Thursday, August 16, 2018

Seven Lessons for Finding HOPE...With One More Thrown In


As I sat this morning to write this blog, I knew I needed a review of what has been settling in my heart regarding HOPE.

Bay and I just finished a wonderful weekend on retreat with our FOCUS Ministries board of directors.


It was a weekend of spiritual renewal and worship...

...of "Sabbathing" (see last week's blog).


It was a weekend of encouragement, of fellowship, of rest, and much laughter.

AND, it was a weekend of re-fueling HOPE within...along with a prayer of leaving that place to be a more purposeful HOPE dispenser.


HOPE is what I've been studying since January (and, I'm not tired of looking for new insights yet).

What a journey!

The lessons have been many. I've learned to dig deep to mine my HOPE:
1) to run to the anchor of my hope: Jesus, the solid rock on which I stand;

2) to pound on the door blocking my hope with God's amazing promises (I write those promises out and pray them back to the Lord as a reminder to me of His faithfulness at all times);


3) to "make friends" with the struggle (this includes, acceptance and surrender); remember:



4) to pray with fasting; this process is a tremendous source of power, strength, and wisdom in the midst of hardship

5) to lean on the Providence of God; He is always standing in the shadows, even when it seems He is M.I.A., working all things for GOOD (because He is good)


6) to keep my eyes focused on things above; heaven is our ultimate hope...but seeing the then, always keeps the now in perspective.

7) to claim my identity; I am royalty; I have an assignment on earth (sometimes that assignment needs to be realigned with God's purposes); and intimacy with the King of Kings is my ultimate source of comfort.


                                                 
Right there...seven major considerations on finding HOPE when it is waning.

We, frequently, have to work to find the wonder of God's word!


There is one more lesson on HOPE I'm contemplating.

I've always known I'm a word-nerd.

To find good words, I read.

All of us find our words from another source.

I make certain my sources are rich in TRUTH. (Here's a secret: as I grow up I want God to be my ventriloquist, and I, His mouthpiece...I guess that makes me His dummy...hmmmmmm....well, I'm OK with that!)

After studying on my own, I really enjoy reading commentaries (so, yes, I'm more than just a word-nerd). I found a great one on the book of Esther.

Written by a woman, Dr. Jobes, dispenses insights that have kept me convicted, and to be honest, on-my-toes theologically.

The HOPE found in Esther has not been her focus.

The theme she has centered on is what I've found interesting, and worthy of one more consideration for finding more HOPE. It's the idea of:
Reversal of Destiny  
(often referred to as Reversal of Fortune; or Reversal of Expected Outcomes)

I expect one thing to happen....but the tables get turned and just the opposite occurs.

The whole concept is woven beautifully into the structure of the book....

...and, it is built into every fiber of the BEING of the Lord God!

It is a part of His innate character. My God is the Reverser of Destinies.

Jobes' declares this is the lesson the Lord wants me to learn from the book titled Esther:

There is always a surprising "BUT GOD" just around the corner.

My God is a God whose greatest joy is to Reverse Expected Outcomes for my good and His glory.


Just when it seems things can't get worse - YAHWEH SHOWS UP!

(for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His Purposes) 

It may not always be the way I anticipate; but, His ways are higher than my ways (Is 55:8-9)....ALWAYS!


It may not happen in our timing; but, His timing is PERFECT...ALWAYS!


I may not always see it in the now; but, I can be assured to see it in the THEN...and, the THERE.

This aspect of God's character is just one of the BRIGHTEST LIGHTS shining at the end of my dark tunnel.


This aspect of God's character often sits in obscurity, because my enemy would like for me to forget it. So, he subtly blinds my eyes to this important part of God's nature. It sits in an obscure little book, hidden in plain sight, in the midst of our Old Testaments. However, this truth remains:

I may not see Him working through the trial, but He is definitely at work in it! 
Big difference...


Jobes believes that's why Esther is included in our Bibles.

I frequently need this reminder...we all do...when life puts us in a place of stuck.

However, while Esther is filled with examples of God's hand reversing the expected, it is just a microcosm of the whole of Scripture. Esther's redemptive story helps us to remember the greatest personal reversal I will NEVER deserve.


