It’s (Not) Going to Get Better

I’m not a pessimist. In fact, I tend far too much toward optimism. However, I’ve learned that belligerent optimism isn’t helpful when equally stubborn hardship prevails.

The reality is that we should expect suffering as a result of sin. Believers should expect the added difficulties of persecution and living apart from the pattern of the world. Whether we’re facing chronic illnesses with no cure or the persistent battle of loving others well, the truth is life often hurts.

Short of heaven “better” is always going to be a relative term.

Putting our hope and faith in optimism, or changing circumstances, or the next self-help fad, will leave us frustrated and disillusioned over and over again.

Yet we do have hope.

The Gospel is good news for the lost, suffering, weary sinners of this world. That means it’s good news for you and for me.

In Hope When It Hurts, by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton, the good news of Jesus Christ is precisely and pointedly applied as balm to our suffering. From the very first chapter, their thesis is clear:

What I need, and you need, is the truth about Jesus Christ, because our suffering only makes sense and we only retain any hope when we look at ourselves through a gospel lens.”

Never offering pat answers or platitudes, Hope When It Hurts proceeds to offer the framework of a gospel perspective on suffering. A reality check on pride’s role in our response to suffering stretches readers to shift their eyes to the only real hope we have -and the only real purpose we live for (hint: it’s not our comfort or convenience.)

Several chapters address the opportunities afforded to us by our suffering.

Unlike messages staking our hope in optimism for changing circumstances or everything working out for the better, Hope When It Hurts stakes everything on God. In short, easy-to-read, but in-depth chapters, the authors highlight practically why we:

  • Have hope
  • Don’t have to be shaken
  • Can persevere
  • Take heart in suffering
  • Are freed from agonizing over making sense of pain
  • Worship God in everything and anything

Straight-shooting, personal messages treat the ache from the inside out with words like these:

“…when you are in the darkness…and you begin to question God’s love for you, remember what it true: Jesus Christ was sent into the world because God loves you. There is not greater demonstration of his affection for you, and there is no clearer proof that he intends to make good of what you are enduring right now. The who was struck down on the cross is the One who could not be destroyed and, because He is for you, neither will you be. He is your light. Draw near to Him.”

It’s true. Paul, while enduring final imprisonment and reaching out to his loved ones as his earthly days dwindled, proclaimed hope when it hurts: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18.)

Even if it never gets better in this lifetime. Even if a gruesome, painful death is how we’re safely delivered into His heavenly kingdom, the Lord will rescue us and bring us to Him.

temporary

Paul follows these words with praise- “To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

This book follows suit. Although atypical and unexpected for a book on suffering, this message carries the broken to worship and eases the hurting into praise.

As much a devotional as a book of reflections on suffering and Gospel hope, Hope When It Hurts renews and refreshes believers. Instead of saying “it’ll get better,” readers are reminded of what already is better: the true, joyous, incredible hope we have despite our often-unchanging, hopeless suffering.


<This review was provided in exchange for a free preview copy of Hope When It Hurts from the Good Book Company.>

This post may also be shared on: #MomentsofHope, #DreamTogetherLinkup, #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #TellHisStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #Heart Ecnouragement, #LiveFreeThursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup, Faith-Filled Friday, Sitting Among Friends, and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

 

Knowledge Isn’t All Powerful (4/6)

 

This post is the 4th in a 6-part series on Idolizing Knowledge. Read the rest of the posts here. Guest directory info is available here.

Sitting down to play a board game is relaxing. Until it isn’t.

One game in particular gets my wheels spinning with a frustration that is probably healthy for me.

It’s called 7 Wonders. Each turn, every player selects a card from their hand and then passes the rest to their neighbor. Around and around the hands go, whittling down with each turn. Inevitably, I realize I’ve got two cards in a hand that will allow my neighbor to win. I can only take one card though.

Come the passing of the hands, my neighbor wins. And I knew they would. But I couldn’t do a thing about it.


We can know all about something and have no power to change it or act on it.

The anthem “knowledge is power” gets us on our feet until we’re on our knees, fully informed about something we can’t change. Whether we learn all about a loved ones’ diagnosis or gain insight into someone else’s success, knowledge does not always equate to power.

Forgetting this fact is one of the most frustrating things for wanna-know-it-alls like me.

I think of the prophets.

Even with visions of what was to come and warnings given by God, they had no power to change the course of the people.

