What are You Hoping for?

Blessing BouquetsThis photo makes me smile…  They’re called “Blessing Bouquets” and were designed by my talented friend Rachel at balloonsplendor.com.  My friend Lesley would have loved them!!  Last week we celebrated Lesley’s joyful, colorful, TOO BRIEF life at her memorial service, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of HOPE ever since.

See, Lesley had a huge heart for people and I don’t think she ever met a stranger that didn’t become an instant friend.  She was one of those people who simply radiated God’s love through her actions–giving, helping, caring for (and yes– in her alter ego as a clown, Lady Jellybean–bringing joy to children).  We remembered Lesley by wearing cheerful colored clothing and filling the church with balloons.  While there were certainly tears shed for the loss of this beautiful wife/mother/sister/friend/co-worker at her service, there was also much laughter, comfort in community, and the life-affirming certainty that Lesley is joyfully celebrating at her Savior’s side in heaven.

Have YOU been to the funeral of a faithful follower of Jesus?  It’s a completely different experience than when you attend the final services for someone without faith. Mourning– without the assurance of heaven– is incredibly hard on the human spirit. We weren’t created to die, but to live eternally.  Whether a memorial is characterized by mourning or celebration has everything to do with our understanding of HOPE.

Our culture tends to interchange the word HOPE with words like “want” or “wish”– and that can get pretty confusing when we’re talking about the reality of an afterlife.  Think about it: Are you “hoping” for a tasty meal, a better body, a new job, and a good marriage?  Do you “hope” for an end to world hunger?  Does your idea of Hope extend beyond our earthly existence?  Do you believe that this positive desire WILL actually happen or come true?

God’s Word tells us that Hope is about things unseen, but that we can expect with assurance.  So when a Christian says, they have a Hope in heaven, this isn’t wishful thinking– it’s the eternal perspective that helps them persevere through life even in the midst of suffering and tragedy.  Significantly, Hope doesn’t grow like faith– it simply is or isn’t present.  This is why depression (hopelessness) can be so devastating and dangerous.

If your hope is rooted in a person,or in possessions, or in your position/power, what are you left with, if and when things don’t turn out the way you expect?  What if by the world’s standards you don’t finish whatever it is you think you were put here for? What if the unthinkable happens and your life is cut short?  It’s not just a question of what you leave behind, but of where you are heading!

Another memory came to mind this week as I was thinking about all of this:  When I was in kindergarten I won 5th place in a community-wide art contest.  Because of the prize, it’s the only painting I remember.  It’s subject?  A girl holding bunches of helium balloons in each hand. (Once again I am blown away by the way God weaves the smallest things into the bigger story!) For I know the plans I have for you– the plans to give you Hope and a future…


New Year – New Word – New Surprises

PerseveranceI Love my Abba!  I love that He stands by– even when I’m disconnected (see last post)– ready to jump in with new teaching and direction!  I love that He has plans for me for the New Year and beyond! (Jer 29:11)

In the last few years, instead of making New Year’s resolutions based on my own agenda, I’ve asked for God’s overall theme or Word for me to help focus my year.  Those of you who have been reading awhile will know that much of my learning/sharing in 2013 circled around the idea of “Abundance”.   A couple of weeks ago I had a very strong impression that my new Word would be “Perseverance”.  UGGHH. To be honest, this was not something I wanted to hear; wouldn’t that mean I would be in for a year of struggles and trials? Maybe, this was just my own thinking– influenced by my lingering cough and fatigue, right?  Nope.  Several confirmations later showed me this was indeed God’s design for the next stage of my spiritual growth.  But here’s the thing: with Abba at the center, there was no need for me to be concerned… (funny how our imaginations can run wild 🙂 )

On Dec. 30th, as I began an early exploration of scripture that related to “Perseverance”,  God gave me a second Word for the year– “Hope”.  Of course!  In the same way I came to understand the unmistakable link between “Freedom” and “Peace” a few years back, this next year will provide a much deeper understanding of the intermarriage of “Perseverance” and “Hope”.  In fact, it may sound silly, but my hopes  have been raised already.  I learned so many unexpected spiritual and practical lessons having to do with “Abundance”, and I can already see the same will be no less true for this new focus.

On the first day of 2014, I turned to God in my quiet time, expecting to dig in to scripture and begin a Word study, but He had a different lesson.  While I visualized the three persons of the trinity, the Holy Spirit showed me a picture of the true state of my heart, and a couple of areas in which I had hidden and harbored old unhealthy feelings, even from myself.  With time in prayer and repentance I was reminded of a very important element of all of the training to come:  We can’t truly persevere, or move forward in our development, until we deal with old hurts.  Wow…

I started working on these areas and then two nights ago, I was given an elaborate dream that the Lord knew I would instantly recognize.  In it, I was blessed beyond measure with not only a huge, estate home, but the previous owner left us expensive art work, a pantry full of food, and the latest high-end appliances!  I was teary-eyed with gratitude and then almost as suddenly, anxious about how much there was to manage.  Here was a new realization I didn’t see coming: Perseverance, for me, could be linked to trials of abundance, of being overwhelmed by too much– not just by the more anticipated negative circumstances.  It was like when I learned I could limit God’s abundance by my own predisposition towards lack!!  If I could be overwhelmed by God’s blessing, then I’m not trusting Him enough!  Double wow…

This is going to be quite a year! One thing I know for sure, after a time of exploring the deeper things of God’s “Perseverance” and “Hope”, I’ll never be the same. 🙂 Do you have a Word for 2014?

