hope

I love the start of a New Year. It feels nice and fresh and clean and full of potential. For some people, the start of the new year means setting new resolutions. (More power to you, you skinny, rested, and buff people!) For me it means reflecting and dreaming. Looking back on 2020 was more painful than I had anticipated. Maybe it was for you too.

As much as 2020 has been a year of loss, I have gained so much.

One of my favorite habits is choosing a word for the year. Each year I ask God to give a word that He wants to teach me about in the coming year. It almost becomes a game to see where the word is going to pop up…in a song, Scripture, or even on an actual billboard.

We were into the first few days of January when I was sitting at a stoplight and God made the 2020 word blatantly clear. I thought I already had the word so it caught me completely off guard when I was brought back to the drawing board. I was singing along to Spotify when I realized the words that were coming out of my mouth held truth my heart needed to hear.

“My soul will rest, my confidence, in You alone. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. My Savior’s cross has set the sinner free. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. Oh, Christ be praised, I have victory.”

Hope.

Hope has a name, His name is Jesus.

I felt like in that moment God was telling me, “Listen up kid. Right now you are excited about this year. That’s great! I don’t want you to loose your eagerness. But that’s not the word I have for you. The world is about to shift and I want you to remember that I am your hope. Don’t put it in other things…people, trips, work, relationships, the future, the past. I am the sure and steady anchor for your soul and you should put your hope in me and only me. Look to me. I am your hope!

To which I responded, “Cool. Hope. I liked “eager” but I’ll go with hope.” Little did I know.

By the time May rolled around I was flat out of options to place hope in. Seeing friends? Quarantined. Starting a new job? Postponed. Being able to stop taking depression medication? Not smart. The list goes on.

Through the wildly eventful (yet uneventful?) months of 2020, God revealed the many places I had stored up hope that were not in Him. I had no idea the number of, and absurdity of, places I had tried to bestow hope. He was opening my eyes to my faulty hope.

I realized just how deeply I had wrongly woven misplaced hope with circumstantial joy.

I realized just how fragile my world was.

I said my hope was in Christ, but my life did not reflect it.

Biblical hope is the complete assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

To understand hope we have to understand the character of God.

Expanding on that statement is daunting. I can spend 10,000 words and still not scratch the surface on the richness of who God is. If you want to know more about the character of God, I encourage you to read the Bible. And when you read it, fight the urge to be only looking for the personal application and instead start with “what does this tell me about God?” I promise your view of God will be revolutionized.

When we are actively seeking to know and love God more, it’s almost impossible to keep placing hope anywhere that isn’t Him.

To have hope in God means to trust that even in the midst of a global pandemic God is still doing good things. To know that He aches with us as we experience the brokenness of the human condition. To remember that Jesus has already won the war. To celebrate that eternity has already begun and we get to know God deeply and intimately now. We have hope because God is unfailing. We have hope because we know that there is so much more to life than what the world has to offer.

God has brought me back to Psalm 33:18 over and over throughout the year: “Behold the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” God’s steadfast love, his hesed, is what makes him unlike any other contrived god.

In 2020 I learned to put my hope in the steadfast love of Christ.

I like how one of my friends started the year by sharing how when it comes to goals her approach is to “keep it simple. For example, this year (and forever) I simply want to know and love God more. It’s not really specific or measurable, like the experts recommend, but I want this “goal” to be more of a lens through which I view my days. Though I haven’t broken it down into actionable steps, I will tell you that regular Bible reading and prayer are like the frames holding up the lenses of these God-oriented glasses.”

About the art:
I went back to my graphic design roots for this piece and had a blast. I hand-wrote the text on a scrap of paper and scanned in the text to use as a rough template. I thought it would be a smooth transition and I would be able to “outline” the letters, but in true 2020 fashion that did not happen. I spent about eight hours adjusting the outline of each letter so I still got the imperfect hand-written feel. The background is full of individual lines I placed on a grid.

