Surrendering to Hope

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Today I received advanced copies of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken. I am blessed to have written a chapter in this book of twelve stories of loss, pain, struggle … and hope. 

The life of John Robert Dobbs forever changed the hearts of his family and friends. It is a tale of tears and heartache but that shouldn’t be the entire story. It is my hope that by sharing about our loss I can also share what John Robert taught us and how we honor his memory as we live on. But mine is just one of the stories shared in this collection.

If you’ve experienced suffering because of loss, chronic illness, mental abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, racial oppression, or struggled with same-sex attraction, you will find something here to which you can relate. As you read their stories you will see a common thread. There is hope for those who are broken by the painful experiences of life.

I appreciate editors John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. Together they have curated a cast of fellow sufferers who are willing to share their hurtful experiences in hope that they may bless others who walk those same paths. I am grateful to have been included among the other authors, all of whom I admire greatly.

If you happen to be attending Harbour: The Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu this May, you can hear from several of the writers in this book. Hear lectures by James B. Angus, Jr., Les Ferguson, Jr., Sally Gary, Eric Greer, Paula Harrington, John Mark Hicks, Jim Holway, K. Rex Butts, 

According to Amazon, the book will be available May 8th, but you can pre-order today. I would encourage Christians and churches to keep some of these on hand to give to those who are struggling through hurt.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 

 

Blogs / Websites of Some of the Participants:

John Mark Hicks

K. Rex Butts

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Sally Gary

Paula Harrington

Bobby Valentine

Christine Fox Parker

Other Books Recommended:

Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness by Les Ferguson, Jr.

Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery by John Mark Hicks

Loves God Likes Girls: A Memoir by Sally Gary

The Legacy of Billy Graham

bgrahamBilly Graham’s death today at the age of 99 gives me a moment to pause and reflect on his influence in American Christianity. I’m not alone as I see so many people expressing both sorrow at his passing and memories of his great accomplishments. 

Graham’s influence can partly be attributed to the times in which he lived. His crusades persuaded many people to follow Jesus Christ both in person and through television. He had a simple way of preaching the basics to the everyday person in such a way that it could be received. Though he sat with Presidents and celebrities, he never seemed to let that become his purpose. From the excellent obituary in the New York Times we are reminded about the vast influence of Dr. Graham: 

In 2007, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimated that he had preached the Gospel to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories since beginning his crusades in October 1947 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He reached hundreds of millions more on television, through video and in film. (Link below)

Confession. My experience with Billy Graham isn’t all wine and roses. I grew up in a faith family that often scoffed at Graham’s crusades and the multitude of people who poured forward to pray for salvation. (To be honest, my tribe is so independent that I’m not saying ALL of them felt that way. But I heard many criticisms, corrections, and dismissals.) That sounds really harsh and I wouldn’t say it just that way but after reading some Facebook posts from some who still cling to that perspective I know it’s still true. Yes, it is my conviction that the Bible teaches that our salvation experience with God includes baptism that washes away sin. Graham invited people to say a “sinners prayer” to be placed in a right relationship with God. We differ. But somehow for me, that doesn’t translate into dismissing the greatest evangelist of my generation. Billy Graham was an evangelist. The work of discipleship and growth in God’s will was left up to the teaching and ministry of local churches. I am pretty sure he knew that he had one job: bring people to Jesus. 

– Admiration for Billy Graham –

My admiration for him has grown over the years. I admire his strong convictions about the Word of God and the passion for reaching out to the lost that characterized his efforts. I admire him for his high moral character and faithfulness to God, even as other televangelists crumbed into the morass of greed and sexual sin. I admire the way he had a connection with his audience. Stadiums full of expectant hearts awaited him during the crusades. Local churches were invited to participate and to follow up with the respondents.  Everything I can see about his efforts point to Jesus Christ and not Billy Graham. I respect that.

