Let Hope Arise


The passage in John 11:17-27 tells the story of when Jesus found out his friend, Lazarus was dead. Had been dead for a few days. His sisters were lamenting and questioning his timing…

One of my former pastors and friend, Hilary Millikan penned this great post on hope based on this passage of scripture and graciously allowed me to re-post it here. Hilary is an exceptionally talented writer who gives us a great dose of “wow!” laced with humor. I hope you are encouraged by her words.

Let Hope Arise by Hilary Millikan

I had the privilege of writing and recording a message on Hope for the beginning of Advent at our church. Most of you know that hope is my main “lane” in life. There is always hope. But only because we have THE Hope. How filling it is to rehearse and articulate what we have lived and become convinced of in the Lord. May hope arise and re-arise for each of us…

Now hope… is tricky.

There’s that verse in Proverbs that says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes it is the tree of life.” So simple. So short. So catchy.

But anyone who has spent any time in the first half of that Scripture, who has lived out the carving of that first phrase is familiar with what a desperate, lonely, painful place hope can be.

The very presence of hope in my life means that I have unfulfilled promises, unanswered pleas, unhealed woundings. Especially right now, when my hope is basically on its “last leg.” The ropes that tether hope to my heart and keep it from flinging wildly away from my soul are strained because my everyday is now filled with unfamiliar and new “hopes” that I now have to navigate.

I hope my children come out of this pandemic emotionally unscathed. I hope this is just a cold and not something trying to kill me. I hope when I go to the store I don’t accidentally pick up an extra carton of COVID.

It’s hard to keep a “stiff upper lip” in my day-to-day, much less give any sort of trusting thoughts or faith-filled prayers to the deeper, longer-lived, farther away hopes. And as in this story, it is especially hard to hope when it is just plain too late.

I’m always struck by how Jesus asks Martha and Mary to trust Him even though Lazarus is ACTUALLY DEAD. There’s not much more to do here, nothing left to hope for. And yet, Jesus comes offering them hope–Hope in Me, can you trust Me, do you believe Me?

I don’t know how you’ve reacted to Jesus when He’s tried to touch your “too late” spot with His hope, but I’ve reacted much like Martha and Mary. “Lord,” they BOTH said, “if You had been here–if You had come when we called for You, if You’d answered us. You, Who we DO hope in, Who we DID hope in, because… You could have… I know You could have, if You’d been HERE where we are, where Lazarus was, where it was all going down, in that moment, if You’d been HERE WHERE I AM, then it wouldn’t have happened this way.”

The implication (at least in my heart) being, “But You weren’t. And I don’t understand why. I trusted You. I hoped in You. I put all of my hope in You. And You didn’t come when I needed You. It’s too late. You came too late.”

When things don’t go the way we had hoped, when things are so far away from what we believe would or should be true of our lives, it has a way of sometimes even making us question what is true of the Lord.

I remember a time when I just couldn’t reconcile the goodness of God with the gaping loss in my life. When I couldn’t put together this God that I had trusted my whole life and given my every moment with what had happened. How could He allow this to be? He could have stopped it. He could have fixed it. He could have… He could have… Why wouldn’t He… How can I trust a God who didn’t when He could have?

Jesus’ answer to Martha? Do you believe Me? Do you believe that I AM the life? Do you believe that I AM your hope? Not just something to hope in, but I AM hope itself? Do you believe this?Martha’s like “don’t come at me with all Your there’s-hope-in-the-end, it’ll-all-be-fine-in-Heaven stuff. That doesn’t help me NOW. That doesn’t help me HERE.”

Again, but before He has done anything, before anything has changed, Jesus stands before her and says, “Yes, but Martha… Do you believe Me?” Martha says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are everything I hoped You were. You are God. You are my hope.”

The Lord asked me in my moment, “Do you believe Me?” And immediately my spirit cried out Yes! I believe You. I don’t know what to do with You, I don’t know how to trust You, but I know I believe You.

And it was enough.

Somehow the formation of what I DO believe quieted all the unanswerable questions that had caused me so much disbelief, and the faint whispers of hope began.

I also have experienced times in the midst of my darkest, farthest, not-sure-I-will-make-it-out-alive places, when the Lord’s words and promises, it’s like they hurt. There was a time when I was so desperate, so close to the edge of myself, that I told the Lord, Enough! Enough promises! Stop. I can’t take one more promise from You. I can’t take the presence of one more unfulfilled thing that I have to hold onto. I can’t… I can’t do it. I can’t hope. I’m like Lazarus, Lord. My hope is dead. And I’m not far behind it. I can’t hold on anymore.

I need hope to hold onto me.

Sometimes we say to our souls–like Martha and David and so many others–“oh my soul, trust in the Lord, hope in the Lord! Let hope arise!” And our souls respond.

Sometimes we are like Lazarus himself, where there is not even the option to hope anymore. Still Jesus stands outside the tomb of our heart and calls us forth. He calls hope to arise from places that feel long gone. Because, He has been there. That’s why He is our hope.