God even told Ezekiel that as a watchman Ezekiel was not responsible for the people’s responses to the prophecies. He was merely responsible for speaking the truth. There was no sugarcoating. Ezekiel was to speak knowing the people would not listen and destruction would surely still come.

Ezekiel remarked:

“They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.” –Ezekiel 13:6

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We’re like that. We treat the knowledge we have like it’s the God-given truth and as if we’ve divined how to apply it properly. Using our knowledge, we proclaim how things are going to be. Then, we get mad when God doesn’t backup our plans with the power to see them through.

The gap between our knowledge and our power is where surrender lives. <Tweet this>

God is all-knowing and all-powerful. There’s nothing He doesn’t know about and nothing He can’t do something about.

That’s why we end up on our knees, fully informed and full incapable. We know the One who is capable, and we pray He exerts His power in a way that fits our knowledge.

However, God’s all-knowingness exceeds the information we have. We know the type of cancer, the odds, the way it affects the body. He knows all that too- and He knows how it fits into His perfect plan. God knows how to make good out of what’s not good. He can do it and He will.

Since His knowledge exceeds ours and He is good, we have reason to trust that whatever power He exerts, what He knows and what He does will align for our good and His glory.

post-4_god-knows

Surrendering to the One who is in control should be relieving.

If we’re honest about the limits of human knowledge, we realize it is good we aren’t in control. We don’t have the know-how to wield sovereignty well. And when we think we do, we can end up:

  • Growing egotistical and distant from God
  • Having “our own understanding” define our path
  • Leading others astray because our knowledge is limited
  • Unprepared to face the truth
  • Getting way ahead of ourselves and the Lord’s plans

Laying down what we know before the One who knows what to do protects us. Especially from messes like these. My husband points out, “What we don’t know we can’t control.” Whew.

Surrender in the space between knowledge and power relieves the tension that wears us and tears us as we live out the limits of being human.


Do you need to take knowledge off the pedestal of power to lay what you know at His feet?

Join me for the next 5 weeks to delve deeper into shattering the idol of knowledge to take hold of knowledge as God intends it to be.

This post may also be shared on: #MomentsofHope, #DreamTogetherLinkup, #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #TellHisStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #Heart Ecnouragement, #LiveFreeThursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup, Faith-Filled Friday, Sitting Among Friends, and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

I would love to have you guest post on First and Second. Submissions for a guest directory on Idolizing Knowledge are due March 15th! More info on guest posting here.

Frustration, Faithfulness, and God’s Timing + CD Giveaway

One of the unique differences between Christian artists and the majority of other musicians is openness about the muse for music. Christian art is about testifying to the God who is, glorifying Him through song.

the-garden

The story behind Kari Jobe’s new album The Garden is a real life example of the reason for the hope she has in Jesus. In the title track, Jobe describes the desperation she felt when her sisters’ infant James Ivy arrived stillborn. Jobe was pregnant at the same time. The loss bore all the tragedy of shared dreams shattered and hope falling limp before the Lord.

But God.

In His perfect timing, He brought healing and revived hope for Jobe when months later a garden at her new home began to bloom. It had looked a mess, and she wasn’t sure what it would produce. She discovered, climbing up with fresh life, ivy.

Her reflection resounds in the title track lyrics: “For this moment you planned ahead that I would see your faithfulness…”

for-this-moment-you-planned-ahead-that-i-would-see-your-faithfulness-in-all-of-the-green

My friend Lois recently wrote about her own experience with God planning ahead for her when she received a birthday lost in the mail months late- but God timed it right when she needed it.

Another friend, Christine, wrote of reaching just the right person in customer service. God’s timing of the call resulted in conversation leading to a personal connection through which she can share the reason for her hope.

Still another friend told me how she was frustrated with the difficulty of locating and entering a food pantry to drop off bags of rolls. She arrived just in time to witness a man sadly turned away because the available bread racks were empty. Handing him the bread, she was able to tell him God loved him with the full conviction of knowing God had timed their visits so they would meet.

deut-goes-before

Our Lord goes before us (Deut 31:8.)

Into the garden in the spring. Into the mail system’s mess to delay cards. Into the customer service queue to connect people. Into the food pantry where a man in need of bread and the bread of life could be handed both at once.

The hope and awe bound up in recognizing God’s profound faithfulness are themes throughout Jobe’s CD. Direct praise is cultivated through “I Will Sing.” Stories of His inexplicable faithfulness ring out through “Miracles.” Awe resulting in drawing nearer to the Lord is represented through “Closer to Your Heart.”