Grey

I left for Greece right at the end of February when we were getting news of the Corona outbreak in China. I was aware of the spread but not concerned. Just as I was supposed to leave the country a series of events allowed me to extend my stay an extra week and I was thrilled.

Then, within about five days, all Greek schools closed, everything but supermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeries closed, and everyone was wearing masks and staying six feet away from others. By the time I left, the WHO had deemed Europe the new epicenter of COVID-19. To get home I traveled through five airports and four planes, two of which were completely full. I spent the next two weeks in super strict quarantine to my room while my friends in Greece received news that they were going into a stringent, government monitored lockdown.

Things were getting bad. And then they got worse.

I’ve seen this virus strip jobs away from people who are just trying to get by. It’s caused us to look at other humans with suspicion, making wide six-foot circles around the other foragers at the grocery stores. People who have assembled the best battle wear of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes are resentful towards those who are appearing to frolic about. Economies around the world are threatening collapse. Weddings, graduations, and birthday parties are getting cancelled. Racism and abuse are rapidly increasing. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying.

I think of all these things and I can feel my heart physically ache.

But I’ve seen other things too.

I’ve also seen this virus cause people all over the world rally around healthcare workers. It’s given the world a common thread, increasing relatability across cultures. People are getting creative with ways to encourage one another while staying physically distanced. Because of the technology era, people are able to meet virtually, allowing many businesses to remain open to some extent. Also as a benefit of technology we can communicate easily so there is less isolation than if this happened even 15 years ago. My social media feeds are full of people sharing encouraging words, performances, funny gifs, and friends being honest about their realities so that we can come around them. Families are getting more time together. Churches might not be gathering in sanctuaries, but they’re gathering in living rooms. Google is reporting a massive spike in searches for “prayer” and “Jesus.” I have friends who are seeing family members be more open to the Gospel because of the current situation. Cultures that praise being busy are forced to slow down and rest. Distractions are being removed – “not having enough time” is no longer an excuse for avoiding spiritual matters.

There is so much pain. But there is also a lot of good.

I’ve seen a trend that Americans want the world to be black and white. (Note on this: I say Americans because that’s the culture with which I am most familiar.) We want something to be right or wrong, not both. We want to be able to sort events, opinions, practices, situations, people into one of two categories: good or bad. It’s easier that way. However, when we do that we often neglect to see the big picture.

I’m not proposing that we completely do away with the right vs. wrong system. God definitely pre-sorted some actions with the Ten Commandments. I also think morals, which heavily rely on the distinction between good and bad, are essential to healthy lives. I am cautioning us as to what happens when we try to label something not definitively stated in the Bible.

I am encouraging us to take a page out of Joseph’s book.

Joseph’s full story can be found in Genesis 37-50 and if you’re looking for a good read with lots of plot twists, he’s your guy. Here’s the gist, spoilers included: Joseph, a nice 17 yr old shepherd, has these two prophetic dreams that cause his brothers to hate him. As if being the favorite child didn’t already put him at odds with his TEN older brothers, the dreams from God predicted that Joseph would rule over his brothers. This arrogance wasn’t going to fly so his brothers oh so kindly threw Joseph into a pit to die, but then changed their minds and sold him to some foreign travelers. Joseph was sold again, became a servant, rose the ranks because of God’s favor, was hit on by his boss’ wife, was wrongly accused, and thrown into prison. While in prison, the LORD was with him, showing him steadfast love and favor. Joe interpreted two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams; one got good news the other not so much. Then the king had some dreams and God helped Joseph interpret those, which earned him a huge promotion from prison to a spot as one of the king’s highest officials. A famine came but it was okay because the king’s dreams prophesied it and Joseph had prepared for it. Now it’s been about 22 years since he saw his brothers and sadly they weren’t faring too well thanks to the famine. They come to Joseph (not knowing who he is) to ask for food, Joseph weeps then sends them home, they come back, Joe tests them, they freak out, Joe weeps again, he shares his identity with his brothers, a family reunion happens, and they all live a big happy life together.

