Tonight after 13 hours at the hospital, I walked out my back door with my dog Lukas, and we made our way, as usual, the half acre back to where the chickens and goats were already roosting and chewing their cud under the stars. While I was filling up their empty water buckets, despising the fact that it’s still 95 degrees at 9 pm (this summer seems like it will never end), I found my thoughts drifting toward hopelessness.
“How long?” was turning into, “It’s never going to happen.” At that moment I remembered Joseph. I wondered if he felt like it was never going to happen that he would be lifted up and his brothers would bow to him. I wonder if he thought it would never happen that he would get out of prison.
And then I remembered that it did happen. And I remembered that Jesus did raise from the dead. And I remembered that redemption always happens for the people of God. Nothing is for nothing in Christ. Christ is redeeming all my pain, all my loss, all my long days and short years. Christ is redeeming what seems like will never happen.
For 26 years I’ve prayed and pleaded with God to give my husband a heart for Jesus. And for 16 years I’ve pleaded he would give my sons a heart for him too. Two years ago, my youngest son professed his faith in Christ and was baptized. A week ago Sunday my oldest son confessed his faith, and on the eighth, I’ll baptize him. Like the first little buds of spring after a long winter, or the first fresh breeze of fall after the dog days of summer, redemption is busting up out of this long tear-soaked ground. Redemption is coming!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy – Psalm 103:1-2
Honestly, I don’t want to send them. I want to hide them in a bubble of safety and happiness. But I have no such magic powers.
I do have the King of heaven’s attention though. He hears me. I know he does. And he promises to not abandon me or my kids. So, in this violent culture, on the day before I’ll send my two sons to high school, I have a burden for the King of heaven’s armies to hear my cries for my kids and my friends’ kids.
Yesterday a group of youth were in my backyard making the most fun they could out of the heat with sprinklers, a tarp, dish soap and a nine-square frame. As they were leaving I said, “I’ll be thinking of you all this week,” and I meant it. I remember being 14, 15, 16 and 17. Those years were the curb in the road that changed the direction of the rest of my life. Those were the years I was most confused. Those were the years I lost a friend to suicide and took a bunch of pills to try and sleep away the pain. Those were the years I tried to fit in by being different. Those were the years Jesus found me and named me and made me brave. The boys and girls who walked out my door yesterday will face all kinds of hard things in the years ahead. A mass shooting could be one of them. Lord, please keep them!
Moms and dads, you and I don’t have any magic powers to keep our kids from walking into a place where a mass shooter or any other evil might show up. We don’t even have the power to keep the evil of a demeaning lash at our kids from creeping out of our own hearts onto our tongues. We desperately need a hope bigger than the control we think we have or want to have in our kids’ lives. Join me today in committing to doing these three things. Not because they are part of the formula that’s sure to produce a safe, happy and godly child. But because the God who gave his son over to death to save us, calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Death will not win when we take the road that follows Jesus through death to resurrection.
Don’t hide the Jesus that died for your sin and the sin of your children from your kids!
I don’t know the circumstances around the writing of Psalm 78, but the writer calls the reader to remember all God has done for them despite their faithlessness. He reminds the reader that God has commanded his people not to hide the hope we have in God from the next generation.
Moms and dads, our kids are not going to hear the hope their souls long for in the world. They need us to tell them!
I think so many times we as parents fail to have frank conversations with our kids about Jesus because we are trying to create some ideal family devotion time. And for many of us, that ideal situation is never going to happen. I know in my home we don’t do family devotions. And sometimes I realize I haven’t mentioned Jesus or what he’s doing in my life, or a truth I’ve read in my Bible, to them for days! There’s something very spiritual-battle-ish about calling your kids to put down their screens, or stop for just a few minutes from whatever habits have taken over our lives, to look them in the eyes and say, “I want to talk to you about Jesus.” I know the first time I did this I got some mocking and eye-rolling and deep sighs. Push through it. Don’t let their faces keep you from telling them the truth. Don’t hide the gospel from your kids just because they make funny faces. They need to hear about their only hope- Jesus.
Listen to Them Tell You About Things That Seem Silly
My sons talk about their quads and the fishing lures they’re using and the kind of reeds they need for band and the kind of stretches they’re doing for baseball and the cool car they’re driving in a video game. None of those things grab my attention. I’m thinking about bills and plans for work and school and church and groceries and relationships and concerns for friends and family. But as I read somewhere once, if I want my kids to want to listen to me, I must be willing to listen to them. They need to know I care about them where they are. That doesn’t mean I have to throw responsibility to the wind and play video games with them all day long, but it does mean listening to what has them so enthused, they’re willing to tell you about it.