Whether we’re waiting for the Lord to reawaken our hearts or reflecting on the majesty of God, we can be certain He is faithful. He who began the good work will complete it. He’s planned ahead. He’s gone before us and made a way.

The narrow road leads us to the abundant expanse of God’s glory. Praise be to our faithful God!


Interested in winning a copy of the CD? Comment on this post before 5pm EST of Friday, Feburary 10th!

You can also purchase a copy by clicking here.

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification. Only residents of continental U.S and Canada

This post may also be shared on: #MomentsofHope, #DreamTogetherLinkup, #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #TellHisStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #Heart Ecnouragement, #LiveFreeThursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup, Faith-Filled Friday, Sitting Among Friends, and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

I’d love for you to guest post on First and Second! Especially for an upcoming series…more here.

 

Blame First, Forgive Next

This post is one piece of a great collaborative effort. Head over to Kelly Balarie's post for encouraging excerpts and links to tons of bloggers' fantastic testimonies on the Lord's work in their lives.

When I tell my husband about an incident and the way it hurt my heart, he listens. Patient as usual. My phrases go something like this: “This happened. Then this happened. It was a mess. I felt____.”

Inevitably, he asks.

“Why did that happen?

I stammer. I don’t get it. I just know I’m hurting. Why do men have to solve everything anyway?

The conversation continues and he gently pushes.

He believes I need to recognize the “why” when something hard or hurtful happens. If a person is behind an issue, I need to assign them blame. Righteous blame…also known as responsibility.

It feels so backwards to me.

Jesus taught us all about forgiveness. I belong to the God of grace. As I live among other people, I tend to see the good in them, and, if there must be bad, only accept that I’m the one at fault.

Isn’t humility accepting blame so others don’t have to?

Scripture doesn’t say so.

Forgive other people when they sin against you,” Matthew 6:14 affirms.

Those personal pronouns get me every time. Other people sin against me. I am to forgive them for it.

forgiven1

When I neglect to see others’ sin for what it is, I miss the opportunity to forgive them.

The reverse is true. If I sin against someone, pretending it never happened or wasn’t my fault keeps forgiveness at bay. Taking the righteous blame for my sin, however, opens the way for forgiveness.

1 John 4:10 sums up the Gospel: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

God didn’t send Jesus for all of us because I’m a sinner and you all are good enough people.

Likewise, Christ didn’t die for our sin without calling it out, leading us to repentance, and then washing it away.

How can we see our sins made white as snow if we don’t first identify them- bright, glaring, and scarlet as they are? Have you ever tried to forgive a sin without acknowledging the sin first?

2 Corinthians 5:10 continues on the topic: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

When I neglect to assign others’ responsibility for their own actions, I falsely hold on to hurt and blame that aren’t mine. I tell Christ that the wrongs are my due and give a false account of what has gone on.

Who does a false account of sin serve?

Certainly not me. Definitely not the God of truth.

Absolutely not the people I divert blame from. Because one day, they will be held accountable.

Probably this serves Satan, though. He’s a fan of lies that keep us from God’s best.

So the question when I am witness to sin is this: will I participate in the opportunity to give or receive forgiveness and grace? Or will I withhold it by refusing responsibility?

forgiven2

This perspective shift has freed me from so much guilt and shame. I’m thankful today for righteous blame. I’m thankful that when I’m hurt by someone, I know that hurt hasn’t just “happened,” but that someone is responsible for it. And that same someone can be forgiven.

Friends, if we’re going to walk in forgiveness like Christ, we need to recognize the sinner and the sin we’re forgiving.

This post may also be shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, #TellHiStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup, Faith-Filled Friday, Sitting Among Friends, and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

 

Do #LivesMatter to God?

Something breaks my heart extra as tragedy after tragedy arises. I wince over the propeller of much of the outrage being some agenda, not compassion.

People are suffering at the hands of others…

Terrorists. Radicals. Criminals. People of all races. Police Officers. Child Predators. Children. Parents. Even Wild Animals.

Killed and killing.

And People are suffering.

Might the answer involve something related to guns?

Might the answer be training cops more effectively?

Might the answer be teaching children about the equality of all people?

Might the answer be spreading the word about injustice?

Might the answer be more social awareness in churches?

Might the answer be a hashtag going viral?

Maybe in part. Maybe a little. Maybe not.