Joseph’s story ends with a conversation between him and his brothers. (This is where our good or bad discussion comes into play.) The brothers apologize for the “evil” (Gen 50:17) they did to him. Joseph’s response to them: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph saw the big picture that through what would easily be labeled as an unfortunate, or bad, series of events, God brought good from it and Joe got to help many people by providing food during the famine. All throughout our pal’s story we are reminded how God was with Joseph the whole time, not turning a blind eye to what was going on.

When we rush to call something bad, we can loose sight of the good God is doing. Even amidst the brokenness of the world (Joseph’s brothers did try to murder him after all) God can bring good.

Since we’re still this side of Heaven, evil still has a presence. The enemy of this world is active and sometimes his havoc can cloud our vision of the mysterious yet beautiful, powerful, and pure work of the Lord. That’s the sad reality. But we know the rest of the story. God will triumph over Satan. The goodness of God will prevail over the corruption of evil. That’s where we’re headed, and it’s closer with every moment.

Even though we experience the horrible brokenness of the world, God is still at work.

God can, and is, bringing good out of COVID-19.

There is still bad, but there’s also good.

 

FreehandTruth_LookForTheGood_Gen5020

Belonging

I stood quietly at the back of the group, watching as over fifty women talked in small groups about 2 Timothy 2. We were at the end of the first day of a conference on leadership, this session focusing on community. Some women were deep in conversation. Others’ eyes darted between the three “mzungu” (white person) standing on the outskirts. I resisted the urge to get squirmish under their gaze, reminding myself that it wasn’t judgment, but curiosity their eyes were communicating. Then almost as quickly as their eyes landed, they’d return to the other women in their discussion group.

What were they saying to each other, I wondered. Deeply wishing I could understand their native Maasai language.

This was my first time to behold the beauty of Africa. The people, culture, landscape, and wildlife had me in constant awe of the creativity and vastness of the Creator. The Maasai people form one of Kenya’s forty two tribes. Throughout the country the Maasai are respected for preserving generations of tradition. They are the warriors, even feared by the lions in some areas. They are the naturalists, respecting creation and living in harmony with it. They are the creatives, experts at making everything from colorful jewelry to sturdy houses made entirely of sticks and termite clay.

Our native friends had told us that “no matter where you were in the world, you know a Maasai when you saw one.” I soon learned why.

As I stood observing the women, it struck me. Not a single one of them was questioning whether or not they belonged. They were not questioning their identity as a Maasai. Every single woman wore similar clothes; their dresses following the same sewing pattern and jewelry using the same beads. They spoke the same language; their native tongue sustaining the decades of oral tradition. They acted the same; from dancing to sitting they mirrored each other’s posture. They looked the part, they spoke the part, they acted the part. There was no questioning if they were a Maasai. In fact, I doubt that question has ever even gone through their mind.

That sort of unquestioned belonging is something I believe all of us long for. The desire is deep in our souls. We don’t have to consciously tell ourselves to crave belonging, it just is there. Hardwired from the very beginning we yearn for the day we do not second guess our place, our role, in society.

As a believer, we do not have to strive.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Every ounce of me believes that God desires for His children to be so confident in our belonging in His family that we don’t get entangled with pointless pursuits (2 Tim 2:4). He wants us to fully embrace our place as His royal chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He has given us the Holy Spirit to help guide our actions and our speech (Phil 2:13; 1 Cor 6:11). Not to mention that He has given us His image (Gen 1:27). We are thoroughly His.

Even though it is sometimes very tempting to question whether or not we “belong,” we have assurance that we are His. And since we are His (and I say this knowing it is so very hard sometimes) we should be so marked by Him that we “look,” speak, and act like Him. Every believer shares in this belonging, regardless of any other factor.

