What’s your hope?

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Despair. That’s the word that comes to mind when I hear the news stories of late.

This morning, while I was getting ready to go to church, my husband sat at the kitchen table shaking his head. The news story about the two L.A. police officers, shot while they sat in their police car was on his news feed. “This is just disgusting! What is the world coming to!” he moaned.

My husband doesn’t yet hope in Jesus. I’ll spend my life praying, believing and living so that one day he will. Today, it was apparent to me, knowing where your hope lies is so important.

I asked my husband, “What’s your hope?” He struggled to voice a solution he thought might fix the problem of violence against police officers and the rhetoric he sees playing out in the public that makes it seem he’s the bad guy for being a police officer. His hope is that someone will someday fix this societal problem of violence and hate. He sees the bad guys, and hopes someone will stop them. The question that looms is, who’s going to fix the problem of evil?

What is my hope? A politician? Philanthropy? More police? Stricter laws? A different governmental system? Who’s going to fix this mess we’re all in?

When I voiced my hope to my husband this morning I got a bit of what the apostles got in Acts 4 when the leaders around them were, “…greatly annoyed because they were… proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2). My husband wasn’t greatly annoyed. But he was a little annoyed. “I don’t buy it!” he quipped. “I don’t think Christ is going to change these thugs’ and make them good people.” He couldn’t believe that Christ could make life-giving good people out of murders. And I get it. I don’t want Christ to make them life-giving good people. I tend to want Christ to just destroy them! I have a Jonah problem. But that’s another blog.

What my husband was annoyed at is my hope that the resurrected Jesus I believe in, who can’t be seen and touched, can make any difference in the world. And that’s just it. I believe he does, and is and will.

Right now, he’s in me and many others, moving us with his heart of perfect love and justice to self-sacrificially love others, forgive, stand up for the truth, for those who are oppressed, extending our lives and the good news that this Jesus we love is the only one who really can make all things new.

It’s good for us to use the systems we have to do as much good as we can, but ultimately, it is only Jesus who can take a dead, evil-infested heart, and make it alive with love and truth.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Christian, don’t miss what Jesus calls you to this week

two women sitting on chairs beside window
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I hit an emotional low this week. Last week I crashed from the adrenaline of responding to this pandemic in my church, community, family and hospital. This week I’ve cried. A lot.

The normal low-level fatigue I live with has become high-level. The irritability that signifies my depression has been showing. Hot tears have been spilling over my eyes and fiery darts of faithless thoughts have stung my swirling mind. I’ve found myself very tempted to hide in a batch of devoured hot brownies. I’ve vacillated between wanting to hide from every day’s grim new statistics of the spread of this virus and the death and destruction it’s brought, to busying myself with organizing my week, writing lists, setting goals and calling on people I care for.

And it hit me today. This is Holy Week. This is a special week of reflection and remembrance. And I’ve been missing it. I’m like the crowds around Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. But today, Jesus got my attention.

My sister called me today and reminded me how God saved her. In her words, “You didn’t give up on me sis. When I was mean, you kept calling, visiting, sending cards and notes. You never gave up. You listened to me. You made me see that Jesus is real, not just a religious idea.” Her words shook me awake.

I believe that the Jesus who entered Jerusalem a couple thousand years ago, setting in motion a series of events that would lead to his crucifixion on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday, is alive. And lives in me. I believe he suffered this week those millennia ago so that I could experience the freedom of the glory that only the children of God experience (Romans 8:20).

This week the world is suffering. She groans. I groan. But as the world writhes under the pain of a pandemic this Holy Week, God’s children look to Jesus, our older brother, gone before to save us.  We share this week with Jesus. We are in him and he is in us. He is redeeming our suffering. And we are sharing in his glory. It’s a beautiful wonder the world longs to see. And it’s a reality the children of God have been commissioned to invite them into.

This week my pastor called his congregation to pray for and specifically tell another person what Jesus has done for them. To be honest, intentionally setting out to tell my friend what Jesus has done for me via phone call or text or video (because doing it face to face isn’t safe) and inviting her to follow Jesus with me feels a little crazy. It feels a little bit like I might look foolish. I might be misunderstood. I might be mocked. I might be rejected. I might be… cut off.  Like Jesus was, for me.

Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. And He’s the best thing that could every happen to any of my friends. And if I love them like Jesus loves me, I’ll look all those possibilities in the eye, and like Jesus I’ll set my face determined to go there.

There is no greater love than one would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And there is no greater way to lay down my life for my friends than to give up whatever might happen to me if I determine to intentionally and faithfully love them well and invite them to follow Jesus with me.

I pray that like Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem this week, determined and knowing what he had to do to reconcile me with God, I will set my face toward someone else, determined to lay my life down that they could experience the freedom and glory of Jesus.