I don’t think there could be a Billy Graham today. The advent of the internet widens the field of influence among many teachers and preachers. The spirit of division and hatred that has a big influence over our country has even influenced our churches. Though as I noted earlier there were always critics among the churches, today I think that the cynics, punsters, and self-appointed saviors would be relentless in the attempt to destroy his efforts. The fact that there is no Billy Graham-like figure today demonstrates the truth of the matter. The televangelists who draw large-scale audiences today mostly do not resemble the humble and Bible-centered approach that Graham took.

My appreciation for Billy Graham is not based on total agreement with him on everything he said and taught. But he brought awareness of God’s presence and a positive influence on our country through some very difficult times. 

My guess is that the current generation if they have heard of Graham at all, will think of him as a relic of the past. Maybe so, but our world was better off because Billy Graham loved Jesus Christ and stood before masses to beg them to follow Him through books, television specials, and in crusades. 

God bless all the voices that keep calling us to look to Jesus … that call us out of the world of darkness into His marvelous light … they remind us that out here hope remains. JED 

Obituary in the New York Times

Grand Intentions

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow Me now; but you will be able to follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why cannot I follow You now? I will lay down my life for You!” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you [really] lay down your life for Me? I assure you and most solemnly say to you, before a rooster crows you will deny and completely disown Me three times. ~ John 13:36-38 AMP

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” – John 18:17  AMP

Peter has such grand intentions. Ready to pull out his sword and fight, but unwilling to confess his Master to a slave girl. I would criticize him for this inconsistent and shameful behavior if it weren’t so familiar to me.

How often do we begin our day confident in the new mercies from God that this is the day we will turn the corner and make significant and needful changes … only to face the noon hour with disappointment?

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?”

rooster4cThere is no denying that there is victory to be claimed if we will only yield to the Holy Spirit. It would be a sad, defeatist attitude to think we have no hope of gaining in holiness. But it is also realistic to note that our lives are not shaped by our pronouncements of what we intend to do. They are grand intentions, indeed. But they are focused more on what we wish rather than what we are.

Instead of expressing our Grand Intentions to the Lord, it would behoove us instead to express our utter dependence. Hour by hour, minute by minute. Only when we fall into His empowering presence can we experience the overcomer’s victory. Only then will the victory be His and not ours.

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?

Right or Real? 

Although that question was for Peter, it cuts me to the heart. I know the right answer, but I also know the real answer.

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake. … I call upon him in prayer. Often he might reply – I think he does reply – “But you have been evading me for hours.” ~ C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

So, I’d like to start this day with one truly Grand Intention: to be aware of God’s holy presence throughout the day. That seems to me to be a better course than expressions of bravado.

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?”

My only hope is to walk with Him hour by hour throughout the day. Whatever my performance, He will be there to catch me when I fall and to strengthen me when I get back up.

Out here hope remains. John

This Is Us…That’s It.

 

I’m a reluctant fan of NBC’s This Is Us. I didn’t want to like it. At times I have let two or three episodes build up because there are a lot of emotional moments and it was like I couldn’t face what comes next. Even though I didn’t know what was coming next. But there was one thing that was always coming next… the story of how Jack Pearson died. By the way, that’s not a spoiler. Anyone who has watched two episodes knows that Jack is dead, but we are tantalized by not knowing.

thisisuslogo

Family dramas have been around as long as television. Without thinking too hard so many come to mind. The western families on shows like The Virginian, The Big Valley, and Bonanza were popular once upon a time. Family dramas like Thirtysomething and Parenthood and …well… Family have proliferated television fare, I think, because they present a reality that we all face. There are no perfect families. There are hard decisions to make and heartbreaking issues to face together. We learn to draw together and gain strength through the trials. And sometimes they defeat us. 

In that way This Is Us is no different than most family dramatic shows. The writers are excellent and the portrayals are just so rich. So even though I don’t like to cry at television shows or movies, there’s seldom an episode that doesn’t bring a tear. I guess that’s not all bad. But I’m going to make a controversial statement that This Is Us fans are going to hate. 

After the Super Bowl we learned just how it was that Jack Pearson came to be dead. Because This Is Us travels frequently back and forth in time we have already observed what life was like with Jack and how the family has survived the death of Jack. Now please let that be it. It was a great story.