Holy Week: Part 3 (Resurrection)

crossDuring my childhood Easter was about an egg hunt for candy, a traditional family dinner, and a new outfit.  Without Jesus at the center however, there was no meaning, and the holiday always felt empty.

When I started to write about Holy Week this past Monday, I had no idea I’d be writing a mini series of three posts.  Deep in preparations for adding drama to our church’s Good Friday Service, I simply couldn’t shake the feeling I needed to take what we’ve been working on  and put it “out there”.

Out of the cruelty and the suffering that we’re reminded of during Holy Week, out of the recognition of our own destructive ways (and how we all in effect had a part in Jesus’ death), out of our realization that we are lost without a savior, the Resurrection brings Hope in its ultimate form!  God’s promises are true!  When we submit to the Creator of the universe and we accept that Jesus gave His life to bring us back into relationship with our Heavenly Father, we are assured of a new life too!

Understanding Jesus’ Resurrection and all of its implications is that simple, and that difficult.  Understanding the things of God only comes with submission and a heart that genuinely wants to know Him.  But IF we ask, He delights to shower us with all the wisdom that we need; we are His dearly loved children, and He rejoices each time one of us makes the choice to trust Him.

The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a taste of a heavenly reality; we too will have resurrected bodies some day.  Bodies that have form and substance– Jesus was touched, He could eat, He was recognizable and still bore scars.  But our new bodies will also be immortal, and somehow be able to appear, disappear, and enter through walls at will :-).  We won’t ever again experience illness or pain. Being one who struggles some days with aches and stiffness, I look forward to the freedom of such an existence!

In the meantime, eternity starts from the moment we say “Yes”, to Jesus and admit we need a Rescuer.  This is what His Resurrection is all about– New Life.  Our transformation as Christ followers is a process, but true progress can be seen and experienced all along the way!!  The more we dedicate ourselves to knowing the Lord, the more our lives will demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us– qualities such as love, joy and peace,  also patience and kindness, greater faith, and even an increased measure of self-control.

On this side of heaven we can expect challenges, but we have authentic HOPE– promises that we can count on for the future.  Whether you’ve been a Christian for many years, you’re just starting your journey, or you suspect the Easter Bunny isn’t what the holiday celebrates, and you want to check it out for yourself, I would encourage you to find and attend a Good Friday Service this year!  Free from the crowds of Easter services, it might give you what you need to really reflect on what the Holy Day is all about.

While a new outfit and a family dinner can be wonderful, don’t let another year go by accepting an egg hunt as a substitution for the real celebration.

Expecting Light: Hope

candlelightWhen I was a child I loved Christmas… visiting Santa for photos… nighttime rides through neighborhoods with light displays.  I loved combing through the Sears catalogue to see the latest toys, and singing along with the holiday music on the radio. We also had a wonderful annual tradition of hosting the extended family breakfast early Christmas morning, and I still fondly remember those gatherings as aunts, uncles, and cousins took turns opening gifts, before stuffing ourselves with pancakes.  After breakfast came time to play with all the new toys–although now looking back, I suspect my dad’s Tom & Jerry’s helped the sleep-deprived grown-ups feel more  “festive”. 😉

Now Santa is awesome, and though there is nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of traditions,  when we didn’t stop to consider the true meaning of Christmas, I’m sure you can guess the shallow substance of what should have been a Holy-Day celebration.

There was a man in our city who put on an elaborate nativity display on a hillside adjacent to his home.  Every year hundreds of locals would visit, driving by each night in December to witness the beauty of the lights and carved figurines– the camels and the kings, Bethlehem and the angels.  My parents would take us there on our annual pilgrimage too; we would park the car and walk by with the crowds to see the baby in the manger and read a bit of scripture mounted on a lovely “Bible” plaque.  (So although I would have told you growing up, that, ‘yes I know about Jesus’ birth’, I never understood the deeper implications of this story.)

Over the years, things began to change.  My cousins were all much older and began going their separate ways. Then, after one particularly rocky Christmas, my father abandoned our family on New Year’s Eve ( you can imagine what Christmases were like from this point on). While I still looked forward to the decorations and the parties, it seemed as though, in my life at least, the holidays also became a magnet for pain.  I started to agree with many friends and family members, that Christmas must just be for kids. While Santa may be jolly, he doesn’t offer us hope.

When I became a Christ follower and understood about a love so great that God would set aside His rights and His power to come to earth in the humblest of circumstances– God with us– Christmas became an event worth celebrating again!  Still, I have to admit it has sometimes been hard.  People are broken and our expectations often get way off track.  The enemy likes to keep us distracted with the to-do lists and the shopping, and did you ever notice how many people are grieving at this time of year?  11 years ago my mother passed away on December 25th, and it took me a few years to figure out how I could reclaim the Christmas spirit from the emptiness I felt overshadowing each December.  Frankly it came down to the practical– creating some new traditions (looking forward to the new vs. missing the old), and the spiritual– truly taking the time to reflect on the hope we have in Christ.  Hope isn’t a wish, but a certainty.  It is believing to the core of my being that one day there will be peace on earth, that there will be no more sorrows, or disease, or pain, or tears.  One day we will see our loved ones again.  And that my friends, is the light that is coming 🙂