Our belonging is twofold. We belong to God. Once we confess our need for God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and the hope in the resurrection, our belonging to God is secure. Additionally, just like the Maasai look, speak, and act like Maasai, we as Christians are given the ability to walk in the newness of life and look, speak, and act like Christ.

What if instead of “you’ll know a Maasai when you see one” it was said “you’ll know a Christian when you see one.”

What’s keeping you from living out your belonging?

Better

12 year old me said that when I “grew up” (we’ll say 25yrs old), I would be an interior designer, married to an Aggie and have little kids who were pretty much the equivalent of small cherubim.

16 year old me said that when I grew up, I would be a graphic designer who lived in the suburbs with a godly husband and planning for three to four children.

20 year old me said that when I grew up, I would be married to a godly man and together we’d run a summer camp. Our four children would eventually spend their summers at camp and our family of six would all be best friends.
(20 year old me also made a pact with a friend that if we were still single at 25, we’d make each other create online dating profiles. Because who’s not married by 25?! If you were a godly southern woman, you’d be making sweet tea for your grandchildren by the time you were 28.)

24 year old me said that since I was allllmost grown up but still unmarried, childless, and career-less, that I was doing something wrong. I still wanted to be a wife and a mom but by now had settled on the dream job being in a middle/high school girl’s discipleship role. So even though most of my friends were either dating, engaged, married, or pregnant, I told myself I was just a little late to the game and it was going to be okay. I still had another year.

L. O. FREAKIN L.

25 and 26 year old me lived in a foreign country, asking people about life and faith and hearing countless life stories of essentially strangers. Which, spoiler, has been awesome. But also nowhere near where I thought I’d be.

When I first considered moving internationally, I was aware that it would mean leaving my comfort zone and could be, as one person said, “putting my life on pause.” I had another person who told me I should instead stay in the States and move to Dallas to put myself in the young adults scene and therefore be more dateable. I liked that idea because that was what I wanted…so I was admittedly frustrated when God kept pushing me out of what I thought was the Promised Land and into the Land of Unknowns.

It’s funny now to look back on my life. In retrospect, 99% of my life has been classified by the Unknown. As far as life markers go, the only one that I could have “predicted” was to go to university at A&M. (But even then I changed my major three times!) All the other things are tied for first place in the “Biggest Surprise” category. However Greece miiiiiight be in the lead. As my time in Greece comes to an end, I am flooded with emotions while I celebrate my time here and grieve what will no longer be. All as I prepare for another journey into the Unknown.

Several times a week now I get asked what’s next for me. I rejoice in the comfort and peace God has provided for the last months as I answer them simply that I don’t know yet. Most times I’ll then explain how it’s been my experience that when I start to make my own plans, God has no problem scratching what I would call Plan-A and moving instead to Plan-That-Did-Not-Exist-And-Was-Never-An-Option-So-What-in-the-World.

I was challenged to adjust my thinking about this when a friend shared on social media about her most recent experience in med school. I’ve known her for almost nine years now and the entire time she has talked about being an OB/GYN so that she can serve women in the Middle East. After years and years of working towards this righteous dream, it took only moments for that dream as she knew it to be destroyed. As she processed through what had happened, I was tempted to think she had written it just for me. “[This] was not my plan A. But I misunderstood God. He said there is no plan B. But I did not have the wisdom to understand His plan A.” She recognized that her dreams to serve in the Middle East are righteous, but “they were limited. [Her] hands are open to what the Father wants because His infinite wisdom is beyond [her] finite understanding and limited vantage point.”

Anyone else want to shout “Amen!”

I’ve been sitting on this post for almost three months now. I’ve come to terms with being in a different place than I expected. It comes easily to say that I don’t know what’s next. I have a lot of peace about the Unknown. But do I believe this Unknown is better than my righteous dreams?

