Month: August 2021

God’s Name is Hope

This is Day 11 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.

“O Hope of Israel, Her Savior in time of distress and trouble, Why should You be like a sojourner (temporary resident) in the land Or like a traveler who turns aside and spreads his tent to linger [only] for a night? … Yet You, O Lord, are among us, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!”  

-Jeremiah 14:8,9 (Amp)

When God feels like a stranger, remember that His name is Hope

Our hope verse today is authored by a prophet named Jeremiah, whom some have called “The Weeping Prophet” because his messages contain a lot of bad news and warnings of suffering and exile, and also because he wrote Lamentations, which is an entire book of lamenting. When Jeremiah writes a verse about hope it’s like a single smile in an ocean of tears.


As someone who writes historical fiction about the period before and during the Exile of Israel to Babylon, I must say that I don’t hear as many pastors or Bible teachers teach about it as I’d wish. So, in case you’ve never heard the set up for this period of Bible history, let me paint up some contextual canvass for you, based on WAY too much research that I do for writing my books. 

For hundreds of years (since Moses, actually) God had been warning His kids against idol worship, and had repeatedly and specifically told them that if they didn’t knock it off, He’d send an army from the north to invade and carry them off in chains to slavery. And you’d think that would be enough of a deterrent, but actually, no—idolatry was the besetting sin so tempting that they repeated it, generation after generation, from peasants to kings. One particular king named Manasseh was especially egregious in his practice of false religion, and God said, “That’s it, you’ve had enough chances. Bring on the invaders.”

His grandson, Josiah was the last good king Judah had, and he desperately clung to hope and enforced reforms, removing all of the idols in the nation and burning them to a crisp. (You can read his story in my first novel, Consuming Fire.) But even that wasn’t enough. The people were too far gone, had taken God’s grace in vain for too long, and God was downright fed up. To continue leaving his disobedient kids unpunished made Him look like a fool—like someone who wasn’t faithful to His word. So, after Josiah’s untimely death at the hands of the king of Egypt, God began sending invaders to siege the country—first from Egypt and then from Babylon. And though three of Josiah’s sons and one of his grandsons ruled the nation for another 22 years, it was only as puppet kings of their invaders. Finally, in 586 BC, all but a handful of people that included the prophet Jeremiah, were led off to Babylon in chains as the city gates were torn down and the precious Holy Temple went up in flames. It was the most tragic season in Israel’s history. It was also exactly what God said would happen. 

In the midst of all of this tragedy, Jeremiah speaks this hopeful word, with God’s Spirit to inspire him:

You are the hope of Israel, its savior in times of trouble. Why are you like a stranger in the land,  like a tourist spending only the night? Why are you like one taken by surprise, like a warrior unable to act. Yet you are in our midst, Lord; we are called by your name. Don’t give up on us.”

-Jeremiah 14:8-9 (CEV)

When I read passages like this that refer to Israel as God’s people, it helps me to remember that God has since expanded the definition of His people to include Jesus’s Bride, or the global Church. God’s name, His identity, is “Our Hope,” and we are called “People of the Hope-God.”

This verse is yet another example in the Bible where the author is confessing that his feelings don’t match the truth of his faith. Not that his emotions don’t matter. If they didn’t he wouldn’t speak them for the scribe to record and read aloud to the people. But Jeremiah, like David, Paul, and many others who wrote the Bible, fully acknowledge that their feelings about God don’t always line up with what they know to be true about His nature; about His character. He knew that God would bring them all back to their Promised Land one day. God would bring them home.  


“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.”

Oswald Chambers

I can remember a few seasons during this past couple of years when God has felt like a stranger. The world turned upside down with a pandemic, I was feeling isolated from my friends and family and church. Trying to adapt every other week to some new change, precaution, or regulation. I think some of Covid’s most difficult effects for many of us have been loneliness and grief. Though I knew He was present―I could see His love and I was hearing His voice in His Word―it felt like I didn’t know Him like I thought I did. He was like a visitor passing through, and I was afraid to lose my grip of Him. Regardless of these feelings, my faith in Him held strong and carried me through the pain because He kept filling me with hope. He would send me little reminders in a friend’s laugh or the embrace of my husband: “This won’t last forever. I will get you through this. I promise.” I knew Him as my Hope. That was His Name. 