He has been to hell and back again. He has experienced the utter betrayal and abandonment of the Lord. He has born our grief, our sorrows. He has been unable to lift even His head. He has been to the unimaginable edges of His heart and life. He has asked God why. He has even heard nothing in return. He has been here. He knows this place. But more importantly, He knows the way.

He IS the way to hope everlasting.

He is the life to our long-gone places. He is the truth that makes that way. He is our morning star, a promise in the darkest of our nights that MORNING IS COMING.

He IS coming.

Though you be bones in a valley, though you be a body in a tomb, though you be grieving an unbelievable actuality, though you be living a hell. Do you believe Him? It is enough.

And may He who IS our Hope arise in your heart, in your situation, in your soul, outside your tomb, in your yesterday today and tomorrow. May hope arise.

“God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.” Psalm 46:5

To hear Hilary’s podcast of this post click here.

I’m grateful for the influence Hilary has had in my life and my family’s life. She is a woman of great faith and wisdom, not to mention fun and quirky humor. Thank you, Hilary!

Heart Sick?


“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

This has been a year of hope deferred, hasn’t it?

We had expectations of how this year 2020—the year of vision and purpose—would pan out. I think it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most of those plans for this last year did not happen as expected.

I wonder if that’s how the 400 years of captivity felt to the Israelites.

We’ve been through eleven grueling months, but they had to hold onto the prophecies and promises of God for hundreds of years. Palm on face here. I can’t imagine it. Can you?

But here’s the great thing.

Jesus—Emmanuel, God with Us, Prince of Peace, King of kings and Lord of lords—was scheduled by God to arrive. That plan had always been in place. God knew way ahead of time what he was doing.

And it’s no different today.

I have no doubt that God has a plan. It may not look like anything we expect. Just like the arrival of a baby in a remote town, placed in a cave manger with angels singing and shocked shepherds ogling. Not what anyone expected, right?

But it was a longing fulfilled to replace sick hearts whose hope had been deferred for centuries.

As we look forward to the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, we’re in the same place. Looking for hope. Longing for promises fulfilled.

And just as Jesus was that hope a couple thousand years ago, he is still our hope today.

There are a couple of differences.

We haven’t waited for hundreds of years—even if this year of 2020 feels like it’s stretched on for decades or centuries. And also, they didn’t know when to expect Jesus, but we have already seen him. We have the opportunity to not only welcome him into the world as a baby, but welcome him into our hearts and lives as our Savior, Lord, and King.

No matter what the virus or election or protests bring, Jesus is our hope.

And he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Soul Weary?


Don’t give up.

Those words have popped up in numerous places in the past couple of days. How appropriate! This week has been a long one with deadlines, doctor appointments, sick kids, and pain. You know how it is. Right?

I love how God knows how it is for us too.

He offers us exactly what we need in various ways. A call from a friend, a hug, a listening ear, a walk admiring nature. All of those little places that remind us that he sees and hears us when we’re weary.

I was reminded of how the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty long years. That’s two thirds of my entire life! They were promised a trip into a land flowing with good things like plenty of milk and honey. After the first few days they were complaining. What about after five, ten, or twenty years? It’s hard to keep the promise in sight when we feel weary or worn out.

This year certainly has been a wearing us down one.

But God is true to his promises. Even when it takes years to see them come to pass. Even when everything around us looks or feels hopeless and exhausting. His word encourages us not to grow weary in doing good. He must have known that we would. LOL

When I watched this clip this morning, I was encouraged and thought someone else might need a boost too. So here is another encouraging word about not giving up.

Let’s make it through another day, another week without allowing weariness to stop us in our tracks.

The climb is always worth the view!

In what areas are you weary? What uplifts you?

“I Want What I Want”


Aussie land 145

“Stubbornness is an unintelligent barrier, refusing enlightenment and blocking it’s flow.”

Those words grabbed me this week.

They are the words of Oswald Chambers in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest. What gripped my attention was “unintelligent barrier.” Have I ever allowed stubbornness to block the flow of enlightenment or understanding in my life? And if it’s an “unintelligent barrier” then it’s something that I allow with giving it reasoned thought.

Yikes!

So I asked God what causes stubbornness?

Here’s my take from scripture:

  • Leaning on my own understanding. God says not to. (Proverbs 3:5-6) God sees big. We see small. When we think our vision and understanding is the whole picture, we cling to our way as being the only way to think about something. That’s stubbornness. And in a word: pride.
  • Fear. A previous employer once told me he believed I was unteachable in my attitude toward some work I did for him. (Read: stubborn.) His well-intended comment hurt and surprised me. I believed I listened and followed the instructions given me. I respected his discernment, but I asked my manager if he could confirm that observation. His perception brought tears. He told me he didn’t see me as stubborn or unteachable, but rather afraid because I didn’t know how to do some things. When he said that, understanding dawned. Fear can make us resistant and therefore stubborn.
  • Allowing my basest desires to rule me. “Indulge me,” our flesh says. Eating, drinking, spending, sex–all normal, God created activities can get out of control. Then they take over, and we stubbornly cling to them or our right to them. Remember the spoiled rich girl, Veruca Salt, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? She wanted what she wanted, the whole world even, and wanted it right then. There’s a little Veruca in all of us, right?

God wants good for us.