Listen to learn what motivates them. Listen to learn what they’re afraid of. Listen to learn how to pray for them.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
If you want to draw the purposes God has for your child out, listen to them. Listen for what God is doing in them. Listen for evil thoughts they may be listening to. Thoughts like, “Nothing matters.” “No one cares.” “Nothing I do makes any difference.” The only way you’ll hear those things and sense those deep waters churning in their hearts is if you take the time to listen to the surface things that seem like no big deal.
Talk About the Hard Things
It drives my kids nuts, but when the thought crosses my mind I’ll randomly ask them, “How are things going with your friends? Are any of them doing drugs? Are you using drugs? What sins are you struggling with? How’s your relationship with God? Do any of your friends worry you? How are you feeling? What are you hoping for? What’s your goal?” I don’t pester them with one question after another. Actually I have. That doesn’t work. Don’t do that. But I don’t refrain from bringing these questions up just because my kids respond with disdain. Pray for wisdom, and ask questions.
You know what can’t grow in the light? Evil. My kids might hate it that I talk with them about sexuality, drugs, alcohol, parties, shootings, violence, sexual abuse, pride, sin and suicide, but I refuse to let the evil of those things do to them what they have done to so many in seclusion. If they face confusion about sexuality, drug use, violence and suicide in their life, I want them to face it armed with some wisdom and truth and the knowledge that none of that will scare me or Jesus away. I want them to know there is hope in Jesus, even when sin has caused so much damage. I want them to know when things seem hopeless, there is hope and if they can’t see it at the time, I’ll see it for them and stand guard until they pass through their shadows.
Parents we can’t control the circumstances our kids are going to face. But we can refuse to be passive in the face of evil. We can stand at the gates of hell with our kids and fight for them on our knees in prayer, and with the truth to their faces, and with open ears and fearless presence. Jesus can redeem anything. We must show our kids Jesus.
Elevenish years ago I was ready to die on the mountain of the issue of women not working outside the home.
Today I read this tweet from Jared C. Wilson:
A few years back, I significantly reduced my exposure to Christian influences that prove more passionate about “issues” than Christ & I’ve been better off for it. If that voice you listen to isn’t regularly stirring your affections for Jesus, how loud should it be in your ears?
Reading that I remembered my proud stay-at-home-mom years and cringed with embarrassment and regret.
It makes my gut ball up in knots at the thought that Josh tasted the goodness of Lord and walked away. I pray it isn’t so. I pray like Jonah, he’ll find himself hearing Jesus in the belly of a stinking situation. But this whole story about Josh makes me think about my own humbling, and friends I’ve watched fall while we stood tall, holding the issues we were passionate about high- the banner of Jesus’ love forgotten under our feet.
When I had a 3 and 4 year old at home I honed in on these verses
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. ” Titus 2:3-5
Whole ministries are formed based on these verses. And in the conservative Christian circles where I learned of Jesus, these verses have been central to teachings in all kinds of women’s ministries. When my boys were young I clung to them. I clung to them so tightly that I remember standing outside my garage one day thinking that I’d be willing to loose my marriage so I could, “work at home” and not have to go get a job outside my house and leave my kids in daycare.
I moralized a woman staying home as righteous and working outside of the home as sinful. Makes me nauseated remembering those days. If you search my blog far back enough, you’ll probably find all kinds of posts about how Christian women shouldn’t work outside the home. Thank God he humbled me, showed me how wrong I was, and used those same verses to draw me to the heart of Jesus and true homemaking (which has nothing to do with having a paying job outside your home and everything to do with serving and loving the people under the same roof with you).
I don’t know Josh Harris. But the fact that at one time he stood tall and wrote a book on the mountain of the purity issue and now is not only walking away from his marriage but his proclaimed faith makes me think he and I share a similar humbling. Both of us, and many others, have fallen on the mountain of issues in Christian teachings. We didn’t take heed like Paul warned, and we fell. I pray like me, Josh will find Jesus in the place he’s fallen.
The only hill worth dying on is the one where Jesus laid down his life for hypocrites- blind, wretched and pathetic like me and Josh Harris. Jesus is the banner we should be raising high. Not issues. Lest the very place where we think we stand tall and right, we fall.
Yesterday at church my pastor taught through the story in Genesis where Jacob wrestles with “a man.” Toward the end of the sermon he referred to the passage in Genesis 32: 9-12 where Jacob prays.
