me to hear. Our hope is not fleeting! That is what enduring hope means to me. Through each storm, through each trial, through each tribulation, through each tear, God’s hope is always with us. Always. Sometimes we don’t act like it. Sometimes we don’t feel it or even believe it because we think it is fleeting. Life can overwhelm us, and we take our minds off where they need to be. But, the enduring hope of God is not fleeting and is not a fairy tale. It is something that lasts. May that knowledge be revealed to you as a deep certainty this morning!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Christmas is Over—Now what?

Now that Christmas is over, now what? What can give us the same anticipation that waiting for Christmas does? May I suggest sharing God’s love year round and not waiting for a special time. May I suggest displaying more patience, more grace, more joy, and more peace. May I suggest giving the world who doesn’t believe a reason to believe.

Is this a tough thing to do? Oh yes! And, why would that be? Because, all of us who do claim Christ are still broken people and still human. And, we still mess up. But, I want to do better. I want people to see Jesus in me.

A verse that is one of my favorites comes to mind. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

So, the next time I’m tempted to yell something in traffic or the next time I’m tempted to lose my temper in a restaurant, I’m going to pray for God’s peace in my heart, and I’m going to pray for words to use so people will see God’s peace on my face.

God’s blessings on you today!

Hope

First Corinthians 13 in the Scriptures is known as the love chapter as the love is the main subject. Several verses in this chapter of my Bible are highlighted because they are verses I wish to keep in my heart. Love, however, is not the subject I am covering today. The final verse of the chapter, Verse 13, says this, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ¬†I’ve covered love and faith in previous posts so that only leaves hope which I am going to cover today.

There are a few different definitions of hope in the dictionary, but this is the one I feel is most relevant to the discussion. ¬†“A ¬†feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Hope is spoken of many times in the Bible. Here are just a few examples. Romans 8:24 – 25 says, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” ¬†Second Corinthians 3:12 says, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” And finally back in Romans 5, the first five verses are a combination of faith, hope, and love, and I think an integral part of the Christian faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been ¬†poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

So, what does hope have to do with all of this, and what does it mean for the Christian today? Back in the first days of the Christian faith, it was spread by the disciples who had lived with Him, who had walked with Him, and who had seen His resurrection. They had a very powerful testimony because they had actually heard what Jesus had said. Jesus, however, had not given any indication of when He would return so that is where the faith and hope come in. I know you all have things you hope for as do I. ¬†I hope for good things for my children; I hope there’s not a lot of traffic on the road when I go to church tonight; I hope I win the lottery. (just kidding, lol) I say that though to make the point that many of the things we hope for end up not coming true. ¬†But, our hope in Jesus, that is one hope you can always count on.

God’s blessings to you all today!