Thursday, January 25, 2018

Call Me "Mara"...the Beginning Step into Losing Hope

Last week, a reference was made to the above passage from Proverbs.

All of us understand what it looks like to hope for something, to wait, and wait, and wait, and to be consistently disappointed. We can probably can give clear voice to what it means to have a "sick heart." Were we to explain, we might wrap the following words around the two by saying:

"I am deeply grieved, dispirited in soul, and uneasy of mind."

Over a lengthy period as Dean of Women at Arizona Christian University, I met with a young woman in her late twenties, who desperately wanted to be married. She felt as if she had prayed and prayed, asking the Lord for water to quench her thirst, and, He, instead, had handed her a candy bar, or a bag of potato chips, but not the very thing for which she longed. Consequently, her hope was waning. Her heart was ill with wanting...and, she had entered the dark woods of disappointment. 

My young friend began to journey down a very dangerous path.

It was a most difficult task to help her find her way out of the darkness when she was so myopic in her sights.

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that the first mention of hope in my Bible concordance is found in the book of Ruth with a negative slant to its etymology.  Here is the back story:

Because of a famine in the land of Israel, Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, to the nearby country of Moab (this action was, in itself, questionable, as it would appear he was not trusting the Lord to provide). 
Soon after the move, Elimelech died.

Naomi's two boys both married Moabite women (which was in disobedience to the Lord's principles; good Israelite men should not take foreign women as wives).

Even though things were not easy and there was no longer a famine back home, the boys stayed, and "settled" another ten years in Moab... 

Before they had any children, both sons died.

Naomi is now without a provider, in a foreign land, and is stripped of everything.

She determines all she can do is to return to Israel, and her one last hope is that she will be remembered by her family and friends, and, thus, cared for...

Naomi gives her daughters-in-law an option, but encourages them to both go home to their people, and remarry.  These are her words to them:

"Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 
(Ruth 1:12-13)

Only, daughter-in-love, Ruth (a gift of God's grace that redeems this whole story), makes the selfless sacrifice to leave her family, her home, her people, and her culture to stay with Naomi and care for her. She gives a beautiful and compelling speech. 

When Naomi returns to Israel, there is no small amount of excitement in the village, where she is greeted by name.

Yet, Naomi, now opines, declaring:

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 
(Ruth 1:20-21)

Naomi's words are filled with hopelessness.

1.  She blames God. She ignores any ownership to her problems.

2.  She sees no light at the end of the tunnel. 

3.  She speaks out against the Lord who has "brought her calamity." God is no longer good, or loving, or kind...the hand of God has emptied her cup. He is no longer Sovereign, and certainly not faithful.

4.  She finds nothing (even though I see quite a list) for which to give thanks.

What Naomi says is NOT TRUE, except for one thing, she has, indeed, become bitter (Mara). Color her yellowish-brown ("the gall of bitterness is yellow"); and, discover her picture that graces the dictionary as the definition of a sick heart. 

Naomi is not at all unlike the young woman I met with at ACU. Her story presents several lessons that we can take to our own hearts, and apply:

Bad things happen. Life does not always go according to our plans; and, I have to wonder if this little family had truly sought the Lord on their every day life decisions? It's easier to cling to hope when we know that we know that we have heard our God clearly when life is thrown a curve ball.

Bad experiences don't discredit, or dampen, the impeccable character of our God. His ways, His plans, are definitely higher than ours...and regardless, out of His great love, those plans are for our benefit (even when we can't see it).

We may, or may not, have to examine our path of action.......because we may have to take some ownership for the spot where we find ourselves.  Look closely at the one who stands behind the finger  of blame. 

What about our expectations? What about our dreams? Have we put our hope in those things, instead of the Lord God? Where do we place our trust? Both the Psalmist, and the writer of Proverbs, warn us that there are wrong places to put our hope...

When we place our trust in a "vain hope," we may have, without even realizing it, turned our eyes to idolatry. OUCH! I've been convicted all week as I've mulled through these passages.

Can we see God's hand around us, guiding, providing, caring, even in spite of the hard-stuff? He's there...keeping a gratitude list has been HUGE in helping me see Him, when sometimes the difficulties obscure and darken the LIGHT of the SON.

A word of warning. 

The first step into the dark woods, or down the dark road of disappointment, often starts with bitterness.

The first step away, and down a different, brighter path, often begins with gratitude.

This is an encouragement, for me and for you, to take corrective measures before we move forward down the wrong road...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Hope Isn't. What Hope Is.

After an introduction last week on hope, and why I'm taking a deeper look at the biblical perspective for enlarging my understanding, it's apparent that a glance at hope's definition is an essential starting point. If I'm going to be a hope-restorer, then I best lay a foundation, and know how to build hope-in-me (because God wants to fill us up with overflowing joy, peace, and HOPE)!!!


