Hope Renewed

When the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE came out, I started blogging through the chapters. There were a few reasons for that. One, I wanted to share the diversity of subjects and authors found in this book. Also, I wanted to reach out to those who were going through various experiences so they would know that there are Christians who understand…they are going through them as well.  Somehow, I got sidetracked and didn’t blog for a bit, but I did want to get back to making my way through this book. 

Hope Renewed is the appropriately titled chapter by my friend Paula Harrington. She begins by sharing, “I’m drawn to the survivor stories of the Bible.” When you read her chapter, you won’t wonder why: Paula is a survivor. Her dad was a preacher who died at a too-young 30 years old, a victim of the terrible disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Paula remembers that this was a catalyst for very dark times in her family. In her struggle to cope, Paula’s bi-polar mother wrestled with addiction that spiraled out of control. The death of Paula’s mother created more difficult situations that she outlines in this chapter. Eventually, she writes…

“I had a two-year-old and a two-week-old when I became a single mother. I was twenty-two with no place to live, no car, no job, no money, and no parents.”

Did I mention that Paula is a survivor? Through her disappointments and discouragements, she remembered her childhood spent listening to her father talk about his faith. Like many others in SURRENDERING TO HOPE, she ultimately found hope in the One who offers it to all. By turning to Christ she found she had the power to rebuild her broken life.

“Every time I see myself as a failure, I remind myself that God calls me chosen. Every time I remember a sin, God whispers ‘You are forgiven.’ When I dwell on my faults and weaknesses, God covers me in grace and calls me beloved.”

Looking back over the circumstances that defined her young life, Paula can see that God was at work in unexpected ways. Because of her specific struggles, she can identify with others who are going through the same things.  Paula has used her survival skills to bless in a personal way those who suffer through the hardships of life.

“I finally appreciate that there is peace, joy, and hope in the midst of turmoil and dysfunction. I learned firsthand that God is the father of the fatherless and will not leave us as orphans … Hope has a name and its name is Jesus.”

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SURRENDERING TO HOPE in either paperback or ebook for your Kindle. I know I was blessed to read through Paula’s story, especially when I notice how she continues to amazingly extend herself to the impoverished, imprisoned, and those in impossible situations. 

Paula is a public school teacher in Paducah, Kentucky.  She writes a column for the Marshall County Daily. Paula and her husband, John, are the parents of five children. She is compiler and editor of the books, Once Upon a Bible ClassA Common Bond, and Sunday Afternoon with the Preachers’ Wives. Her work has appeared in Christian Woman magazine, the Christian Chronicle newspaper, and numerous other sites and websites. A preacher’s kid, grand-kid, niece, and sister, she enjoys speaking at ladies events, workshops, and lectureships. You can connect to Paula on Facebook. Read her BLOG.  Follow her on Twitter (@paulaharington).

Surrendering to Hope is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine and is available from Leafwood Publishers and other booksellers.

Abram’s Choice

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.  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 the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV

Abram, as I see it, has kind of a sudden prominence in the Genesis story. There’s not much lead up to God’s amazing promise in this text. With Adam, we knew he was God’s first created human. With Noah, we knew that he stood out among all the people of his generation. With Abram? All we know about him is that he is the son of Terah. Terah gathered up his family in Ur of the Chaldeans and headed to Canaan. But he never got there. He stopped off in Haran and settled in there. Terah died without ever moving to Canaan. He left behind two sons (one had died) and their families. Abram was one of those sons. And he had a message from God to uproot from Haran and make his way to an undisclosed location. It’s not only undisclosed to us, it was undisclosed to Abram.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8

I suppose when one hears the voice of God there is some motivation to do whatever that voice says. Noah built an ark, indicating there was no doubt in his mind about what God wanted him to do. On one hand, we might say Abram had no choice in the matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that Abram’s choice was to obey this message from God – a God one wouldn’t think Abram knew. 

As I read it, Abram kept getting messages from God with affirmations of amazing promises. In response, Abram kept on responding in the belief that God would do what He said he would do. 