And how about you, Dear One? Have you ever needed, like Jeremiah, to remind your heart of who God is? Do you need to remember that His name is Hope again today? If God feels like a stranger to you, take this reminder that you’re in good company: The faithful prophet Jeremiah felt the same way, surrounded by death, destruction, and suffering. And God reminded Him of His love, filling him with hope once again. God’s name is Hope of Israel, Hope of Christ’s Bride, My Hope. Whether you’re facing some difficult circumstances today of your own doing, like the exiled Israelites, or even something as far out of your control as a pandemic, remind your soul that He will bring you back to your home in peace and comfort. You will not live in a strange land, feeling like God is a stranger forever. He knows your name and you know His. His name is Hope.


Hope How-to: If you are able, take a walk today and use all of your senses to feel what God is saying all around you. He is in our midst. Breathe deeply of the fresh air and inhale His love. Watch the spider spin an intricate web and marvel at the order He can make in you from the disorder and chaos. Listen to the birds chattering and hear God’s whisper of adoration in your ear. Smell the flowers if you see them, and smell the trees if you don’t have flowers around you. Know the aroma He gives in order to put a smile on your face. Become reacquainted with this Savior who is with you, closer than a breath. Remember that this Holy One in your midst, walking beside you on the path, He is the very One who formed the stars and set them in orbit. And remember that He loves you enough to die for you. He literally loves you to death. 

Prayer: Sweet Jesus You know us, even when our feelings feel strange about You. Please be with my Reader today and reveal Your presence as she seeks You. When we focus on our pain and difficulty, sometimes You become blurry. Give my Reader hope today that You can help her through this pain or trouble, and comfort her with Your promises of home. Let her know you today as her Hope, for that is who you are. May she be known as one who follows Hope, one who walks with Hope, one who whispers with Hope. Thank You, Jesus for being our Hope, and for reminding us that Your goodness will prevail. We want to trust that, even when we can’t see it, and we want to be a part of bringing You to others so they can know Hope too. Amen


If you enjoyed these words, please consider putting your email address in the subscribe box so that you can catch more! When you do, I’ll send you my free printable Guide to Daily Hope. And don’t forget to forward this to a friend who needs a little hope in her day too! 

Love,

Robyn

P.S. These roses are blooming in all of their gorgeous fragrant-ness at the Rose Garden at Balboa Park. If you come to visit me, remind me to take you there. You’ll really love it.

Hope for the Oppressed

This is Day 10 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.

God remembers those in need. Though they might feel disappointed today, their hopes will one day come to reality.

– Psalm 9:18

Yahweh, you have heard the desires of the humble and seen their hopes. You will hear their cries and encourage their hearts. GOD, you’ve taken notice of these small, hopeful people. Even when they cry out in need, you’ll hear them and answer.

– Psalm 10:17

There is hope for the oppressed and needy

The mere idea that the Maker of the Stars would listen to the cries of the needy is humbling. Twice in one verse, the Psalmist repeats that God hears the desires and hopes and needy cries, and that He will answer. This was a big deal in Bible times, just as it is today. 

The Hebrew word for “oppressed” in Psalm 10:17 is the word anav, which means poor, afflicted, humble, meek. In the Bible, we see God labeling these people together with the oppressed: widows, orphans, poor & needy, heavy-burdened, strangers/foreigners/immigrants, prisoners, sick/afflicted, weak, destitute/homeless, and victims of violence. God saw, heard, and listened to the cries of these people. He was not unmoved. 


Today we see the same kinds of oppression and the people who suffer it all around us. God hears their cries and He is moved to compassion with action for justice. We see it in every ally who stands up to defend the oppressed, bring justice to the defenseless, and provide generously for the needy. We see God working through people who care for one another. He is not unmoved. 

But it does get hard sometimes, doesn’t it? Hopelessness sets in as we see an endless stream of oppression in every direction, if we open our eyes and hearts. Ecclesiastes 7:7 says, “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,” and who among us isn’t mad from the oppression piled high as the sky, like bodies piled next to redwoods. 

I read recently that the proliferation of men who abuse women has made an entire society numb to this violence. We don’t even see the oppression. We don’t hear the cries of the oppressed.


“For women and men involved in the battered women’s or rape crisis movements, especially those who deal daily with victims, convincing people—especially men—of the urgency of the situation may appear to belabor the obvious. Doesn’t everyone already realize how big a problem this is? Don’t they know there are survivors in their own families? Well, not necessarily. A lot of people cannot face the ugly reality—or don’t want to. It is important to remember that coming to terms with the extent of the problem can be disorienting, and profoundly disruptive. As a man, once you are aware of the degree to which women suffer from gender violence and all forms of sexism, you can’t simply go about your business and pretend everything is fine. You have to do something about it, or else risk losing your self-respect. This is where denial comes in. Denial is a tried and true method of coping with disruptive, traumatic, or discomforting information; it is much less painful than facing the truth. Not to mention that many Americans are so desensitized by repeated exposure to violence of all kinds—in their own lives, on the news, and in the popular culture—that denial isn’t even necessary.”