There have been two particular verses that I’ve been meditating on quite regularly:

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I am almost 27 and know of 4 single God-fearing men, think my friends’ kids are cute, and will most likely take yet another job that isn’t in youth ministry. I have never been further away from these things that I’ve asked God for daily (for almost seven years now). I have also never been more okay with where I am.

Some days are easier than others to be so “okay” with where God has me, but it’s undeniable that when I am focused on His will rather than mine, I have an infinitely healthier perspective. I have to fight to believe that God’s ways are higher and better than anything I could imagine. But regardless of if I believe or understand or live like they are, no matter what they’re still better.

 

FreehandTruth_Better_Prov19.21

Strong

We barely finished our introductions before my new friend rattled off her first question. Have you ever been in love? Our little group of four all shared our ideas on love, sex, and relationships. The next question: what would your ideal life look like? Again, we went around and answered. Then the next: why believe in God?

When it was my turn, I shared with them about how my life looked like before I surrendered my life to my Creator: trying and not-surprisingly failing to attain perfection. I told them about how because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection I can be brought back into the presence of Almighty God and all my shortcomings be redeemed through Christ.

This same new friend from above sat and listened, but I could tell there was something fiery on the tip of her tongue. Sure enough, she didn’t let even a second of silence pass after I had finished speaking.

“I think you’re weak because you believe in God.”

I almost laughed. Her words didn’t cut, didn’t hurt…the thought just seemed outrageous to me.

To her, the source of strength comes from within ourselves. When we feel that we are lacking, she believes we should dig deeper and cultivate it from within ourselves. So in her mind I’m not strong enough to gain that strength from within, and therefore I need to believe a “higher power” can intervene on my behalf.

And guess what, she’s right!!! I’m not strong enough on my own. But it took me a looooooong time to admit that.

I want to say that it is just the fact that I am a firstborn that makes me independent, but it’s not. According to my mom, I was always a “free-spirited and strong-willed child.” I operated under the mindset that whatever it is, I can do it. On my own. By myself. Without help. And I’m going to prove something to someone in the process. While this has softened as I entered into adulthood, this manifests in me wanting to be the person who can help everyone else but never wants to be on the receiving end of said help. When asked, “what do you need” I love being able to answer, “nothing, I’m fine.”

Because if I’m fine, I’m not lacking anything.

Turns out I am never really fine.

Turns out I am human.

Being human means being in a constant state of brokenness. Being in a constant state of brokenness without God is like living in a wooden house infested with termites and no exterminator left on earth. The house is going down, it’s only a matter of time.

When God created the world, He deemed it perfect in His sight. As the epitome of holy and perfect, God’s standard for His creation was to bear the same image. We make it two chapters into the Bible before things go south. Real fast. When humans decide to do things on their own, imperfection (sin) enters and overtakes God’s perfect world. On its own the world is still as broken now as it was 3,000+ years ago. Try as we might, solving the brokenness of humanity is not up to us; we will always fall short of God’s perfection.

Enter: Jesus.

Jesus has been, and will be, the only man to ever walk the earth and live a perfect, blameless, and sinless life. When Jesus, God’s one and only son, died on the cross He took on the imperfections of the world making total forgiveness possible. Now, when God looks at me, a Believer of Him, He sees the Perfect Son and not my sin. (And no, I don’t think I will ever fully grasp that!)

I love how the Gospel of Mark jumps right into why Jesus came, sharing how Jesus Himself 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)

This means God doesn’t need me to be fine. In fact, He wants me to admit my dire need for Him. He wants me to admit how I can’t fix myself, how I am weak left on my own. I can slap some bandaids on a mortal wound but I’m still dying. He is the Great Physician.

It seems counterintuitive, but the only way we receive healing is by laying our lives down and in total humility declaring our need for God’s saving grace. We admit where we have fallen short, that we are too weak to fix ourselves, and ask God to forgive us.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t know about you, but I have seen PLENTY of times when I cannot do even life in general on my own. My pride doesn’t want to admit it, yet it is so true. But if I wasn’t broken and in need of help, would I actually see my need for a Savior? Probably not.