And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. – Genesis 32:9-12
I’m raising two men. My sons are now sixteen and fourteen and everyday I wake with a burden to see them bend their knee to Jesus. I’ve approached my desire for them to know Jesus from different strategies as a parent, hoping to plant the seeds that only God can make grow. I’ve sung to them, as infants and toddlers, songs and hymns dripping with the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace. I’ve taught them Bible verses and told them Bible stories. I’ve prayed and pleaded with God, pouring out my concerns and intercessions for them. I’ve taken them to church with me and have tried to use every daily life opportunity as a teachable moment or a chance to hear their heart and learn how to pray better for them. I’ve sought God’s wisdom and have asked other parents for their help in knowing what to do in various situations. I’ve read books and blogs and articles. And as the long days and short years have flown by I continue to do the above on repeat.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but I remember a time when I was praying and struggling to say what was on my heart and I remembered Jochebed, Moses’ mom, who placed him in a water-proof basket and put in him in the river like Pharoah decreed, hoping he would live, and I cried, “God of Jochebed, please save my sons!” It was a powerful moment. I wasn’t conjuring up some proper Christian prayer, I was drawing on the accounts of those who trusted God and acknowledging that I was calling for the help of the same God they trusted in. It was a turnaround in my prayer life. Since then, I often call on the God of people in the Bibles who trusted God through various circumstances, as well as people in my life I’ve watched trust God when their faith was tested.
This has led to me teaching my sons to do the same. They both have expressed their doubts and questions when we’ve talked about Jesus or the Bible and their need for a savior. And in recent years I’ve found myself saying, “If you can’t believe because of what the Bible says, or what you hear at church, believe because you’ve seen me. Trust in the God of your mother. Look at my life. Look at my faith. And put your hope in the God who continually hears me and gives me hope and wisdom and a faithfulness to love others and turn from sin.”
It isn’t a strange practice, to call new or unsure believers to believe because of the witness of another person. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he said:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,just as Itry to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.– 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 (emphasis mine).
When Paul was trying to stir up Timothy to courageous faith it’s not only Jesus he draws him to look to, but the faith of his mother and grandmother. Hebrews 12:1 points back to chapter 11, calling the reader to look at the long history of people before them whose faith helped them endure through suffering an trials.
I am raising my sons in a post-modern, post-Christian culture with an unbelieving husband, who I love. I want to point them to Jesus, but in recent years I realize God would have them look to me to help them trust the Jesus they cannot see. I’m calling them to follow me as I follow Christ. I’m calling them to look to a cloud of witnesses, including me, and to call on the God of their mother just like Jacob called on the God of his fathers.
It puts a holy fear in me to do this. Not a fear of not being good enough. But a fear of loosing sight of grace and ceasing to point them to Jesus. Asking my kids to trust the God of their mother means I am asking them to trust the God who called a coward like me to repentance and faith in Jesus and has provided for me, rescued me time and time again and is able to help me stand.
You work so hard
as if the hours you spend
will make everything right.
Then it rains on your freshly poured concrete
and a sudden wind bends the trees you just planted
and the test is positive- you’re going to have a baby
and your cursing
can’t make anything right.
The grass grew though you swore it would never
The trees stood tall after the storm
The concrete dried
The child was born
and you figured out how to hold him.
And one day, I pray
You’ll figure out
He’s holding you.
It’s Jesus that my friends and family trip over when it comes to faith. They’re OK with a general nameless, faceless deity- a benevolent one. They admit not understanding but throw their hands in the air hoping that God won’t judge them any differently than they judge themselves. They trust that he (or she, or it) knows they have good intentions. And I understand. Jesus is a problem.
I mean I’m asking my friends to believe in a God-man they have never seen, but only hear about from ancient manuscripts and people who often live lives that make them think this Jesus religion is foolish if not downright mean and bigoted. I’m asking a lot. I too wrestle with the fact that I have set all my hope in this Jesus I have never seen from the Bible.
But even still, I ask my friends to consider putting their hope in Jesus for three main reasons.
First, hope in Jesus because of what he said about himself in the Bible. It’s his words that grab my attention and force me to respond. What do I do with, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Or, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
What do I say to the Jesus who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
What will I do with the man who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)?
Second, I ask my friends to consider what Jesus did and what he led others to do. He led a counter cultural movement of scared and selfish people to elevated the poor, the socially outcast, the disabled, the sick, the women, the children, the men who the religious elite did not count as educated or knowledgeable. And this ragamuffin group, with courage, laid down their lives to tell other people that Jesus is the only one worthy of putting their hope in. They faced death daily to tell others that their only hope for being made right with God is Jesus. They did this because they lived with Jesus, they watched him heal, speak truth boldly without fear and march toward his own unjustified murder as though he could overcome death with his life. And he did. His followers saw him dead. And they saw him miraculously alive from the dead with the scars that testified to his suffering. Consider this account:
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” -John 20:25-29
Third, I want my friends to put their hope in Jesus because of the evidence in the lives of his real followers. I ask my friends to consider that Jesus is actually living in them.
There’s a big Sissoo tree in my back yard where crows, pigeons and mockingbirds perch all the time. If I were to rest under the shade of that tree while the birds tweeted and chirped in it’s branches I’d be the recipient of bird poop in my face before too long. But you know what? That bird poop is not the fruit of the tree I’m trying to find shade under.