– Jackson Katz in The Macho Paradox

And so maybe we’ve felt the madness as wise people who are surrounded by oppression in a culture of fools who deny and are desensitized to it. Maybe it’s gotten painfully maddening to look at the women around us who are brutalized, or the homeless that line the streets in tents, or the orphans on the streets longing for someone to accept them for who they’ve chosen to be. Maybe we’ve lost some hope that God even hears our own cries of suffering above the cacophony of the oppressed.  

Let me be the one to remind you today, Beloved Friend—God is here and He is listening. This verse is true, I know it. I see Him rescuing the orphan today as my husband shows me the photos and tells me to pick one to sponsor. I hear him comforting the cries of the battered sister as she is set free from her abuser. I see Him providing freedom to the sex slave through organizations and restoration homes around the world. I hear Him sending ambassadors like me into prisons to give encouragement and love to men and women behind bars. And I feel Him listening to my prayers and answering them over and over on behalf of the oppressed. 

I am not forgotten. You are not forgotten. She is not forgotten. Remember that God sent a messenger through space and time to tell you about His love, and because you are reading these words, He reminds you to hold onto hope today. To hold onto the One who holds you, for He hears you. 


Hope How-to: I know it’s hard to keep your faith when oppression prevails all around you. It gets tempting to believe that maybe God doesn’t really care. The times when I face this most is when I’m disengaged from participating in fighting for justice for the oppressed, when I’ve failed to help or give or speak. The truth is, God works most often THROUGH His kids and His Church and through people who care enough to take action. Why? I think it’s because He wants us to have the joy of bringing justice with Him. He wants to share the happiness that comes with generosity. Today, reflect on one or more things you can do to cooperate with God on behalf of serving the oppressed in your community. Can you donate time or money to a battered women’s shelter? Can you sponsor rescue for sex slaves? Can you sponsor food, clothing, and schooling for the poor? And the next time you’re feeling like you’re the oppressed one, remember how much God cared for the ones He allowed you to help. He loves you. He hears you. He listens to your cries. 

Prayer:  Oh, God. We are overwhelmed, and even sometimes numb to the oppression we witness and experience. I pray for my reader, Lord, and ask that you would speak to her heart in Your unfailing lovingkindness. Remind her that You are not only the Maker of the Stars, but a God who listens and cares. You hear her cries and you send compassion and help through her to others and through others to her. Remind us all of the hope we have in You and in Your justice. Even if we don’t see Justice now, we know there will come a day for it. Help us to trust You and recognize your work in our world. Show us how to not only pray for Your will on earth as it is in Heaven, but to cooperate with You in the ways we can make it come to be. Amen

If you’d like to catch all of my words when I send them on the wire, don’t forget to add your email address to the subscribe box, and I’ll send you my free printable Guide to Daily Hope. If today’s post was helpful for you, please consider sharing it with a friend, too! 

Wishing you joy and hope from my Nest,

Robyn

Hope that Never Disappoints

This is Day 9 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.


“… always continue to fear the Lord. You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed.”

Proverbs 23:17b-18


For then you will perceive what is true wisdom, your future will be bright, and this hope living within you will never disappoint you.

Proverbs 24:14

If we pursue and perceive God’s wisdom, our Hope is unbreakable.

The book of Proverbs was written by the “wisest” king in Judah’s history. I put that word in quotes because later in life, after having married or concubined over a thousand women, he gave up on God and called everything in life “worthless”, but it’s a fair enough assessment, given that he prayed  for wisdom and God said He would grant it. Some people credit the wisdom of Proverbs to Solomon, but I lean more toward the idea that the Holy Spirit was working through Solomon’s mind and words to give him “God’s smart ways of living” for the people of his kingdom. The good news is that most of the smart stuff that applied to that culture in that time period is still pretty relevant to our society today. It is helpful to use some of the original context to help us apply it appropriately, however. 


If we take the Hebrew word for hope in both of these verses above, it’s the same term, tiqvah, which means cord or rope. I’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder, our hope is like a cord that connects our current situation and identity with our God-filled, and thus good, future. It keeps pulling us forward in time and holds us tethered to that reality, as opposed to attaching us to our past. And if we look at the words for “be disappointed” in both verses, they are the same Hebrew word, karath, which means chewed; completely cut off.

“All [people] relish things that are sweet to the palate; but many have no relish for the things that are sweet to the purified soul, and that make us wise unto salvation.”

