Rebellious Hope

Last month I attended the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was an incredibly inspiring weekend where I was able to meet some of my favorite authors, learn more about the industry, and connect with other Christians who have a similar fire in their heart for writing truth. One writer who I’m so glad I connected with is Carley Reinke. Carley writes about the hope we have in Christ with an exceptional clarity, and I’m so thankful to have her as the very first guest poster on my blog!

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I am a person shaped by stories. I think we all are in some ways. We love stories as children, and our favorites shape us and stick with us into adulthood. 

My dad raised me to be a Star Wars fan. Now, I am married to a man who is even more passionate about these stories. While I was raised on the original trilogy, one recent addition to the galaxy far far away spoke truth to my soul that I was unable to shake. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, was a fun ride with characters I fell in love with and themes of love and sacrifice and with a bittersweet end to the movie, there was one thing left: Hope.

After all, “rebellions are built on hope.”

There is great truth to this. I need hope in my life, to believe that the best is yet to come; That we as human beings and as followers of Jesus, can tell a better story. There is power in hope. I believe this. Hope proves to be a greater force for change than the power of anger, hatred, war, political endeavor or suffering.

I have been struggling with anxiety for years and will freely admit that I far too easily see only the negative in the world. Knowing this makes it is so important for me to hold on to any thread of hope I can find. I have been to a very dark place of hopelessness. I need to be honest: I know that the darkness is real, but so is the light. 

In hope, I look to Jesus. I don’t know where else to look for it. The wood-working man from Galilee, who was also God’s greatest self- revelation to this world gives me hope. God made so many statements in Jesus about himself, about us, and about this world.

On the cross, God said that he would rather suffer and die than live without us.

In Jesus, we have a glimpse of the kingdom of God. He established it with his teaching and presence here on earth as a human who was also God. Jesus displayed the power and love of God on the cross, declaring that violence and destruction and sin had had too much power over those he loved enough to die for. He secured this upside-down Kingdom’s final victory in the resurrection.

God’s Kingdom is here. It has already won.

And yet. Even those of us who have embraced this marvelous truth still struggle with darkness. With fear.

Satan is still playing his game. He knows he has lost but wants to make sure the end of the game stings just a little bit. So Satan lies, he tempts us to hopelessness. And when we look around at the world, yes, it can look dismal. There is violence, conflict, injustice. We need to grieve this. 

We can be angry but we can’t stay there. We need to move. We are the light of the world, so we need to be the beacon of hope that the world so desperately needs.

We start by embracing hope for ourselves. In this world, hope really is a rebellious act. Hope is resistance to the principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) that would love to see those who love and follow Jesus paralyzed by anger, guilt, fear or apathy.

Hope is not just a nice idea that we embrace in private. No. Hope breeds action.

So here is my declaration of HOPE: Jesus has already won. He will win. This victory is not won from militaristic might or violence but by winning the hearts and minds of human beings from our own willful rebellion. That rebellious tendency in all of us can be redeemed to a rebellion fighting vehemently against hopelessness. Jesus will come again and set things fully right. In the meantime, Jesus calls us to kingdom-building work. Good work. The rebellious work of shining a light and declaring to a world tempted to hopelessness, that there is hope.

Where do you find HOPE in this life?

Carley Reinke is a self-proclaimed Jesus-loving misfit, a middle school youth director in Fargo, North Dakota, a blogger, and aspiring author. She has a degree in communication from Bethel University and an M.A. in Christian Thought (theology and cultural application) from Bethel Seminary. Carley blogs about faith, Christian life, and theology in an effort to encourage readers in their faith in Jesus Christ. A native of Minnesota, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, camping, hiking, kayaking, riding her motorcycle and downhill skiing. She also enjoys time spent indoors with a big mug of pour-over coffee or tea and reading books with her two cats. Check out Carley’s blog here.


On Giving God Advice

“And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Genesis 17:18

When God told Abraham his wife would have a biological son, Abraham laughed. It sounded great, of course, but it was impossible. They had been down this road before with nothing to show for it. Nothing except Ishmael of course, who, although he wasn’t Sarah’s son, seemed to be a good enough substitute. Abraham was too tired to start hoping again, so he decided to make a logical suggestion to God that would be easier on everyone. “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Like Abraham, I have the very bad habit of giving God advice.

Almost always, it has to do with a man that, for whatever reason, it just isn’t working out with.