This theme of reversal of destiny is woven throughout the book of Esther. However, the reversal of destiny is a major theme in all of biblical theology, spanning the entire Bible. God’s plan to redeem a people from death is a reversal of expected outcomes for those He saves. Therefore, the cross of Jesus Christ is the pivot-point of the greatest reversal of destiny that spans all of history.
-Karen Jobes-

The God who loved us that much will surely continue our story of redemption, of His reversal of our destiny, until "that day..."  It is FACT!

Let it fill you with HOPE!

The Lord is in charge of your story...and, it matters to Him how it turns out.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

To Kill the Heart...


I made a promise last week to share one more lesson on HOPE that I learned as I've studied through the book of Esther.

I even wrote the blog.

I spent a considerable amount of time on it.

However, it will sit unpublished for now.

Something else is on my heart...and, the prerogative of a blog-writer is to make last minute decisions, especially if one uses the writing as a processing tool.


Smile.

That means this jumbled mess of words is being written for me...

I've been reminded that my life is regularly driven by that task-master, THE TO-DO LIST.

Sadly, even the things I do for enjoyment end up on that list to be checked off at the end of a day.
  • My early morning quiet time with Jesus...(oh, ouch!)
  • Horseback riding with my husband.
  • Lunch, or coffee, with a friend.
  • Gestures of service.
  • Long walks up the forest-service road.
  • More recently, early-morning paddle boarding on our little nearby peaceful, calm lake.
  • Entertaining guests in our home.
When THE TO-DO LIST takes over, everything about my life is seen through its lens.

My brain silently cheers me on:  "Get 'er done! Get 'er done!"

But, that's OK, right?

After all, Scriptures say, those who don't work, shouldn't eat...

There's value in being busy, especially for the Kingdom's sake...

In general, I've managed busy well.

I'm notorious for spouting off my TO-DO LIST.

More than once, I've had a loved one say to me, "I just asked a simple question; I didn't need your TO-DO LIST."


That's indicative, though.

In that moment, I am THE LIST.

When asked  how I am, I simply say, "Busy!"

It's an acceptable answer.

Most of us wear "busy" like a badge of honor, according to author, Brene Brown.

Yet, it's a wrong answer.


That's not what's being asked. "How" is about what's going on inside me. "Busy" is what's going on outside me.

Yet, what's going on outside me, affects me to a great degree what is on the inside.

Too much busy-without-balance creates anxiety.

Too much busy-without-balance robs me of my joy; and, it causes me to lose perspective.

Too much busy-without-balance can put me on the couch for a couple of days.

 It did last weekend. I can't swear to that being the problem, but there was fairly good indication of it.


I needed to slow down; and, the Lord helped me do so, with some strange outward physical symptoms.

Not long ago, I read a book, that had a little aside note on busyness. I jotted that note down and went back to re-read it last night.

Apparently, in Mandarin, the word for busyness is comprised of two pictographs.

The first is a picture that represents the word for "heart."

The second phonetic element represents a word that can mean: to lose, disappear, perish, flee, kill, and, by extension, can also mean "to have none, or, there is not..."



By virtue of this fact, when I say I am busy, this is my literal answer:

"Oh, I'm just killing my heart... You?"

Or, "I'm losing heart this week..."

Could be I'm saying, "I have no heart today..."

Now, I'm sure when the Chinese write the word, or speak it, they don't think in those literal terms, just as we don't when we say, "I've been incredibly busy lately." However, it's pretty symbolic don't you think????????

And...not just symbolic. It has the potential to be prophetic.

What's the answer?

Sabbath.


Sabbath removes our addiction to busyness.

Sabbath creates an inner calm that restores the heart.

Sabbath puts God back on the throne and in charge, because our busyness is simply a way for us to "stay in control."


My busyness is my way of feeding the idol-of-self within me...that need to manage my life, my way...


I needed the time on the couch this past weekend to remind me I've moved away from "Sabbathing" well.

What is Sabbath?

Nothing more than an inner attitude of the heart that surrenders TIME (which I tend to think I own) to the Lord.