– Matthew Henry Commentary (regarding what it means to perceive true wisdom)

C.S. Lewis was an influential theologian and author of many fiction and non-fiction books long-favorited by the modern church, but he resisted Christianity for many of his young adult years. Once a staunch atheist, Lewis was a highly educated, well-read philosopher and thinker in his academic sphere. When he had come to the end of his literary/philosophy education, he concluded that the writers and thinkers he aligned with most just so happened to be Christians, which irked him. He thought, “I could really follow after these folks and their ideas, if not for their blasted ideas about God and faith.” (my paraphrase) Only after coming to that conclusion did he realize that perhaps it was BECAUSE of their faith that they held so much joy, wisdom, and hope that he wanted desperately for himself. And it was after this thought that he began to seriously consider becoming a follower of Christ Himself.  The hope that cannot be cut off is the hope that comes from the wisdom of knowing God, and the beginning of wisdom is the fear (reverence) of God.

Do you see how the circle flows?


I have a desire to be smart, or maybe just to look smart to others. When God sees fit to humble me, I catch a glimpse of true, Gospel-wisdom. It’s in these moments that it ceases to matter how much I know and becomes imperative that I know Jesus. That I understand His love and His grace and His power to make me more like Him. 

Have you been there too, Sweet Reader? Have you come to the end of your knowledge, only to understand the wisdom that leads to Him, the wisdom that leads to hope? Have you put your hope in something other than Him, only to have it cut off, as if it was a rope chewed by a rodent’s teeth? Let the verses above be a reminder that your hope can never be cut off if it is based on knowing the wisdom of His love.


Hope How-to: Take inventory of your understanding of the Gospel, and try to explain it as if to a fifth-grader. Remind your heart what God’s love did for you, and where you might be without His grace. Read through one of the Gospels in the New Testament, or listen to one in your Bible App. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a full understanding of the wisdom that comes from understanding who God is and what He has done for humanity in His love. 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I pray for my reader today. I ask that you give her a deeper understanding and a full wisdom of the Gospel so that she can be assured that her hope will never be cut off or disappear. The hope you give us is eternal, and unbreakable, and I ask that you would give us a fuller understanding of your grace to fill our hope like a balloon, tethered to Your very hand. Thank you for giving us the wisdom we need to know You, to receive Your love, to feel your Grace, and to accept your gift of eternity. May our hope be found in the wisdom you provide. 

If you’re finding hope here in my Nest, I hope you’ll slip your email into the box today. I promise not to spam your inbox, and you’ll receive a FREE printable Daily Guide to Hope so that you can have more wisdom about God’s love, and more confidence in your hope that will never disappear.

With love from my Nest,

Robyn

Re: The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Podcast

… and our attraction to following aggressive leaders.

There’s a podcast blowing up among church circles called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and if you haven’t listened yet, please come out from under that rock, my Friend. 



Usually I find it wise to keep a lot of opinions about controversial issues to myself unless I think that sharing my opinion could be helpful, and that rule counts double online. So, please know my intentions and my disclaimers and my background before you read further:

  1. I want you to know why this is an important message to hear.
  2. I believe many of the lessons learned the hard way can be beneficial for all of us so that we don’t repeat them.
  3. I am guilty of riding this train.
  4. I’m ashamed and mortified that I once wished my church-planter pastor husband would lead and preach just like Mark Driscoll. Cue all the dead emojis. I’m blessed and grateful that the church I am a part of, where my husband is the co-leader and they are both humble men of integrity, is a place where there is a network of accountability and where we don’t value “growth” at all costs. We believe in serving our community and in shining Jesus’s light of hope to our city, but we are far from perfect, so please don’t assume I’m saying that.
  5. I can admit that though Driscoll was found to be and continues to be a perpetrator of spiritual abuse without genuine repentance, he was also the founder of a movement that reached souls with the Gospel message of Jesus and saw transformed lives by what I believe has been the power of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t pretend to understand why God does things like that. 
  6. I think there is an underlying problem with WHAT WE DESIRE IN A LEADER, not just with some of these problematic leaders.
  7. I don’t think I have all of the answers, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes (supposed to be 6 more for a total of 12) in order to find more questions to ask and hopefully more lessons to learn.
  8. I believe in BALANCE and NUANCE. No one in this situation or any is completely evil, and while we can look back on abuse and misuse of power, that doesn’t mean God was not at work, or that good things didn’t happen at Mars Hill. I believe the podcast does a great job of keeping this truth in tension. My opinion about the bottom line: sometimes the ends (salvations, and especially “church growth”) do NOT justify any and every means, especially when those means include corruption, abuse, and misuse of spiritual power. Especially because those salvations can sometimes end up in a soul abortion, and that church growth can subsequently end up in a complete collapse of the church and people walking away from God for good. Those are often the ends in the end, and therefore do not justify any means. 