One thing I know: the answer to the loss of a precious human life is not to turn the departed into a tool.

In this, I observe our world overlooking a bigger issue. One we’re not talking about because it’s offensive, it’s personal, and because we can’t solve or cure it ourselves (Jer 17:9.)

Sin.

Sin’s evil pervades the world and each person in it (Eccl 9:3.)

Evil doesn’t discriminate against weapon, race, gender, age, circumstance, or specie.

It will gladly use and abuse them all.

Because evil sees opportunity in the heart of man.

Evil knows what happens when it takes lives. People, scared, hurting people, get desperate. Showing righteous anger at times, but flailing in desperation. Desperation leads to more opportunities for evil.

It seems like evil triumphs these days.

But God. But our Savior lives. He has the ultimate victory. He can take our desperation and turn it into reliance on Him.

The one answer we know to the problem behind all of this, the one answer that we don’t want to talk about, is the love of Jesus Christ.

We know we need change. We know we need more love and respect. We know we need better self-discipline. We know our world is a crazy, unpredictable mess. We know- God, do we know- that we need hope and healing.

All of these are found in Christ.

To be part of the solution: be part of His work. Let Him save you. When He has, be praying. Be loving those around you. Be listening for the Lord’s instruction. Be sharing the only hope we have in this world, the only hope that remains through every opportunity evil takes. Be in Christ to be living in hope.

Praise the Lord that we have a refuge, a rock, and a protector to turn to in every hardship and tragedy. Praise the Lord that sin will not win in the end. Death and evil will not prevail (1 Cor 15:55, Psalm 18:2.)

This is where we need to start. This is what we need to hear. This is what we need to proclaim.

This is the only hope we have, and the only real, lasting, unchanging, unshakable hope we have to offer.

Christ says it straight, so that we can have peace in this crazy world:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world!” –John 16:33

#LivesMatter indeed matters to God. Your life and my life matter so much to God that He gave His only son that whosoever -any life, any person- who believes in Him may be rescued from sin, saved by grace, and have eternal life (John 3:16.)

Offer this hope with comfort. Offer it with respect.

Please, offer it with compassion.

This post will also be shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, #TellHiStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup, Faith-Filled Friday, Sitting Among Friends, and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

In Medicine We Trust

{The third installment in the In ____We Trust Series}

Disclaimer before the outrage: I go to the doctor. I believe the Lord blessed us with brains and am thankful that He has led so many into the medical field and can work so much healing through medical intervention.

I also believe that if the Lord has plans for sickness, death, or healing, He can trump any amount of (or deficit of) medical help.

I believe that coughs, chronic illnesses, and even terminal diseases can remind us of God’s power as He heals, offers comfort, and even takes away. These hardships can bring to our attention the need for the one who is in control.

But often, health issues tempt us to trust in medicine instead of in the great physician.

in Medicine we trust final

It’s hard not to divide our trust between treatments, therapies, medications…and God.

When symptoms are persistent and relief won’t come, we often act like medical help will take care of the stuff that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about. Prescriptions and diagnoses from man trump the prayer He prescribes and the truth He speaks about who we are.

This is where I trip up. Where you might, too. We need to recognize that:

  1. Medicine isn’t as reliable or as capable as our Lord.

No medical intervention can give back time. It can’t beat death. No pharmaceutical whosawhatzit can make any guarantee. The back of every bottle and the fine print on every form make that clear.

Plus, surgeries fail. Medicines don’t do all they are believed to. Unexpected side effects can be worse than the primary issue. Therapies work for a little while. Mistakes are made and treatments carried out to perfection don’t always suffice.

There’s a reason doctors and nurses need prayer. They need someone to trust in too.

Folks, our trust is misplaced when we put it into tools instead of the One using them. I know this because I’ve seen the tools snap. Fail. Break. Twist into lies. Leave no hope.

I love Isaiah’s words:

“Stop trusting in mere humans,

who have but a breath in their nostrils.

Why hold them in esteem?

Isaiah 2:22

What I’ve learned over and over again: stop trusting in mere humans and their created solutions. They are not to be esteemed over the one who created them and continues to create and give life.

Doctors and the help they offer are instruments in the hands of the one who is over all. Wonderful instruments, but merely that.

———

  1. Health can become an idol.

Our bodies are as temporary as money, emotions, stuff, titles, and anything else in this world. Medicine, used to help the body, is as finite as man. Medicine will not be necessary in that long-awaited day when there is no more pain or suffering.