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” – Roman s 4:18

And that promise (spoiler alert) was fulfilled, but it took a long time. In the meantime, Abram tried to make it come about by figuring out how to help God keep his promise. It was, after all, in his best interest for those promises to come true. When the promised son became a reality, the truth was demonstrated once again that our timing and God’s timing aren’t often in sync. But that’s another text. So much of the story of Abram depends on his answer to this call. Abram’s decision. I know the matter of ‘choice’ has vast theological turbulence among Christian thinkers. But I don’t only think Abram decided to follow God in this instance, but over and over throughout his life.  Abram’s choice to follow God …

Cost him everything.

Gave him everything.

Complicated his life.

Simplified his life.

Challenged his thinking.

Enabled his faith.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  – Romans 4:20-21

There’s a reason Abram is the father of the faithful. It’s not because he was perfect, flawless, without failures. It’s not because he was a charismatic leader. It’s not because he figured out how to give God what he wanted. 

He believed God. He believed God above the idols of his youth. He believed God when he took the first steps in a direction toward an unknown destination. He believed God before he ever received one of the promised blessings. He believed God when his body was dead but a promised son was still on the horizon. He believed God when he took Isaac to the mountain in Moriah. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. – James 2:23

To have that kind of faith, to just believe God, in this age of skepticism is an amazement. How many ‘friends of God’ are there today? What decision do you need to make so that you can demonstrate that you believe God? What choices are in front of you? Where will that lead you?

The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

One more thought. By the end of our text, Abram pitches his tent. He chooses a spot between Ai and Bethel. Ai means “heap of ruins” and Bethel means “House of God”. So we leave our hero someplace between ruin and riches, defeat and victory. I think this is where we all live. But where we go next is a choice. 

What thoughts do you have as you read Genesis 12:1-9?

Narrative Lectionary for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:19-20.

The Coliseum Around the Corner

The Coliseum Around The Corner
 
Most of the time politics disinterests me because it’s just one talking head blaring over another one. I don’t even hope to change anyone’s mind. But I have to speak my own. I know this is too long and most won’t take time to read it. But children in cages. On American soil
 
Have you ever wondered how humans could gather at the Coliseum and watch Christians being eaten by animals for sport? The law of the land allowed it … and the Christians were not Romans … they wouldn’t say ‘Caesar is Lord‘ … so who cares what happened to them? When the elderly Polycarp was about to be taken to be set on fire for his lawbreaking allegiance to Christ, he showed hospitality to the soldiers, setting a table before them. They begged him to say ‘Caesar is Lord‘ so that the wouldn’t have to kill this old man they admired and who was so kind. He didn’t even have to mean it – just say the words! Polycarp wouldn’t have it.
 
Humanity has a way of writing laws that disadvantage the ‘other’…often to their death … and then turning around and saying “well, it’s the law… tsk tsk…go away to your death vermin”. Children in cages. Lawbreaking parents. Do they deserve it, Christian? Polycarp was a lawbreaker, tied to a pole and set afire. I know that some of these people may be criminals, some may be intent on harming America. But some are Christian … and some are seeking escape from terrorizing forces. And for many there was only one hope.
 

But children in cages? It’s complicated, I know, this business of immigration.

A view of inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, U.S., June 17, 2018. Picture taken on June 17, 2018. Courtesy CBP/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. – RC174C9B4E40

But we ‘hired’ (elected) people we considered to be brilliant and worthy to fix it. And they COULD. But they won’t because someone else may get the credit, or some other party might get an advantage, or some lobbyist might not be happy. Children in cages. In America.

 
 
We’re not far from the Coliseum friends. If not in reality, in spirit. I don’t talk about politics much, I find it all sickening. The corruption from top to bottom. A friend said, “It’s not a swamp, it’s a hell” in DC. I think he’s right. Children in cages. Just keep repeating that to yourself. Imagine your grandkids in the cages. I know, they’re not lawbreakers. They were born in the right place.
Caesar still wants to be Lord. But Jesus is Lord for all eternity.
 
Take some time to read about martyr Polycarp.  Let it sink in.
Forget who you voted for. Put aside your platitudes – no matter which party you’re with. I don’t care if other administrations practiced this. I don’t care which party created the “law”. I don’t care if someone broke the law trying to get to America. I don’t care about these excuses for treating children this way. There are better ways to deal with this situation.
If you are a Citizen of Heaven, then you already have many of the answers which elude our political elite.  I’m not too surprised at how the world treats anyone. But when Christians give their seal of approval, I’m at a loss. I’m so sorry to read of the separation of children from their parents and can’t imagine anyone who loves Christ being in support of that. They’re not cattle. They are humans. 
But hey, the economy is good.
In spite of all of this, out here hope remains. It’s just that sometimes it seems dim. Thanks for reading. JED

Waiting for the Lord

In Mary Chisolm’s chapter of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken, readers come face to face with a hurtful drama that unfolded throughout her life. And continues still.