I learned the gospel from hymns

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Blogger and author Tim Challies asked this question on Twitter today:

If there was one song you had to sing at every Sunday morning service from now until the day you die, which would it be and why?

This evening Mr. Challies tweeted that hymns outpaced non-hymns 25 to 1 in the 250 plus responses he got to his question. My response was a hymn also: Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Singing hymns growing up is one of the reasons I heard the gospel. I grew up in a church that doctrinally had it wrong. Their emphasis was on works, not faith in Christ as a gift of God’s grace. But despite the wrong teaching I heard from the pulpit, before each sermon I sang with my church from a book of hymns where I heard:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.

(Augustus Montague Toplady, 1763)


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

(Thomas Chisholm, 1923)

The seeds of the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone were planted in my ears from toddlerhood.

Despite the depression and toxic atmosphere that so often permeated the home I grew up in, despite my parents divorce and sinfulness, the sound of my mom singing It Is Well With My Soul and the words she sang while tears poured from her brokenness pierced my angry teenage heart.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so—it is well with my soul.

(Horatio G. Spafford, 1876)

And when I was lost and deep in darkness, trying to make a name for myself with The Cure and “mod” clothes as my motif, I found myself in a sea of youth singing Amazing Grace at a conference in Sacramento, California. And there the grace of God appeared to me.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

(John Newton, 1779)

I am so grateful for the men and women who wrote the hymns of old.  Their songs were used by God to awaken me to the beauty of Christ. What a treasure!

Call to the highways and hedges

alcoholic beer cars city
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Bitter old woman
Cowardly elder man
Skeptical, empowered Misses
Lonely, not-sure-if-he’s-a-Mister
Hardened party-girl
Driven, young millionaire
Homeless, enslaved to heroine
Lost and scared teen- baby on the way

All the poor,

All the crippled,

All the liars
the thieves
the betrayers
the deceived.

Jesus came for you.

A call for the aged

person on bench
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What will you do
when your face frowns
deep creases grow
and you’ve lost your youthful glow?

What when bladders can no longer contain
what for years
you emptied in a private latrine?

Now your hands are crippled
aged bones.
Now your muscular thighs
give out from your stroke.
Now you look up from your
stooped stance
squinting to find
an image you did not expect.

Time and death have take their toll.
Cell by cell you’re broken and old.
Now what of those fancy clothes?
What of those cars and trips?
What of years spent on prominence?

Where can you go when you can’t go
without help?
What will you do when you can no longer
get up and move?

Years have been given to love God and others
and now that your body is breaking down
how will you cash in all your stock dividends?

Come now, you who cannot speak without slur
or walk without dragging your foot.
Come you grey heads and broken minds.
Come you laying down to die.
Come buy without money or health
the broken body of Christ
has bought for you life.

Death tried to sting Grandma tonight. But Jesus…

pexels-photo-699782.jpegNight number two with Grandma. She’s more lucid this evening.

Every time I’ve ever walked into her home I’ve always heard the same sugary-sweet Arkansas accented greeting, “Well hello there sweet heart!” Her eyes light up and she smiles like she knows everything that’s going on in my life before I say a word.

She told me tonight she feels better than she did yesterday.  She has one thing on her mind: the clear plastic tub full of dvd’s she’s made over the years.

Her pretty cursive handwritten notes are all over the outside of each disk. “Lifetime memories 2. Bobby, Vernie and the kids. Gary, Greg and Terry Lynn. Tommy and Bill. Grandma Stout. Mom and Dad. Velma and Thelma. Sandra. A.J. and Darryl.”  I grab the top disc and put it in her combo VHS/DVD player.  Her favorite songs play in the background- The Lord’s Prayer, blue grass music, Pavarrati, Celine Dion. She looks at the images of her brothers and sisters, mom and dad from Arkansas 60 years ago and starts to cry, “I feel so bad for your grandpa.  He never knew such love.  We were so loved...”  Tears flow from her dimming eyes. Her skin is pale and a little jaundiced. Her lips are thin and dry.  Her eyes squint as a few tears fall from her dehydrated body. Memories of her tender, loving watching her with broken hearts as she left home at 15 to move to California with my grandfather bring up an almost 70 year old ache.

We watch as the memories play, bluegrass and gospel songs fill our ears. Pictures of my dad as a child and teenager play while The Little Drummer Boy’s, “I have no gift to bring,” pa rum pum pum pum’s in our ears..  My grandma was a child when she had my dad, just 16. My toddler dad smiles in the lap of a beautiful, dark-haired teenage girl.  He looks just like my youngest son.

I see happy-looking people, but I know the pain many of them have lived through.  It’s easy to look back at life through triumphant songs and compiled images of smiling faces and candid shots of playfulness and wonder why there had to have been so much pain and trouble in those lives. My grandma wonders. “Why couldn’t we just have loved each other better?” she questions with the worried look of a woman who’s lived through several divorces, and watched her oldest son move away with his dad while he was just a boy.  “I didn’t want him to go Sheila.  I thought I was doing what was best by letting him do what he wanted.”  Stinging tears redden her tired eyes.