Sabbath is nothing more than an "invitation to intermission."

It is time to stop doing...

...to cease striving...

...to rest, remember, and create space for the Spirit of the Lord to restore my soul...

And, you know what?  I might even refuel myself with more HOPE to dispense to others.

There! This blog really was about HOPE in the end...




Thursday, August 2, 2018

Need Hope? Maybe You Need an Alignment Assignment!



Review: Since January, I've been studying HOPE, which has had me traveling several winding roads. At this juncture, the book of Esther is my focus for unearthing hope when God seems most distant.

I ended last week with this thought:

Truth is that the bigger the difficulty in my life, the more I need God's direction; the harder my situation, the more I need to meet it head on with hard-sacrifice. 



This was Esther's story. She NEEDED a plan...a way forward... She NEEDED grace (in a HUGE way). Yet, for the life of her, the Lord seemed significantly SILENT.

He always does when we are in pain.

So, we need our heart to align with what our head should know is TRUTH:


We also need to pivot from one way of thinking to another...from whine to solid assurance.


When we start to make this mental shift, the following happens:

1. We discover an ability to reconcile ourselves with our problems...


2. Reconciliation allows us to see the light at the end of the tunnel...a light we call HOPE!


The answer, as we learn from Esther's story, is prayer and fasting.

Fasting was pivotal for Esther. With a three day fast, Esther found deep inside, three things she probably didn't know she possessed:

Courage

Conviction (laced with wisdom from above)

Calm


Yes, these are three character traits we all need when life is out of control, and there seem to be no answers on hand.

Esther discovered they were untapped resources until she fasted...


Like Esther, I've been there.

I've needed the critical-three (and, it's been more than once in my life).

Like Esther, I've engaged in seasons of prayer and fasting (hence referred to as P & F).

Granted, it hasn't been easy, but in light of the problems that loomed, it wasn't difficult.

What I NEEDED was greater than what I LACKED.

The sacrifice was worth it...for the result.

Sacrifice in the now is always worth what is gained in the then.


Granted, it doesn't change the trial.

At the end of my fast, the problem was still ever-present and looming large.

What had changed was what was in me.

As I went back and reflected (journals really are wonderful tools), these were the practical benefits I had taken note of:

P & F created space for God to move in my heart. Someone had told me "God is a filler, not a forcer." He will not ever force Himself on us, but He does long to fill us when we seek Him.

P & F reminded me of how big my God IS (present tense)... Sometimes we just simply forget that God isn't who we think He is; He is so much bigger! As a result, P & F eliminates my Spiritual Amnesia. The size of my suffering reduces significantly in His Presence. The ability of His POWER is revitalized.


P & F revealed just how many idols warred for the throne of my heart... All kinds of impurities rise like dross to the surface of my heart. Fasting has a way of revealing all the junk I've shoved into the back of the closet of my soul. As it resurfaces, I get an opportunity to deal with it...confess it...make it right before the Lord.

P & F put me on the same page as the Lord. I found this quote written in my journal, though I didn't write down who said it (so, if it's someone who reads this, please claim it):

One reason... it (P & F) is so powerful..is that it activates a chain reaction where we see God's kingdom manifest on earth. This sequence is what I call agreement, or 'alignment assignment.'

This is HUGE... Do you see what is being said here? When we come into agreement with God, we are aligned with His perfect will on earth, just as it already is in heaven. In Esther's case, God was able to use a common Jewish girl (who had been stripped away from her homeland into captivity: seemingly unqualified, fearful, doubtful, questioning) in ways she never thought possible.

When we find our assignment, as we align with God's will for us on earth, we find the purpose God created us to fulfill...AND, in that He is most glorified!

Alignment assignment - I LOVE THAT PHRASE!

P & F moves me, then, into the place of Romans 12:1-2.  In this place, I faced a solemn moment of intentionality, placing myself whole-heartedly under the mighty hand of God.

Here, our lives become all about Jesus; less about us. Just the way it is intended to be.


Each of those highlighted points dispense a GREATER, DEEPER HOPE for the heart. However, when I find my "alignment assignment," it SOARS!

Nothing dispenses more hope than ascertaining a purpose in the midst of difficulty.

