How to Have Hope

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Like a dense fog, sometimes the clouds of discouragement can descend on us blocking out any glimmer of hope. Perhaps there have been times in your own life where you felt a sense of despair. How do you have hope when everything seems to be going wrong? Let’s look at a few ways to part the dark clouds.

Look Up instead of At. When we are going through a challenging time, circumstances loom large and are sometimes the only thing we can see. Certainly we must recognize our grief or pain, but one of the first steps toward seeing glimmers of hope is to change the direction of our focus. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Set your minds on things above.” When we look only at our circumstances, it is easy to become overwhelmed, but when we look above our circumstances, we remind ourselves that there is a God who loves us. He is bigger than our challenges. He is the God who sees, and He is not surprised by this situation. When we turn our eyes upward, it helps us gain a broader perspective.

Praise. While we are looking up, let’s take a moment to praise God for who He is and what He is able to do. Actively praising God changes us within and opens our hearts to the possibilities of what He can do. Open the Psalms or open a hymnal, or play some worship music or simply pray something like:

“Father, I adore you as the God who is able to do immeasurably more that I ask or imagine.”

“Father, I praise you that you are Sovereign and Powerful. You know all things and can do all things.”

“I exalt you my God, because You see the bigger picture and You know what is best.”

“Praise you that you walk through the darkest valley’s with me. I am not alone.”

Or as Jeremiah prayed from the pit of despair,

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
  Lamentations 3:19 – 24

Encouragement. One of the apostle Paul’s prayers for the early believers was, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” God is the God of hope, so let’s not hesitate to ask Him for hope, wisdom and guidance as we navigate rough waters. We can also pray that God sends a person into our life that can encourage us or walk along side of us through our dark moments.

James (the brother of Jesus) gave the persecuted church powerful and positive advice,  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. “

My friend, there is always hope. It may come in unexpected ways and look slightly different than how you thought it would look. Keep looking up and keep your heart open to what God wants to do in your life. I believe there is always hope, because I believe in a God of hope. I believe what the Bible tells us – that He is a redeeming God, and He will never leave or forsake those who trust in Him.

Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash

 

Getting Along During the Holidays

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The holidays are a time of cheer and joy as we gather around the table and enjoy festive food and delightful fellowship – right? At least that’s the way it looks on Instagram, but the reality is that sometimes the holidays can be hard. There may be strained relationships and different ways of viewing life, politics and God. So how do you make it through both Thanksgiving and Christmas with more love and less tension?

Recently, I read the following passage from the apostle Peter. Although written many years ago, these words seem to be a wonderful antidote to some of the rough spots in relationships. Think about how you can apply these words.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Just think if we followed these few positive principles penned by Peter. Simply put:

  • Love deeply
  • Offer hospitality without grumbling
  • Use your gifts to serve others

I love how Peter calls us “faithful stewards of God’s grace.” That’s what we should be! We ought to be conduits of His love and grace with every person we encounter, whether it is the person next to us in line or the person sitting next to us at the dinner table. Since we have received God’s grace, then by the power of His Spirit within us, we can freely reflect His grace toward others.

God is glorified when we practice these things. Ultimately isn’t that what the holidays are about anyway?  It’s not about us, rather it’s about celebrating the goodness of God and glorifying Him. Our fervent love for one another shines the light on Him and the powerful, grace-filled work He has done in our lives. May this season be filled with forgiveness, grace and love as we honor Him in what we say and do!

 

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Living Your Purpose

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Could the word scattered define your life? Most of us feel as though we are pulled a gazillion different directions without a meaningful focus or a purposeful plan. How can we regroup and get back on the a road that leads us toward living out our purpose?  Let’s examine a few simple questions to help you develop a personal mission statement. Prayerfully ponder the following:

  • What gifts and talents has God given me? What fills my heart with joy?
  • Who are the people who can benefit or be blessed from my gifts?
  • How can I use my gifts to influence or affect the people around me?

Take some time to answer these questions and then begin to use the answers to create a mission statement.