I will never forget the first time someone shared with me Psalm 73:26. I was at summer camp with my family and one of the super cool college counselors wrote out part of Psalm 73 for me. After some digging, I found that the New King James Version is the closest translation here: “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The Hebrew verb used here for “fail” is definitive, meaning it will happen. I can vouch for that, because there are, again, PLENTY of times when my flesh and my heart have failed me. I am not strong on my own. I am not fine.

But Psalm 73 is not the only place we see a need for greater strength. In the book of Psalms alone, there are 45 times* where the Psalmist sings of God’s strength, asks Him for strength, and admits that human strength is not enough. Paul prays that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (3:16) and continues to attribute strength to God in many of his other letters. Peter reminds us that as Believers, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Strength cannot come from ourselves because we are not the source.

When the girl told me she thought I was weak for believing in Jesus, the rest of the table squirmed for a few moments due to the directness of her comment. Then her friend across the table jumped in. “I disagree. I think she’s strong for believing in God. I wish I could.”

I simultaneously wanted to high-five this girl as well as weep for her that she thought she couldn’t believe in God. I’ll tell you what I told her: “you can.”

If you’re tired of trying but always failing, never feeling like you’ll measure up, or ready to give up the “I’m fine” act, I encourage you to know the Source of all good things. God is a whole bunch of incredible things like unconditional love, hope, and joy, but do you know Him as your Strength?

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” (Psalm 59:9)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)
“God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1a)

*Psalm 8:2; 10:17; 18:1; 18:32; 18:39; 21:1; 21:13; 22:15; 28:1; 28:7; 28:8; 29:1; 29:11; 31:10; 32:4; 38:10; 46:1; 59:9; 59:16; 59:17; 65:6; 68:35; 71:1; 71:9; 73:1; 73:26; 81:1; 84:5; 86:16; 88:4; 89:17; 89:21; 93:1; 96:6; 96:7; 105:4; 118:14; 119:28; 138:3; 140:7

FreehandTruth_Ps73.26

Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Gentle

It is no secret that 2018 was not my favorite year. I shared a year ago that my 2018 word was going to be “gentle.” It’s true that God has taught me about this particular Fruit of the Spirit. He deals gently with me. I am slowly learning to be more gentle with others. (Soooooo hard for me to admit that I’ve not perfected this and that it doesn’t come naturally.)

I’ve always thought of gentleness as a very calm, almost passive characteristic. Most of the people I would describe as gentle are in fact some of the most patient, relaxed, and compassionate people I know. These are all incredible attributes, but I think the “gentleness of God” has a little bit more to it.

The following definition is in fact unoriginal (thank you Pine Cove Baby Ruths), but I love it: to be gentle is to use the least amount of force necessary. This means that different situations need different levels of force.

In my own life I’ve seen how God, the perfect embodiment of gentleness, sometimes gives me a subtle nudge back on course. Other times I’ve been so defiant that He needs to practically scream. In these moments of what seems like intense force, I question God’s goodness. In the moment, it doesn’t seem like gentleness…but would I listen otherwise?

But correction is not the only aspect of gentleness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I love the picture created in Matthew 11. Much of this year I have felt weary and burdened. I have learned that the best thing I can do is to run to Jesus. He provides rest for my tired soul. He gently comforts and nurtures me.

I am thankful for God’s gentleness. I’m thankful that He knows exactly what I need and exactly how to deliver it. I would miss so much if He wasn’t gentle.

Below is my video from 2018. These videos each year have become some of my favorite things. I watch them and cannot help to praise God for what He has provided. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman, 2018…

Kind

Every few years God brings me almost to a halt in order to return back to the basics of my faith. In the past it’s been recognizing the hope for Heaven, His faithful presence in my life, or once was realizing the magnitude of my sin and need for a Savior.