“My father abandoned our family when I was eleven to marry a woman half his age. He was manipulative, narcissistic, and abusive. And he left destruction in his wake. It is no surprise that since my home was broken, I was broken too.”

Though Mary faced heartbreak early in life, she also found a relationship with God that gave her some reassurance from Psalm 27. Though that did not resolve the struggle within, it was a source of strength. In college, she met a young man who seemed to her to be “Mr. Right”. In every way she could imagine, he was the kind of man she wanted to marry to have the kind of family she never had as a child. However, problems developed early on.

“He was rarely where he said he would be when he said he would be. He never let me know when his plans changed, and he worked long hours. Whenever we argued about it, he twisted the facts so it seemed my fault. Even if it was his fault, it wasn’t his fault. … Then, with baby number three, a bomb exploded. Our third baby was full-term stillborn. I was completely devastated.”

The grief over this loss and the ongoing manipulative behavior of her husband sent Mary into a spiral of depression. She did the right thing by seeking out professional help. She found a Christian counselor that administered tests to both her and her husband.

“He expected her to figure out what was wrong with me. The testing diagnosed him with a narcissistic personality disorder. When she shared her findings with us, he stood over her, cursed at us both, and walked out.”

Even after a year of counseling things did not get any better but got worse. Mary was learning about codependency and ultimately as her husband’s narcissistic behavior intensified she felt unsafe. I imagine there are many people who are resonating with this story and would need to read Mary’s chapter in full to get the larger picture. Through the divorce and ongoing issues, her children grew up to refuse to have a relationship with her. The loss of her stillborn baby, her living children, and the marriage she longed to have did challenge her faith. But she kept waiting on the Lord.

Through the pain of her losses she now works in supporting women who experience stillbirth, miscarriage or early infant death.  She prays that her children will one day seek a relationship with her. And she waits on the Lord.

“I believe I will see the Lord’s goodness through the redemption of my children, in my work with families, and in ways yet unknown.”

Mary Chisolm’s story of endurance and faith through the pain of loss is just one of many stories in Surrendering to Hope. This book is now available in Kindle format as well as paperback. Each chapter demonstrates that though we can face some struggles that break our hearts, there is hope to be found in God alone.

If you know someone who is hurting, this would be a good book to share with them. Even if they have not experienced the exact situation as described in the chapters, they will find encouragement and hope in the way that faith found its way into the hearts of the broken.

Thanks for reading. John.

Hope Deferred

As I’ve blogged through the chapters of Surrendering to Hope: A Guide for the Broken, I’m reminded that there are many kinds of struggle and pain that Christians go through. As we enter chapter seven we have explored themes of the loss of an infant, murder, racism, same sex attraction and how each of these people of faith have found hope in Christ in spite of the pain they suffered. Chris and Leisa are no different … but their pain is different from any that has been expressed so far. 

“We married in our thirties. … If God gave us children, that would be wonderful. If not, we could accept it. Two years into married life, we were thrilled to learn we were expecting our first child. We built many hopes and dreams on that news…”

In spite of the enthusiasm the Kinnins experienced at the thought of having a child together, it was not to be. The miscarriage led to doctor visits, searches for reasons why, and ultimately there were no medical answers.  And there were no more pregnancies. Leisa shared, 

“We continued to pray and kept trying. We experienced the monthly roller coaster of emotions that so many couples live with for years and years. Nothing. No pregnancy. Only disappointment. So much of that time was characterized by silent, hidden sadness.”

This made it hard to rejoice when others experienced new life in their families. Both Chris and Leisa expressed concern for how to support one another during these trying circumstances. Though they considered IVF and attempted adoption (even when it was approved and seemed to be an answer to prayer, it fell through several times). 