What is This Is Us without the subtext of the mystery of Jack’s death? I think either they can try to exploit that in a third season or they can try to drum up another subtext for the next few seasons. But how often do we love a great series only to see it fall into shambles as writers try to come up with compelling story lines for seasons long after the real story is over?

One good example is the show Lie To Me. Fantastic first two seasons. Then new writers come aboard, change the main character’s demeanor, make the show more graphic, and it was over. I’m streaming Body of Proof on Hulu these days. Two great seasons and then season three is just not bearable. Some cast changes, a change of personality in the main character, and now I’m just watching it out of some kind of sense of duty. One more example (and this could result in more hate!). West Wing was one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. But that last season? More than dreadful. Horrible. I could barely finish the series. 

This Is Us could just turn into a soap opera with endless handwringing and pointless conversations. They could put the characters through a variety of situations unrelated to Jack’s death – but what would be the point? The story of This Is Us is over. Can’t we just be content with a couple of seasons. Let us love the characters as we do now and enjoy repeated viewing. 

 

I know I run a risk here. For one, alienating my friends who are This Is Us fanatics. Or it could have a fantastic third season and I’d look like a doofus who’s just writing to hear himself tap on the keyboard. It could be one of those multi-year breakout shows that just never grows old. 

But I don’t think so. This Is Us … That’s it. We know. We saw. We wept with you. We loved your family. We loved your flashbacks and forward flashes of the future. The storylines have all concluded. Kevin has made amends, even with Jack. Kate is in love and willing to be loved. Randall is going to surpass his dreams of being father of the year. That’s all we needed to know. We have closure.

Of course, I am going to watch the third season. Don’t judge me.

Link.

NBC This Is Us

Never a Friend Like That

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Jackson

When you have a dog that you loved and who’s crossed the rainbow bridge, you can’t help but think about him every once in a while. My nephew and his family recently lost a dog they loved for many years. They touch our hearts in a special way for sure. In reading through my grandmother’s book of poetry I found this little poem by W. Dayton Wedgefarth. I couldn’t find any information about Mr. Wedgefarth, but I liked his poem about a dog named Bum.

Bum

He’s a little dog , with a stubby tail, and a moth-eaten coat of tan,
And his legs are short, of the wabbly sort;
I doubt if they ever ran;
And he howls at night, while in broad daylight he sleeps like a bloomin’ log,And he likes the food of the gutter breed; he’s a most irregular dog.

I call him Bum, and in total sum he’s all that his name implies,
For he’s just a tramp with a highway stamp that culture cannot disguise;
And his friends, I’ve found, in the streets abound, be they urchins or dogs or men;
Yet he sticks to me with a fiendish glee. It is truly beyond my ken.

I talk to him when I’m lonesome-like, and I’m sure that he understands
When he looks at me so attentively and gently licks my hands;
Then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes, but I never say nought thereat,
For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes, but never a friend like that!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What was the name of your favorite dog? I hope it wasn’t Bum… but I hope it was a lot like Bum! Through life we live and love and lose but God has a way of healing our hearts and giving us hope so that we never forget that Out Here Hope Remains. JED

Connecting

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Connecting shouldn’t be so hard, but mostly it is. I’ll admit, not for everyone. But it is enough of an issue that many books have been written about the subject. There are apps for your phone and services on the internet to try to help bridge the gap between strangers. Some of those, unfortunately, lead to situations where loneliness turns into harm or even criminality. But even the danger of that potential doesn’t keep people away. Because as hard as connecting might be, being alone is even harder.

I’d like to say that church is a great place to connect with others, and it should be. Actually, it is, for many people. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to locate a good number of people who sit in church and feel alone in the crowd. Finding the sources of dis-connect is not very difficult.

People feel disconnected because face to face conversation is becoming rarer. Even now I’m communicating with you from behind a screen. Facebook could never survive if it were really Face-To-Facebook. And I hope some people would never say in person what they’re willing to pound out on the keyboard in a flurry of angst and anger. I wish they wouldn’t type it either, but that’s another post.