What it isn't:

...Wishful thinking.
...A strategy.
...A positive notion.
...Empty tunnel-visioned enthusiasm.
...A utopian desire.
(...I would add the word "just" in here...Hope is not just a good plan...)

Does any of this surprise you?

Hope is a whole lot more.
Hope is essential in the darkest of days.
Hope is the thread we cling to when everything else is stripped away.
Hope is active, living, and NECESSARY to our Christian life.
Hope isn't just a noun, it has all the ingredients of a verb.
Hope is oxygen we cannot live without.


Someone (I wish I could give credit, but I failed to write the name down, if I even knew it at all) defined hope this way, "Hope is the place where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion." That's OK, but it's not workable or practical.

There are many Hebrew and Greek words all translated "hope."
In each one, I discovered two common elements:


Of course, hope would involve waiting. Hope is the ability to wait for an outcome that is different than what is being experienced in the now. If there's one thing that I struggle with in my fast-food-immediately-gratifying-world, it is this word: wait. I doubt I'm alone. I despise waiting rooms. I hate being put off. Yet, hope almost always means that the thing for which we hope is a "not yet." As a result, hope has to include patience.


If there is one characteristic upon which hope hangs its hat, it is a deep-seated-conviction, or belief.
There can not be hope without faith. 
There can not be faith without hope.
The two are conjoined twins.
Hope recognizes that all my skill, talent, abilities will not get me where I want to be...
...Hope reminds me that there is a SOMEONE who is bigger, who is ultimately in charge, and all my eggs are in that one FAITHFUL BASKET. That SOMEONE is the Lord; and, His plans for me will not be thwarted.
As a result, truly hopeful people are faith-filled people. 
As a result, faith-filled people are people of the WORD (Romans 10:17).

Need hope?
Fall in love with the God of the Word and place your trust in Him.

Then, when hope is deferred, it will not make one's heart sick, but, instead, shore up an expected outcome that will not lead to that dark, depressing journey, that begins with discouragement.

Waiting on the Lord will never disappoint.

 Hope is waiting with confident  expectation. 
Now, this is a useful definition! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Real Answer to A Real Problem: HOPE

Here are some cold, hard facts to ruin your day (nice way to start a blog, eh?):

Did you know that every 11.7 minutes someone in America dies by suicide?

Did you know that 123 Americans take their own life each day?

Another fact - more than 494,169 people were admitted to hospitals last year with self-harm injuries, suggesting that for every suicidal death, there are almost 12 more people who may have considered it, yet were unsuccessful.

Still, suicide was the second leading cause of death in Americans who are between the ages of 10 (did that register? That's 10 YEARS OLD!!!!) and 34.

It claims more lives than war, murders, and natural disasters COMBINED!

Up to 75% of those who died had, at one time, been diagnosed with depression...and, depression is, for the most part, treatable.

Why start a New Year with these discouraging statistics? Because...

...This whole notion breaks my heart!

Over the course of last year, some of the statistics were reality-played-out in young lives with whom I have rubbed shoulders. It's beginning to touch us all - another cancer that threatens to consume......and it's VERY PRESENT in Christian circles.

It's an unspoken, messy truth, that we need to bring into the light.

There's a journey one takes to get to this kind of despair.

It's a journey quite frequently travelled by some more than by others.

I remember reading about this dark-road-oft-traveled in a seminary class I took on anxiety and depression.

If all of this is true, we need a compass to stay off that dangerous path (and, QUITE OFTEN, MEDICATION!!). With information and a few tools, we can proactively fight this cycle and be warriors against this very real struggle.

Despair begins with disappointment. Simple disappointment.

When one is heaped with disappointment upon disappointment, the pain and hurt turns to discouragement.

Discouragement upon discouragement turns into a trauma that leads to doubt.

Doubt leads to distrust.

Distrust to disillusionment...

...then depression, then despair...then, more often than we care to admit, death...

It doesn't take a mastermind, or a thesaurus, to know that a common antonym to all of these is found in ONE WORD:

It's one of the "BIG 3" essentials of Christianity:

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love." 
(1 Cor 13:13)

Hope, like her siblings, faith and love should NEVER be an absent figure from our lives, but continue to be present day, by day, by day. While the greatest of the three is love (that's obvious, after all, GOD IS LOVE, and He's the source of faith and hope), hope is a central figure in maintaining a peaceful condition in our hearts - especially in times of trial, hardship, pain, and suffering.

Without even looking into Scriptures, researchers who've studied the psychology of hope tell us this:
"Hope is empowering. Hope is what brings us through the toughest of times, allowing us to emerge as survivors, not victims. In fact, hope is the one ingredient found between a victim and a survivor..." 