The What – As you look at your gifts, talents and passions choose one or two verbs that describe what you do best. Think about the spiritual gifts God has given you (reflect on Romans 12) and consider what unique ways God has made you. You could use verbs such as: teach, inspire, help, serve, give, build, restore, share. For me, my verb is “encourage.” So my mission statement starts with:

My mission is to encourage…

The Who  –  Think about who you want to reach with your “What.” Could it be women across the nation? Could it be people who are caregivers? Or perhaps your desire is to help the hurting or the lost. Do you want to reach tens of thousands of people or do you want to touch a significant few? Examine your heart’s desire and add your descriptive “Who” phrase to the statement. For me, I wrote:

My mission is to encourage men and women around the world…

The How – Now it is time to consider the effect that you want to have on the people you reach. This may develop or change over time, but you can also paint a picture with some broad brush strokes of how you want to influence or help others. Maybe your How is: to strengthen people’s lives physically, to help people emotionally, to develop programs, to give financially, to encourage spiritual growth. Add this final piece to your mission statement. Here’s mine:

My mission is to encourage men and women around the world

to pursue their God-given passion

and use their gifts and talents in a positive and productive way.

 

Now take a moment to write your statement:

 

When we ponder our purpose, we live with a clearer direction of what to are able to do, as well as what we probably should not do. Without a focus, we tend to be distracted by every opportunity or activity that comes along our path. Ultimately, each of our greater purpose on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. My hope is that you will find your true joy and fulfillment in relationship with Him and following the direction He leads you.

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Choose to Engage

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As the conversation continues concerning racism in our culture, I want to offer a few simple solutions. I know that the problem of racial division is deeply complex, but I do think that there are steps each of us can take to work toward harmony and unity.

It’s not just the government’s responsibility to ease racial tensions, it is also every individual’s responsibility. It begins in our own heart. It begins with a new focus of love and understanding within each one of us. How can you and I make a difference? Here are a few thoughts:

Mindset. Let’s ask God to put a love in our heart for all people, not just those who look like us and think like us. Psalms 145:9 says, “The Lord is good to all. He has compassion on all He has made.”  If the Lord has compassion on all that He has made, shouldn’t we do the same? Let’s ask God to open our eyes to see each person as a creation of God, to see their value and worth, rather than seeing their outward appearance. As we pray, let’s ask God to open our eyes to new friendships and seek His direction in connecting with people different than ourselves.

Action. We must be deliberate if we want to get to know people of other cultures and communities. It takes stepping out of our comfortable little world and intentionally reaching into the lives of others. How do we do that? Getting involved or volunteering in our own city is a good place to start. Let’s look for ways, not simply to give a handout (making ourselves feel good), but rather give a hand up by building relationships and connecting with people. Let’s be aware of the opportunities to develop friendships with people of other cultures at work, at church or at places we tend to visit on a regular basis.

Love. The word “love” is used in such a flippant manner in today’s culture it seems to have lost its depth and meaning. When we love someone, we sincerely want the best for them. We see the potential in them and encourage them in their journey. We listen. We care. We persevere. We lift up. Love requires time and commitment. Love breaks down the barriers of us/them and simply says, “We are all in this together.”

Racial reconciliation begins with us. It begins as each of us takes a step outside our comfort zone and into community, engaging with people whose lives may be very different than our own.

Will you take the first step?

 

If you are looking for a way to serve in your community, prayerfully consider joining the Engage Positive Parenting Initiative team of volunteers. Click here for more information.

Bounce Back

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When C. S. Lewis was fifty years old he debated a British scholar, Elizabeth Anscombe. Lewis, the brilliant former-atheist-turned-Christian lost the debate and some say he felt like a failure. He was in low spirits and “deeply disturbed” by his loss, but it was this set back that set him in a new direction. He determined to communicate Christianity through faith rather than reason. Not long after the debate, Lewis penned his block-buster series The Chronicles of Narnia between ages 52 and 58. Lewis’s legacy continues today, as a powerful influence in our culture for Christ.  His frustration was the catalyst to his success. His loss was what God used to teach him, turn him and strengthen him.

 

How do you handle setbacks? Possibly the greatest lesson any of us can learn is discovered in the classroom of brokenness. It is there that we move from self-reliance to a God-reliance as we humbly seek His direction and help. Ultimately, we can learn to thank God for our flaws and failures, for through them He expands our understanding and teaches us new and marvelous truths. He forgives, redeems and resurrects. He never leaves us, even when we feel alone.

Whenever we face disappointments, we can choose to live in the defeat of our mistakes, continually beating ourselves up for what we could have done or should have done. Or we can choose to move forward, growing and learning from our mess ups. It’s a choice we choose and a perspective we pick. When we have a “Bounce Back” attitude, we can look beyond our mishaps and setbacks and realize that God can use them for good.

His grace is bigger than our mistakes. His love is greater than our failures. His plan is higher than our setbacks. Let’s not wallow in our mess-ups, rather let’s bounce back with determination. May our challenges strengthen us, teach us and turn us into better people.

 

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

 

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