I know there may be someone reading this who can identify with Chris and Leisa’s struggle with faith and the pain they felt. I hope you will get a copy of the book to read this chapter. As Chris and Leisa take turns sharing from their own experience one can see the sorrow and hurt they felt, as well as the faith and hope.

Among the many valuable things they shared, I thought this was so important:

“Many of the ways God led us through the desert of grief and loss can only be seen in hindsight. We were blind to God’s working at the time, and we still are today as God continues to use this for divine glory and our refinement. There were many days when we couldn’t even pray about it.”

One answer from God was the way he used them as mentors to young adults at their church. Because of their situation they had freedoms of time and opportunity to connect that busy parents of children wouldn’t likely have. “We began sharing our home and our lives with the future of our church.”  Listen to this testimony:

“In some ways, and by God’s grace, we parented those precious souls without the diapers or teenage curfew battles. We became their family and walked beside them as they began their adult lives.”

Leisa and Chris Kinnin

There is much more in the chapter to this incredible testimony. It doesn’t deny their lament and it doesn’t deny God’s provision.  Thank you, Chris and Leisa, for tenderly and courageously sharing this journey with the readers of this book. I know it will bless many who will walk in those same paths. 

In the next post we will explore the chapter written by a lady who lived through the terror of being married to a narcissistic personality disorder. Though it appeared to be hopeless, she did turn to God and found she could surrender to hope and find a way out.

It’s true. Out here, hope remains. Thanks for reading. John

Keeping Secrets

“I swore I’d never tell a soul. This was a secret I’d take to my grave, so I believed. Because I also believed that every aspect of my life would change if anyone knew. I kept it to myself, and I prayed.”

Sally Gary begins her chapter in Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken with the confession that she kept a secret for a long time. There were many reasons why she kept her secret. At first there was some confusion about why she felt the way she did. Also, she knew from conversations at home and at church that people who confessed to her secret were “worthy of total rejection from friends, abandonment by family, and eternal damnation” – which is a pretty good motive for keeping a secret. 

Over the years Sally continued her service to the church in attending worship services every time the doors were open. She taught classes and was involved in all of the activities of the church. She studied and memorized Scripture and prayed often.  All the while keeping her secret. She even prayed about her secret, hoping God would change her feelings.

“‘This was our little secret, God’.’ I will carry this one to my grave, because no one must ever learn that Sally Gary, the good little church of Christ girl, is attracted to girls.”

Sally’s struggle is not a new one, nor is it uncommon. I appreciate that Sally turned to God during all the years she kept her secret and sought out His guidance and help. But he didn’t take away her feelings. 

“And I never believed God didn’t love me because I was attracted to girls. I always believed God is a loving God. I had no idea how to resolve this crisis of my sexuality with my faith that said it was wrong for me to e attracted to my own gender, but I believed in a God who wouldn’t leave me alone to figure that out on my own. I had no idea how god would resolve this conflict of faith and sexuality in me.”

There is much more in Sally’s chapter in this book of ‘guidance for the broken’, so I encourage you to get a copy and check it out. Sally did go on to create Centerpeace, a nonprofit organization to help parents and church leaders be more open to conversations about sexuality and faith. 

“Twenty years ago, I never would’ve dreamed that I would soon found a ministry that would require me to share the deepest, darkest secret of my life on a daily basis around the globe.”

Sally and Rudy

I wish Sally well, as she is a recent victor in a cancer battle! You can find out more about Centerpeace by visiting their website. You can follow her on Twitter.   Bookmark and subscribe to her BLOG. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram. Of course you should buy her 2013 memoir, Loves God Likes Girls. At the end of this post is a video interview with Sally and Oklahoma Christian President John deSteigue.

As I continue giving you a peek into the amazing stories of brokenness and recovery found in the pages of Surrendering to Hope. In the next post Leisa and Chris open up their heartbreak of miscarriage and infertility and the path of faith they chose to walk.  Thank you for reading. If you have missed any in this series, here are some links:

Rex shares about the loss of his infant son.

Les shares about life after the murder of his wife and son.

James shares about the experience of racial prejudice.

Eric shares about the pain of childhood abuse and pornography addiction.

Those are sobering topics, but the tone of the book is positive because each struggler found faith to be the answer.

 

Sally Gary – Oklahoma Christian Q&A from Oklahoma Christian on Vimeo.