I don't want to just take psychology's words on this answer to such a severe issue present in our, I've started following a THREAD OF HOPE throughout the WORD-OF-LIFE THAT BRINGS LIFE to our disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, doubting, despairing hearts.

I'm a wee-bit suspicious that believers are, perhaps, falling down in the hope-giving-department. We aren't dispensing this crucial spiritual-vitamin, as we should. I don't want to be a hoarder, not when so many lives are at stake. May we all be hope-restorers in 2018. Join me, if you'd like, on a fresh look into hope. My prayer is to forget what I know, and for the Lord to show me things yet unseen...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail, and How to Course Correct

I  received a New Year's revelation on New Year's morning. (Note: that was revelation, not resolution.)

As mentioned, I don't do resolutions, but I do vision-casting (see last week's blog if you're curious).

However, once the vision has been cast, the direction determined, and the starting steps logged-in-for-the-go, an excitement starts to build inside of me.

I'm ready to get after be "all-in" with Jesus on this pursuit of what will be written down in the next chapter of my story titled 2018.

My revelation hit me on my morning walk, January 1.

It's been simply lovely in Colorado, so far this winter. I'm sure the ski area isn't happy, but this Phoenix-weather-loving-girl is quite happy. We're unseasonably mild for January.

I found myself walking at a more-than-normal rapid pace...a definite indication of my "let's-get-this-new-year-show-on-the-road" attitude.

That's when it dawned on me.

I always do this.

I always start the year with a gung-ho spirit, filled with enthusiasm and eager to get going.

I attack my new goals a bit like a race horse, pawing at the ground, antsy for the starting gun to go off, ready for the gate to rise.

However, what I tend to forget, and why my gusto seems to get up and go away (sometimes within weeks, if not months), is that  I am NOT a race horse.

I am a plow horse. 

That's the very thought that popped into my head.

I can have a tendency to falter, get off track, take a side road and move away from the direction I've tracked on the map, and have to re-group to get to my destination by the next December 31, when I re-cast my vision for yet another season of life.

That's exactly why resolutions, and, even, vision-casting can diminish or be thrown aside, forgotten, in the garbage heap of past resolutions and next-steps.

I'm a plow horse, not a race horse.

I want to be a race horse. They are much prettier, sleeker, graceful...

It's not who the Lord made me to be, however.

The Lord God created me with a different purpose in mind.

(Oh, I know, we're to run the race that the Lord has set before us with perseverance...those were Paul's words to Timothy. Yet, even this race we run is a marathon, better endured with a steadiness to the pace, and not an all out gallup.)

Plowing. That is my purpose.

Most of us are in this same category.
You are probably not a race horse, either (I hate to be the one to break the news to you); and, because you forget you're not a race horse, you may experience a less-than-stellar-end to your resolutions, or new year's goals, as well.

One plows to level the ground for seed-planting.

We plant seeds to grow new crops for Heaven's sake.

So, I wondered...what does Scripture instruct us about plowing? To, probably, your dismay, I looked.
There are some good lessons as we set our pace for this new year.

First, some Scripture, then the lessons.

In Isaiah 28, the prophet says, "Listen closely. Listen carefully. A farmer doesn't plow his field continually...He does the work, and plants the seed. His God teaches Him and shows Him the right way (23-26)."

Hosea 10:11-13. "Sow righteousness and reap steadfast love. Break up fallow ground; it is time to seek the Lord and He will come to rain righteousness... but, you have plowed iniquity, have reaped injustice and eaten lies, because you trusted your own way."

Luke 9:62. "No one who puts his hand to the plow, looks back. If you look back, you are not useful for God's Kingdom."

1 Cor 9:10. "The plowman plows in hope..."

Plowing lessons for all plow horses, in this new year:

1) At all times, listen carefully for the Lord's voice. He will teach us when to plow, where to plow, what seed (Word) to plant.

2) It's not the horse's job to harvest - that job belongs to the farmer. We just do the work. To repeat a former blog: we just do the next right thing...

3) First, break up the hard ground. This is generally an allegory for repentance. Our hearts can become hard without even realizing it. Keep seeking the Lord to shine a spotlight of his loving-conviction deep into the soul, in order for the hard ground to become broken. Once broken, the Lord rains down on us, softening the soil for future use.

4) Don't look back...but remember. The Scriptures are filled with the admonition to recall what the Lord has done, His great works, His life lessons, His grace and love, His hand of provision, His constant care... But as we are remembering, we keep our eyes ahead, focused on the end-goal. If we don't the furrows will be crooked. Don't know about you, but I want an orderly garden.

5) Always plow with hope: a confident expectation in what is to come at the end of this next chapter...even at the end of the story of life (this, by the way, is my new year's word:, you'll be seeing some blogs in upcoming weeks on that topic).

 So, plow like you were meant in 2018!
As my kids might have said at one time, "Plow like the wind!"