He put desires in our hearts and promises to satisfy those desires when we delight in him. But it’s only when we think his way that he broadens our understanding and curtails our desires to be for the best things. (Psalm 37:4)

We all know as a parent, the best thing isn’t to give a child sugar at bed time no matter how much he may want it. (Bouncing off the walls, people!) God’s our parent and wants our best. He sees a bigger picture for us.

He promises:

  • That he will give us the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) so we can think as he thinks. If we ask, he’ll give us wisdom without thinking badly of us. (James 1:5)
  • We don’t need to be afraid. His perfect love for us drives out fear. (I John 4:18)
  • Every good thing is a gift from him. (James 1:17) He knows what we need and delights in caring for us. (Matt. 6:8)

So we can say goodbye to that “unintelligent barrier” of stubbornness and “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2) Then we can let go of what we want and let God give us what he wants for us which is far better!

How to Receive God’s Promises


In Philippians 3 & 4, Paul gives us a list of positive ways to live, keeping our focus in the right place. The resulting promises from God are exactly what we need!DSC_0020 (2)

I don’t know about you, but I’m all in.

Here we go:

  • Stand firm by eagerly awaiting Jesus, trusting he will bring all things under his control and transform us by his power. (Eph.3:20-21)
  • Agree with each other in the Lord (4:2)
  • Rejoice in the Lord all the time (4:4)
  • Be gentle when we deal with people in a way that they notice (4:5)
  • Don’t worry, but pray and thank God for who he is and what he is doing even when we can’t see it yet (4:6)
  • Don’t focus on our problems or the bad things happening, but focus on whatever is “noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8)
  • Be content no matter what is happening because God is in control and will give us strength to live in it – he will also bring good from it (4:11-13)

When we focus this way, God promises he will guard our hearts and minds with his peace. (4:7)

I need peace, don’t you?

He will also meet us in our trouble and give us everything we need because Jesus is glorious and able to do so. (4:19)

So every time a thought comes to us, we can line it up with this, trusting God to be there for us.

And when we forget or fail?

No worries. God’s still got us covered. We can simply be honest with him and ask him for renewed grace and strength.

I’m so glad we have a God like that! Aren’t you?

Are You Wandering in the Desert?


The Israelites grumbled in the desert. IMG_3958

In my self-righteous present, it’s easy to look back and think I’m nothing like those who couldn’t seem to get a clue about trusting God. Even after forty years of him patiently guiding them, providing food and clothes that didn’t even wear out, and speaking directly to them through a tremendous leader, they still cried out asking

Why did you bring us out of Egypt?

(Translate: bondage, slavery, painful existence, starvation and abuse.)

Today God showed me how close to that brink I am.

The Miracle of Us is an exciting story full of romance, challenges and, well, miracles. God connected me and my Australian husband, Brendan, across an ocean via an internet dating site. Against all odds, we Skype dated, spending only a total of nine weeks together in person spread out in four separate visits over a year. Soul mates, we marveled at how perfect we were for each other. We had no clue how to address the practicalities of joining our lives. With seven children and 8,000 miles between us, the impossibility of it seemed insurmountable.

Yet, God assured us of an amazing, abundant life together: the Promised Land.

Now, five year later, in the midst of some significant challenges (job searches, lawsuit over moldy house, illness, broken van, etc.), I am tempted to ask God,

Why did you?

I adore my husband. No question there. My acquired children are a delight and couldn’t be any more my own than those I bore. The life and connections we have here are priceless. God’s miracle of bringing us together, merging our families and settling us remain a source of awe and wonder both to us and others. But that doesn’t mean easy or without conflict.

Romantic fairy tale collides with “jagged cliffs of reality” (son Chris’ phrase).

And God knew every one of those difficulties ahead of time. So, why? What was he thinking, planning, promising?

In every miracle, rescue, amazing promise, we can easily ask why when the path temporarily becomes rocky and heated. Like in a desert without shade or water, we can wander, thirsty and tired and forget the miracles, the promises and the good we’ve had; and start asking “why?”

So far, this is what I’ve discovered:

God is preparing us for something better and greater. The Promised Land occupation required the driving out of “giants” and people who worshiped idols instead of God. It took work and fighting. The people needed strength, courage, patience and perseverance. Mostly, it meant the Israelites had to rely on God to supply all these traits. They had to have faith. I’m learning all of this.

Good doesn’t mean easy.  Booker T. Washington said “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Brendan and I together are good. Getting us together was hard work, but so worth it. A rocky path makes legs stronger. Rocky life makes hearts stronger. That’s good.

True love isn’t a feeling, it’s a sacrifice. A choice to be the same with someone as I promised I would be. Better, worse, sick, healthy, right, wrong, sinful, righteous. Am I willing to do or allow whatever it takes to be faithful to someone I love? Jesus did. He calls us to. He makes us able to follow his lead.

I don’t have it all figured out.

But I know God does. And he’s the only one who matters. If I keep my eyes on him, I will enter the Promised Land just as he plannedIMG_3401 and promised. And in the meantime, he makes streams in the desert. In so many ways. Doesn’t he?

 

What is your desert? How is God meeting you when you wonder “why?”