People feel disconnected because life to life intersections are brief. We are in a hurry. No matter how many posts I read encouraging us to slow down and smell the roses, there aren’t many people taking that advice. So my communications with real humans are brief, terse, to-the-point. If they last too long there is an intrusion on the next appointment. The rush lasts all day until the end of day when we crash and try to grab too-little sleep before it starts all over again. Relationships take time. We don’t have any to spare.

People feel disconnected because the word on the street is that people are dangerous, people are users, and people are haters. I don’t believe it, except when I’m not paying attention. Just a few minutes with the news will tell me that we have reached the end of social relationships and community kindness. Most of the shows presented for our viewing pleasure involve killing, theft, kidnapping, explosives, abuse and the general degradation of humanity. Even if it all wraps up in the hour, next week we are back to it. The message is pounded into our minds … you are in danger, you have no real friends, you are being used, and people generally hate one another.

Now that I’ve succinctly diagnosed our culture in one blog post, I wonder if there are any connecting factors we can find. In spite of the walls thrown up all around us, I don’t think humans are best when they are alone. And everyone seems to know it. So where do we go from here? It’s hard to say for every individual, but generally, I think we have to accept three things if we want to be in connection with other people.

~Connecting With Others~

We have to accept that relationships cause pain. If we want a pain-free existence, then we can’t entrust our hearts and friendship to other humans. It is just part of the human condition that we let each other down, we sometimes speak careless words, and we sometimes flat-out fail to be what we could be. By this, I do not mean we should endure purposeful infliction of pain. I do mean, though, that it is impossible to avoid pain totally if we want to be connected to others. Relationships are risky but worth it.

We have to accept that the great benefit of connection outweighs the risk. Jesus spoke to a woman who came to draw water at a well at noon. I question her timing in the desert climate, but I guess there was a purpose to it. Who else is going to be drawing water at noon? Nobody. Perfect timing for someone who felt like a reject – and honestly was probably treated like a reject except for the one person she lived with. In her conversation with Jesus, he revealed that he knew she had endured five marriage breakups. Five. Maybe some had died, but surely not all. What moves a woman toward connecting when she has lost it four times? Then five times? I admit there could be a lot of cultural questions and strategies for survival in the background of this story but it remains that she kept trying to find a meaningful connection. when she found out who Jesus was she ran to town to tell those people – perhaps the very people who had looked down their noses at her – that she had found the Messiah. The importance of connection even pushed her over the boundary of potential rejection!

We have to accept that connection is not just for other people. Some people reading this will say, “true, but not for me.” But no matter who we are, what we’ve done, how we think others see us, or whatever else is standing in our way of reaching out, everyone needs a connection. Earlier in this post I mentioned church. The one place that the church excels beyond other connecting places is that everyone there has a common connection in Jesus Christ. This, even more than religious practices or beliefs or forms, is what connects believers. It’s the one place where an 80-year-old and a 20-year-old can find a connection that transcends culture and peculiar interests. Jesus connects all together. If the spirit you found at the bar didn’t leave you filled, perhaps the Spirit you find at the Church may make a real difference in your life.

~A Place for Sinners Saved By Grace~

I’m not saying that if we all just go to church then all our connecting struggles will be solved.  But I am saying that there’s a spiritual level of connection that alleviates loneliness and reminds us that we are all in the same boat. Sinners saved by grace is our banner. That’s an inclusive and warm invitation to find connection outside of the rat-race of human scrambling for wealth, achievement, business, and recognition. Church causes us to stop, rest, reflect, converse, and receive blessing. It calls us to community … connection … face to face talking and caring. No, not perfectly. Its kind of risky joining for the first time. If you’ve been a part of church for a long time but still feel lonely, it’s time to explore either some avenues (ministries) within the church where you can build relationships around common efforts. We have to admit there are some unhealthy church communities where finding friends is not really an option. So either way, choose to be a part of a church to find connection. And it may not be the only solution.  Connecting shouldn’t be that hard, but it mostly is.

Out here hope remains, JED.

Photo Credit:  unsplash-logoClem Onojeghuo