Finding a possible reason for the "stuff" we are going through often produces more STEADFASTNESS in hope.

 BUT THERE'S STILL SOMETHING BIGGER & MORE WONDERFUL (at least I think so)...and, oh, my...if we learn to leverage it as we pray and fast, well....That's for next week... (smile)






Thursday, July 26, 2018

Becoming Friends With Difficulty & Finding Hope; or, When We Are Esther...


I'm glad I sit on this side of Queen Esther's story.

As I've read through the book multiple times now, and digested a couple of commentaries, I can't tell you how thankful I am to not be Queen Esther.

I can hardly wrap my mind around the position in which she was placed; the decisions she had to make; the courage with which it took to step-up and be a voice; or, the wisdom she needed to cautiously take each and every step!

Example: when the King extended his scepter to her, and asked her what she wanted, then told her he'd offer her up to half the Kingdom --- what made her hold her tongue and only invite the King and Haman to a meal? At dinner, what drove her decisive response to invite them a second time and not speak up immediately?

I'd have been a blithering mess at the moment I touched the end of the scepter...spilling my guts immediately.

Not this woman.

Esther calmly, with her royal head held high, approached the King.

She came with a plan...or, rather, she came with the Spirit of the Lord whispering His plan in her ear, and enough assurance in her soul to hear those whispers in spite of the magnification of her heart-beat pounding in her ears.

On this side of Esther's story, we relish in seeing God's victorious Providence work itself out.


Knowing what we know, we rest peacefully as we read the words of this small book, knowing the outcome; and knowing God, in spite of the lack of evidence, drove the sequence of events.

Yes, we are fully aware, God's hand was in the glove of every unfolding scene.


Esther, on the other hand, didn't have a crystal ball to see how Providence would play itself out.

It's evident to me, as I read (and, in spite of what one author has written) that Esther had faith. She knew God. She knew His promises. I believe she petitioned Him on behalf of the promise that He had covenanted to His people, through Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3


Or, maybe this one from Isaiah (54:17)

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.


We are not unlike Esther, you and I.

When in the middle of HARD, we do not know how Providence will play itself out...

There is no crystal ball for us, either, to look ahead and see what God might do...

When we have to step into the hallway and present ourselves to the King, we don't have a clue whether or not the scepter of grace will be extended to us in the manner we hope...

When consumed with the need to make a decision, our elevated heart beat drowns out that still small voice of the Spirit...

When we are "Esther," what steps do we take until God brings His Story in us to a conclusion?

Esther shows us how to be "Esther," when life is out of control.

She fasts.


Of course, implied in fasting is praying.

The most important thing we can do when hope is waning, God seems silently missing, and, life just heaps one stone of disaster upon another is to seek the Lord's direction through prayer and fasting. 

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Esther 4:15-17

Big issues.
Great difficulty.
Immense trials.
Stubborn HARD.
I-don't-know-what-to-do-next-problems.
Where-is-God-in-my-life questions.
No-light-at-the-end-of-the-dark-tunnel times.

All of these go better with a fast. 

But, but, but.... 

I can think of a million reasons why I can excuse away fasting, because it is so HARD.

Truth is that the bigger the difficulty, the more I need God's direction; the harder my situation, the more I need to meet it head on with hard-sacrifice. 


It's not easy.

Yet, look at the outcome for Esther:

* She came prepared...

* She entered with her head high, dressed as the Royal Queen she was, not a poverty-stricken, condemned Jewish girl...

* She came hearing the whispers of the Spirit...

* She came in tune with God's heart...

* She entered into the presence of her husband with calm assurance...

* She met trouble head on...

* Most of all, when Esther first responded to Mordecai with these words, "And if I perish, I perish..." they were spoken with an air of resignation; but, by the time she stood before King Xerxes, those words weren't spoken in resignation, but with firm reconciliation.


There is a huge difference between the two (ponder that this week).

I never want to play the martyr.

I want to become friends with every hard challenge I face.

When I do; IF I DO...I also begin to see that light at the end of the tunnel I'm seeking...

...I find HOPE!


Think on it...

Next week, we'll explore this idea a little more....