And I catch myself praying like this:

“Lord, I love his heart for you. I’ve prayed for a godly man for so long; can’t you see what a great team we’d be for your kingdom?”

“Lord, I know you can change hearts [insert 1 to 3 verses to support my argument], so will you change his heart toward me? We’d be so great together [insert dissertation on our compatibility].”

But behind the flowery words and the Scripture citations isn’t a heart submitted to God or His word, but a heart scrambling in fear, fear that unless I present a carefully crafted argument for my heart’s desires, He’s going to forget about me.

And although I’m saying “Lord,” I’m stripping Him of the title and claiming it as my own.

What I’m really saying when I pray those prayers is this:

“Lord, I know better than you, why can’t you get with the program?”

“Lord, if only my plan might live under your blessing.”

I love God’s response to Abraham, a patient response that extended over years of his inability to trust that God would do what he said. Abraham and Sarah had taken things into their own hands with the Ishmael incident some years before (Genesis 16), yet God appeared to Abraham again, reassuring him that His promise was as good as ever. Abraham, though, was still stuck on fitting Ishmael into a mold God clearly had not created him for.

It’s pretty audacious to give advice to the Creator of the universe and the Creator of our own hearts, yet He continues to gently, patiently lead us when we can’t escape the confines of our own logic.

So this is a reminder to myself that the next time I start giving God advice, I step back and reflect on just how much higher His thoughts are than mine (Isaiah 55:9), remembering the miraculous birth of Isaac that expanded into a story so much bigger than Abraham and Sarah.

I’ll end with this powerful quote from Susie Larson:

“If the devil can get you to doubt God’s provision, you’ll grab for yourself and miss the wonder of God’s goodness….If the devil can get you to doubt God’s timing, you’ll rush ahead and miss the wisdom of His ways.”

So let’s trust in His provision, refuse to grab for ourselves, and wait in confidence for the revelation of God’s goodness that ministers to the intimate places of our heart, yet extends far beyond our small story.

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Genesis 17: 15-18 (New International Version) 

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

 

When You’re Struggling to Believe God’s Promises

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Psalm 13:1-2

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Sarah had had it. She was done. The promise of that long-awaited child had been nonsense, a joke, perhaps a figment of Abraham’s imagination.

For far too long, her “how long?” had only been met with silence and the steady aging of a finite frame.

So when the visitor brought it all up again, she laughed.

It was a cynical laugh, as dry and bitter as this childless life she’d been living for ninety years.

What else could she do?

Cynicism was safe, and when she compared it to God’s track record with this teasing of a son, cynicism could at least be trusted to provide what it promised: realistic expectations for this dusty, aching life.

“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

A son. Next year.

Hope jolted her for a split-second before the laugh spoke reality over the cruel fiction.

Who did this visitor think he was to stir things up again?

She couldn’t open her heart to hope one more time. If her hopes were dashed again, she would crumble right into the grave.  

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The older I get, the better I understand Sarah. Following Jesus truly is joy and meaning and life! Yet there is a tension between this eternal life Christ has saved me into and the current life on a dying earth where things are not what He meant them to be. Because although the longer I live the more I see the goodness and love of God, at the same time, my pain has become sharper, my questions bigger, and my desires deeper. There is a vivid history of God’s faithfulness in my life, but too often, instead of retelling that story, I look behind and despair that I haven’t received the things I’ve longed for or fully shed the chronic struggles that keep me small-minded and self-conscious.

There are so many “how longs” that test my faith in God’s goodness and love for me:

“How long, O Lord, will I feel this way?”

“How long, O Lord, will I struggle with this sin?”

“How long, O Lord, will I yearn for what you haven’t given me?”

And like Sarah, I’ve let the “how longs” scratch at my throat until all that comes out is a dry, cynical laugh.

When the “how longs,” consume me, I question His promises, desperate to understand:

“You say that if your child asks for bread, you won’t give him a rock, so why are my teeth cracked and my mouth full of grit?”

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“If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:1

In the not-yet, with blurry human eyes, His promises may seem untrue.

But the beautiful thing is, the fulfillment of God’s promises is not dependent on our ability to grasp them. God did not take away his promise because Sarah laughed. Not only is he patient with our “how longs” and cynical laughs, but He still plans to fulfill His promises in a way that exceeds what we could imagine.