This is not me regaining my salvation. It is practicing remembrance. When these seasons begin, I often get uneasy because I fear that my wrestling is offensive to God and that He is disappointed that I am back to something I should have already learned.

This past month has been one of those back-to-basics moments. But this time, instead of putting on a cloak of shame, I chose to walk in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I have been working out my salvation by asking the question, “is God kind to me?” I feel almost heretical stringing those words together now, even after God and I have had some extensive conversations about that very topic. It just doesn’t feel right to say such a thing.

Growing up in the church, I’m pretty good at the whole head knowledge thing, but my heart is often slower to catch up. When I first spoke the question that had been rumbling around in the very back of my head I was simultaneously relieved and appalled. Relieved because I felt like the ticking time bomb had been diffused. Appalled because every Sunday school teacher or pastor I’ve sat under would probably ask me if I didn’t hear a word they had said. Of course God is kind!

But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I saw God’s kindness in people’s lives around me, but was having a difficult time seeing it myself. I’d like to think that I tried really hard to see His kindness in my life, but my heart was tired and calloused. So I probably gave up quickly.

Right around this time, I had a seminary assignment where I practiced spiritual disciplines and wrote out prayers everyday for a certain amount of time. This is when I started getting very honest with God. No more of that hiding behind “I know” business. It was time to give Him a piece of my mind. There were definitely a series of “I’m mad at You because ____” and “Why haven’t You _____” and several “I don’t like ____.” Everything centered around why I thought God was disciplining me unjustly. Everything centered around me. 

I think it was good and wise to voice where I was; I needed to hear myself to realize it was all about me. So I started studying about who God is. The Bible talks about God’s character a lot. It says that He is Creator (Gen 1:1), Savior (John 3:16), Holy (Rev 4:8), Love (1 John 4:7-12), and Life (Col 1:17), just to name a few. 

Titus 3:4-7 has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time. I had completely forgotten it uses the phrase “loving kindness” until I did a Bible search for the exact phrase. 

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

This verse is especially applicable for now for two reasons:
1. It clearly attributes kindness to God.
2. The kindness of God is the gift of Jesus. 

Fair warning: I’m about to nerd out here. 

I wanted to find a good, healthy, Biblical definition of “kindness” so I hopped over to Blue Letter Bible to see how kindness was used in these verses. Y’ALL. I LITERALLY CAN’T.

In Titus 3, Paul used the Greek word “χρηστότης” which comes from the root word of “χρηστός.” Now I do not read ancient Greek, but thanks to the little modern Greek I know some bells went off in my head…because that word for kindness sure did sound a lot like the word for Christ. LOOK AT THIS.

root word of kindness (Titus 3)
χρηστός
khrā-sto’s

Christ (New Testament)
Χριστός
khrē-sto’s

I cannot get over how close those sound. I am choosing to believe that it cannot be a coincidence that Paul, when writing Titus, chose the word for kindness that sounded so similar to that for Christ. 

At the very beginning of me examining whether I believe God is kind to me, I had a dear friend (looking at you Lizzy Cook) who encouraged me to see God’s kindness as the free gift of salvation. I can know and experience the kindness of God by walking out in the freedom and hope and grace and restoration that the Gospel brings. Jesus Christ’s presence is kindness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I believe God is kind to me. So much kinder than I will ever comprehend. 

Forgiveness

“How in the world were you able to forgive them?”

I was sitting across from new Greek friends at a lovely outdoor cafe. I had just finished sharing about a time when I had experienced deep hurt, caused by someone else’s decisions. They showed empathy as they sat listening, their faces kind and heads shaking. Until I said the words: “and then I forgave them.”

They were puzzled, to say the least. Their brows furrowed and they leaned in. They listed off the things I had just shared, counting reasons I should still be upset. Though this took place several years ago I can still remember making the same list myself. My new friends were right: forgiveness didn’t make sense.