I reach to hug her frail body.  “Grandma we’re all a mess.  That’s why we need Jesus. Our hope is in him, not each other.”

“I know.  I know.”  Her face relaxes.  The gospel once again puts her mind at ease.  Memories of so much damage from our sinfulness broke through the smiling images and transcendent songs and she wished it never had been that way.  But just the mention of the hope of the gospel of Christ, that one day he will make all things new, put her worries away.

“One day He’s gonna wipe all that pain away Grandma.  One day he’s going to hold you and you’ll have no doubts.  You’ll know how good he is and you’ll be at total peace.”

Death is lurking, threatening, stinging my grandma’s broken memory with reminders of the years sin has damaged.  But Jesus.  “But Jesus,” was all I had to say.  I just had to remind her of her hope that was not shifting like her cancer-laden brain, and death shifted back into the shadows, trying to hide from the defeat it knows is coming.  Resurrection is about to swallow up death’s work in my grandma.  Never again will death be able to attempt to sting her into hopelessness.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15:55-57


The gospel when your kid screws up big time.

pexels-photo-256658.jpegBeing a believer in Christ means I believe the story that God sent his Son to be born as a baby, live the life I was meant to live in perfect love of God and others but don’t (can’t), and die as the only God-Man who’s death could absorb all the judgement of God against me and live.  I believe Jesus is who he said he is.  I believe the gospel. But what does believing the gospel look like in my everyday life?  What does believing the gospel do to me?  How does it effect my life? What does believing the gospel do when say, hypothetically (trying to preserve some privacy… for a friend), your child gets suspended from school?

I’ve found especially in the last 3 or 4 years raising my sons that my hope in the gospel effects how I respond to situations where they have done something wrong. Every time my kids screw up I have an opportunity to show them what Joseph showed his brothers, and what Jesus showed me: grace and truth.

Without the gospel, my parenting would only be an effort to manage their behavior.  Notice I said only.  Believing the gospel doesn’t mean I don’t manage their behavior.  But it’s not the only motive behind my parenting. Because of the gospel my aim in parenting is not to manage their behavior and raise them to be good citizens that make me proud.  Because of the gospel my authority in parenting is not from me, or the government, or even my child. It’s from Christ. I don’t think in terms of what makes me look good or bad or what my kids will do or not do that will be good or bad for them or me or society.  Not that I don’t want them to do good things that make me proud, but my thinking about parenting isn’t born from those tenants.  Because of the gospel, my aim in parenting is speaking truth into their lives, pointing them the direction of Jesus, and living a life laid down to build them up.  Because of the gospel I speak truth and grace into their lives.

So when they screw up big time, the gospel means I can say something like Joseph said to his brothers.  I can say, “What you did was wrong. And I love you.”  The exposing of what they did wrong, the handing down of a consequence, as well as the imparting of grace, forgiveness, and assurance of love and acceptance all say that.  They all say gospel. They point my kids to a hope greater than my or their ability to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and “be good!”  The gospel of Christ is the greatest hope for any person, including moms and their kids who will at some point, screw up big time.

My kids see me screw up.  They hear me fly off the handle in anger without good cause or pout like a 43 year old woman because I’m not being cared for the way I want to be.  And the gospel allows me to sit on the bed next to them and tell them, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.  I need Jesus!”  And when they screw up, because of the gospel, less and less do I feel angry, offended, ashamed, embarrassed or disgusted.  Because of the gospel I feel more and more a confidence that says, “I’m accepted.  Discipline is love.  And I want to show you that acceptance and love.”

The gospel doesn’t cause me to poopoo my kids screw ups.  It doesn’t cause me to ignore their wrongs or sugar coat them.  It doesn’t cause me to enable them to keep doing what’s wrong either.  The gospel allows me to hand out firm discipline and boundaries that say, “You are my child! I love you! I want what’s best for you! And therefore you will suffer these consequences.”  The gospel enables me to expose their mess, not let them hide from it, and walk with them through the hard consequences that come.  And when I say, walk with them through hard consequences, that may mean staying home with them while their suspended from school, creating a day’s worth of studying for home and work.  It means laying down my life.

When Joseph’s brothers knew they were in for it cause they screwed up big time and their dad wasn’t there to shield them from Joseph’s rightful anger, Joseph foreshadowed the gospel by saying:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20

That’s the message the gospel brings to people who find themselves having screwed up big time. It doesn’t excuse or ignore the evil done.  But it looks to God.  It looks to what he’s done and it brings hope to others.  Jesus said he came to give his life as a ransom for many.  He laid down his life to save us.  And when our kids do wrong, we get to be the messengers of Jesus who lay down our lives pointing them to Jesus.