God not only gave Sarah the son she had longed for, but drew her into a story so much bigger than herself, making her the first woman in the line of Jesus Christ.

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“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Ephesians 3:14-15  

There’s a fascinating parallel between Sarah and followers of Jesus.

Sarah laughed even after God gave her a new name embedded with His promise. Sarai became Sarah because God wanted her name to mean “mother of nations.” But even with her identity heard each time someone spoke her name, she struggled to believe.

As Christ-followers, we’ve been given a new name, a family name, derived from the very name of the One who saved us, but we, like Sarah, still struggle to believe the promises embedded in this new identity. I’m finding that no matter how much evidence I see of God’s goodness, I still question, I still doubt, and I still cry, “how long?”

I want to be a woman who laughs at the future and not at God’s promises.

But in my heart of hearts, I want to be a woman who laughs at the future (Proverbs 31:25!) and not at God’s promises.

So I’m praying that I would believe the promises embedded in my new name more than I believe my human eyes.

That I would read the truth and speak the truth with conviction regardless of how I feel on a given day.

And that I would remember Sarah and take heart, knowing that God’s promises will be fulfilled in a way so much broader, sweeter, and more eternal than the ways I’ve cried for them to be.

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Genesis 18: 1-15 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.  Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

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Genesis 21: 1-2

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.

Hope in the Past Tense: A Good Friday Reflection

Jesus was dead.

Jesus was dead, and there was no going back.

It had been three days already, and three days marked the expiration date of any lingering hope of resurrection.

They had opened themselves up so vulnerably to a hope that seemed too good to be true.

And it had been too good to be true, hadn’t it?

Hope had just been a cruel joke.

God had certainly been teasing them.

Or perhaps they had been deftly deceived by the Enemy.

Whatever the case, hope was in the past tense now, the “have hoped” was swallowed by “had hoped” as they walked along that road to Emmaus.

They poured their grief through the filter of their own understanding, and truth was sifted out; they looked at the man walking beside them through blurred human eyes and didn’t see that what they had hoped for had come to pass:

The resurrected redeemer of Israel had answered that vulnerable hope with more than they had dared to expect: He had killed death, and their redemption was eternal.

And walking along the road with them, Jesus didn’t leave when one spewed sarcasm, saying, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Instead, he continued to walk beside them, patiently teaching them what the Scriptures said about Him until their hearts burned with the truth.

And that’s what Jesus does.

He walks alongside us in our cynicism, in our doubt, teaching us the truth while we rage that He just doesn’t understand.

He walks alongside us when we put hope in the past tense even though Hope incarnate is close enough to touch.

So as we remember Christ’s death today, let’s remember His love that is so, so patient with us, a love that wasn’t only contained in a day of death, but extends to every moment of our lives as we stumble and lose heart and question. And let’s pray that as the eyes of the men on the road to Emmaus were opened, that ours would be too, to the reality of Jesus’s love and compassion and the absolute goodness of His character.

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Luke 24: 13-32 (NIV, emphasis mine)

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

3 Ways to Fight Depression When Counting Your Gifts Doesn’t Help

Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts made a lasting mark on Christian culture, and rightly so. In her “dare to live fully right where you are,” she recounts her transformation from despair into joyful gratitude through the simple practice of counting her gifts, blessings from God that are all too easy to miss unless we commit our eyes to intentional sight.

“Morning shadows across the old floors,” she writes.  “Jam piled high on the toast. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce” (p. 45).

I read the book when it came out in 2010 and was captivated by Voskamp’s poetic writing and fresh expression of a timeless truth. And today, healthy and healed, when I count God’s gifts, a gloomy demeanor on an off day is put into perspective, an inward focus turns upward and outward, and joy begins to diffuse the despair.

But when I was severely depressed, this practice backfired. In the years of the deepest depression, I fought back with Voskamp’s advice. In a tear-riddled journal, I etched my gifts hard into the pages day after day.

And all I felt was shame.

Shame at how God had given me so much, yet I still had a perpetual lump in my throat.

Shame that the hopelessness I felt outshouted the hope I had in Christ.

Shame that God had given me so much to live for, yet, on some days, I wanted to die.

If the same has happened to you, you are not alone.And if the same has happened to you, remember this:

Faith and feelings are not synonyms. Continue reading “3 Ways to Fight Depression When Counting Your Gifts Doesn’t Help”