I had written a paper about forgiveness the week before our coffee shop conversation. So I wasn’t caught completely off guard since I had used this same story of hurt in that paper. My path to forgiveness was fresh on my mind.

“When I think about my life, I’m not perfect either. Sure, I haven’t made the same decisions they did, but I’ve still hurt people before. I’ve been unkind with my words, shown anger, sat in jealousy, and done other things I’m not proud of. But I believe in hope.

“Because I’ve not met the standard of perfection, I’ve been separated from God. Nothing I can do will make up for that separation. I’ll never be good enough. Thankfully my future doesn’t end there.

“God sent his son, Jesus, to take my place as payment for my imperfection. Jesus lived 33 perfect years on this earth and then chose to die for me. His death, burial, and resurrection wipes my slate clean. I am eternally forgiven. Sure, Heaven is a great thing, but what is incredible is that I get to have a personal relationship with God.

“If I believe God has forgiven me for all of my wrongs, I can forgive others too. It’s such a hard process, and even years later I have to remember each day to offer forgiveness.

“By forgiving someone, I believe it doesn’t erase what they’ve done or the pain they’ve caused…in fact it’s acknowledging that they’ll probably hurt me in some way again. But every time I forgive someone I’m reminded that God is so much bigger. Bigger than their words. Bigger than my pain. Bigger than my shortcomings. Bigger than my failures.”

I’m pretty sure forgiveness will never make sense. I’m thankful that God forgave (and continues to forgive) me, especially when it doesn’t make sense.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Freehand_Truth_forgiveness

Fear Not

I would not typically classify myself as an anxious person. I’m pretty leveled with my emotions overall as well as in high tense situations. In fact, it’s a joke amongst my friends that if they need to go to the hospital emergency room, they’re taking me with them. I work well under pressure and tend to be able to make wise decisions in the moment. I think that’s why I like events; I know some sort of surprise is inevitable, something will go wrong and it’ll take creative thinking to improvise. I just expect it and know it’ll all work out. But lately I’ve been more anxious.

As I shared last month, I’ve been walking through an unexpected season of depression. I can tell with each passing week that God is extensively healing my soul, exposing and excavating deep seeded doubts and fears in the process. Looking back I can see the gradual shift in my thinking, going from facing situations head-on to frantically preparing for the worst. I began dreading the unexpected and in a sense, started dooms-day prepping my emotions.

It’s true that I need to be prepared for the battle. We are living in a world where evil has a strong foothold and we are called to fight against the enemy. But I have abandoned daily putting on my Armor and instead have retreated to the corner. I feel stuck, doubting the battle will ever end and fearful that I won’t be ______ enough. That blank can be filled in with things such as: prepared, strong, wise, friendly, selfless, and Godly.

So I sit in the corner. Overwhelmed.

But God, being gracious, does not let me stay there.

I’ve been taught that doubt and fear (not the holy fear variety) are not honoring to God. So in my mind, if doubt and fear are bad but God is good, then they can’t all mix together. So I’ve stopped sharing them…and especially not with God.

A new song popped up on a “recommended for you” playlist (lookin at you, Spotify. You rock.) this summer that had a line I initially questioned but have grown to love. “All my doubts and fears, they can all come too, because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.” (The Way (New Horizons) – Housefires).

God wants to hear what I am struggling with so He can meet me in my need. I need to let Him in my head so that I can get out. When I started talking with God about my doubts and fears, His message was clear: fear not. I experienced what David shares in Psalm 34. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Moving towards God brings freedom.

He brought to mind many verses that reiterated this simple Truth home. I mean, how much clearer can you get than Isaiah 41:10? “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love the picture of God holding us with his righteous right hand. If the Creator of the Universe is holding me, I can be fully secure.

And John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” There is safety in His presence.

I also love the picture of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

God goes before us, paving the way.

God comes behind us, righting the wrongs.

God is with us, comforting the fearful.

This means NOTHING is a surprise to God.

 

 

FreehandTruth_FearNot