Medicine should not be where our security lies in this life.

Death doesn’t even care if you’re healthy.

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Our bodies will fail us. Death will come no matter what shape we’re in. Though health is a blessing in this lifetime, our health is another means to a very certain end.

Medical help preserves for a time. But it doesn’t not save. Medicine cannot heal souls.

We need God more than we need people in lab coats. We need God more than hospital beds and looming drugstore aisles. We need God more than answers to medical mysteries.

In fact, we need God more than we need strength, well-being, and health at all.

Can I repeat that?

Praise the Lord that He reaches past the tools and farther than man can find to go. He reaches to the very soul. His hands are at work healing what cannot be touched by any scope, scan, or blood test.

He heals us Himself, with or without instruments. He heals what matters most.

The mere word of the Lord can give life where there is none.

We have hope, because of Christ, in the hospital where there is none. Hope in the inexplicable. Security in the ongoing suffering. Unfailing aide in the weakness that He won’t seem to remove from our side.

Let’s not get caught up trusting that if we care enough for our physical persons, we’ll be alright. Let’s not get so engrossed in healing that we fail to see what’s most broken.

But please, yes, let’s praise the maker of medicine for every good gift He gives!

Let’s entrust our mortal selves to the one who heals even the soul eternally.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing each Monday on something (or someone) I tend to trust in besides God. 

What about you? How do you fill in the blank: In ______ I Trust?

Writers and non-writers are welcome to submit guest posts. Contact me hereby June 5th telling me what you trust in besides God and how He helps you trust Him more.

This post will also be shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, #TellHiStory, #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus, #LLMLinkup and #SoulSurvivalLinkup.

The Blessing of Endurance

Photo from: (www.redletterchristians.org)

Isn’t it interesting that we tend to count our blessings most when “bad” things happen?

It is after a major accident that we are glad to be alive, or post loss that we are grateful for those who truly love us. It seems that we need disruptions to remind us that life isn’t actually in our control and that there is something more important “out there”.

Yet the faster we get over things, the sooner we forget these pseudo-lessons. Reminders seem fleeting and unable to impact us in a way that changes something in our hearts.

This, the Bible suggests, is the blessing of endurance. Troubles and suffering that endure teach us, rather than remind us, to rely on our Lord and to look on our lives in light of Him. We are to glory in our sufferings, God says in Romans 5:

” And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”


If God chooses to, He can heal the sick, prevent accidents, and delay the time of death. There are certainly times that He has. We often find that this is what we pray for. Or, if not such extreme miracles, we pray that recovery is speedy or that joy come quickly. Why do we fear suffering, tribulation, and uncomfortable emotions? Surely no one needs to desire or wish for trouble, but when it comes, as it did for Jesus, we are to trust in God’s will. And He produces much in our hearts in our times of need.

Consider what Psalm 105:19 says about God’s work in the suffering of Joseph (who was sold into slavery and thrown into jail for no sin of his own!):

“Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the LORD tested Joseph’s character.”


In Psalm 73, we are given an example of one who begins to slip from righteousness because He focuses on how wicked people seem to have no trouble at all. The writer begins to look around and grow envious of how happy others earthly lives. Meanwhile, his own Godly life is one of affliction. He comes to this conclusion in verses 20-28:

“They are like a dream when one awakes;

when you arise, Lord,

you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved

and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant;

I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;

you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;

you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.

I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.”

Sometimes life is a lot to endure when we look around and see how other’s lives seem to go. Particularly when we suffer. Yet our endurance, when rooted in the Lord, can be a blessing.

The “end goal” of our lives as Christians is that we are near to our God. Joy is not the goal. Prosperity is not the goal. These might be a means to our end goal, but we must realize that suffering can also be a means.

It is good for us to be near our God. He is our desire and our glory. If it is in suffering that we spend our days seeking Him, learning from Him, and relying on Him, than we can count our having to endure as a blessing.

In light of our Savior, our hope is secure. He is faithful. His love is unfailing. Time and time again, He has proved Himself merciful. Our suffering does not change the Lord, but the Lord can certainly draw our hearts, shaping them as His, through our suffering.

Suffering is suffering. Having to persevere is what it is. We don’t have to feign joy and peace, or pronounce platitudes to get by effectively. Our hope is in the Lord. His Spirit is poured into us…isn’t that enough? Isn’t His provision sufficient so that we are not “put to shame,” but are all the more able to glory in Him (Romans 5:5)?