It would be foolish for me to chop down all the trees in my yard, accusing them of bearing nasty fruit, when it’s really the birds in the trees that are dropping grossness all over my face. But so often we do this with the people who call themselves Christians or the church.
There are real Christians in the world. And the Spirit of Christ lives in them. And you can tell. They lay down their lives for each other. They serve even their enemies. They confess their failures and wrongs and turn to a better way quickly. They have a joy that defies circumstances even in their suffering and sorrow. They don’t hold tightly to the things of the world, but they invest their lives in others for their good. They love Jesus and they’ve never seen him.
We all put our hope in something or someone. Hope is what keeps us pressing on in this hard life and the lack of it is what leads many to stop pressing on. There is no escaping the reality that our lives are broken. We crave hope. We crave a wholeness, a peace, a justice, a love we don’t find here. And that craving will lead us to place our hope somewhere. But inevitably, the objects of our hope fail us.
Some of us hope in our willpower, skills and positive thinking. But failure and disaster are inescapable. Some of us hope in a relationship only to find that person fails to deliver the wholeness we crave. Some of us hope in doing good- maybe if we’re altruistic enough the world life will be better. And it will, sometimes. But no matter how much good (and who defines what is good is whole other topic) we do, it doesn’t fix our world or us.
Some of us hope in a certain lifestyle and maybe for yourself, if you’re born in the right place and time and have the right resources, you’ll build a nice greenhouse lifestyle that keeps the hard things out of sight and out of mind. But even if your lifestyle satisfies you, you have to turn your back on a broken world and on the reality that your relationships and other people’s relationships are broken too.
Some of us think we have given up hope. Like Hawkeye in Avengers Endgame, we lash out, taking vengeance, hardening ourselves, taking on bad-ass personas or drowning our sorrows in a bottle or porn or food. But our walls, exhibits of vulnerability-defying-strength, and pain-numbing practices are really the places we are placing our hope. Our hope becomes a prison and chains.
The tagline for my blog here starts with hope in Jesus for a reason. I have hoped in all the above and found myself with a mouthful of gritty disillusionment. I’ve choked on what I’ve tried to quench this deeper thirst in my soul with. But when I believed this Jesus who said he laid down his life for me, I found that rather than needing the world to be fixed for my benefit, I can go out into its brokenness and be broken and poured out for it’s benefit. Jesus has turned my brokenness into a spring of hope.
So why should you hope in the Jesus of the Bible? Because, I offer, that just as he said, he is the only way. He is what our souls long for.
The Hebrew Bible describes a peace called shalom. Shalom is a state of wholeness. Shalom is what we crave. Shalom is what we hope for. Shalom is what we and all the people around us, marching like ants to and fro, trying to find a place to rest our hope, are searching for. And there’s this Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he said.
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he did.
Put your hope in Jesus because he’s alive in his people.
I guess there is a fourth reason.
Put your hope in Jesus because there is no hope without him.
“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:15
This verse came via email to me today like shade in the hot Arizona sun. I used to tolerate the heat in Arizona pretty well, but as the years have gone by, I haven’t grown more accustom to the heat, I’ve grown more intolerant of it.
Hope seems a long way off these days. Coming around the calendar again my body remembers the fiery trials like the heat of summer and seems to wither in its sting rather than stand weathered and resistant.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fullfilled is the tree of life.” the wise man wrote. It’s hard to dream when hope seems to keep getting pushed away by the hot troubles of life. I noticed today that I don’t dream much. I don’t aspire to hopeful things, beautiful things. I would say I feel like the Psalmist, weaned, not thinking about things too high for me. But the reality is I feel like a sick child, tired, curled up fetal trying to sleep away the hard things.
There’s only one way to escape the heat of summer- get in the shade.
I find it hard to dream, but like Elijah, I can hunker down some place and give up. Yet, even there I find the Lord comes nourishing my weak flesh, letting me rest, and giving me what I need to keep going.
Sometimes all you can do is find a place to hide with God’s word and cry. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
Hope that keeps being put aside does make the heart sick. But when you look to Jesus, the sick heart is shaded by a reviving hope in the heat of trouble. Is your heart sick? Does hope seem to evade you? Look to Jesus. His wings are big enough to shade you from the heat and feed you hope in the very place where trouble beats down.
How long till I see the fruit
of what I cannot see?
How many season? How many years?
What if it takes my whole life and then
I’m buried six feet under dirt and worms
and grass and
more seasons pass and…
I cannot see the future days
when there are no more weeds
no more thorns
no more seeds dead in the ground
just oaks of righteousness
plantings of the Lord
seas given way to forests
of branches clapping their hands
waving in the presence
of the scarred King
who once bore a crown
that pierced his brow and left
him dead upon a tree
and left him broken among
the rotting things
but could not keep him there.
I cannot see the future days when
this dying will bring life.
But I am putting all my hope
in his rising.