There are so many themes we could cover, and I want to do more posts about this podcast as more episodes are released, as well as on the subject matter of church leadership and toxic evangelicalism in the future, but for today I’m going to stick to two main things on my heart that I think are worth sharing with you, Reader. The first is what I believe to be self-evident, and I’ll be brief. The second is something I’m not hearing directly, but that I’ve been thinking for the past few years.



FIRST: Church leaders need to be careful that their charisma does not take them to platforms with influence so wide that the foundation of their character, experience, network of accountability, and education cannot support. 


Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor of Mars Hill for almost 20 years (1996-2014) committed many atrocities of what I would define as aggression, misogyny, bullying, generalized spiritual abuse, as well as abuse of power. There were others around him who not only gave him a pass in these areas, but platformed him BECAUSE he was this way. He was not educated in any accredited seminary, as far as I know, and was a self-ordained pastor “so that he could do weddings and funerals.” He was building a movement and speaking at church leadership conferences after just one (1) single year as a church planter under his trendy, studded grunge belt. He had not developed the character traits of humility, integrity, or diplomacy required to lead the large and diverse organization he led. These are my conclusions, based on listening to him back in the mid 2000’s, reading some of his books and blogs written about him, and listening to the long-form journalism from Christianity Today in the podcast. If you have a different conclusion after similar research, I’d like to hear it. If you haven’t yet done these things, I’d encourage you to do so because there is a lot we can learn about leadership, character, and platform that will help us do better as God’s kids who do life together.



SECOND: The problem was/is not only with these charismatic, narcissistic, powerful leaders, but in WHAT WE AS FOLLOWERS DESIRE in a leader. 


How was it that an entire church network of over 15,000 people and millions of online followers (including myself for a time) followed such a leader for so long, despite these obvious character flaws? I don’t think it is exclusively due to poor leadership, but misguided followership, which is not sufficiently taught, emphasized, or guided in our culture. I’ve been saying for years that our western culture places far too much emphasis on developing powerful leaders, and not enough emphasis on the importance of developing effective followers. In America, everyone is trying to be an influencer and a leader, gain followers, but no one values followership or teamwork more than just as a number on the top of their social media account. I could write a book on good followership, and maybe someday I will, but for now the warning is this: We are drawn to follow and prop up a bully because we falsely believe he can protect us from our (often imaginary) fears, and we put up with it when he turns that domineering charisma on us, which results in abuse.

Now, before you think I’m victim blaming here, look at my face. I don’t think anyone that Mark abused is to blame for the situation, but I do think we ALL need to take a hard look at the kinds of leaders we are attracted to and why. Because if we are to turn things around and avoid some of these casualties, especially in the Church, I really think it will require some introspection about what we’re attracted to, what we’re drawn to, and what we are craving. Some people think this leadership style or personality is a “virtue of strength,” but it is NOT the strength I see demonstrated by Jesus or His Father. I think it’s for this similar attraction that women choose abusers to marry and stay with them far longer than they should. I think it’s this same attraction that made millions of Christians vote for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape and who graced the cover of magazines that worship sex or money, not Jesus. And I think this attraction is causing men and women alike to flock to this brash, aggressive, narcissistic bully personality in droves, only to realize that the person they hoped would protect them from a false enemy is now turning that aggression around on them. The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.


The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.

Please, Friends. Choose more wisely who you follow. Hop off that bandwagon before you get caught in a web with no easy exit. 


We saw the failure of willful blindness on the part of the Mars Hill staff and lay leadership. Whether in the moment or in retrospect, they realized that instead of elevating God or meeting the needs of the members or even the needs of the community at large, most everything they did revolved around  promoting and benefitting Driscoll alone, and propping him up became synonymous with the mission of church growth. Which rings familiar with something I heard our former president say in that whatever was good for him was good for the nation, and to protect his reputation was equal to protecting the United States. He also claimed “I alone can fix it” after describing all that he saw wrong with America. My warning here, Friends: It is dangerous FOR YOURSELF to put any person in the place where only God should be. Not only will they fall off that pedestal that YOU have placed them on, but they will tear you down painfully in the process of their fall. If you find yourself attracted to this kind of leader, beware! It is not the leadership Jesus modeled and it is not the place any person should hold in your heart or mind. 


I want to leave you with a careful warning from a rarely-read passage in the Bible. In the book of Zechariah, the minor prophet recounts the days when God’s people returned from a disciplinary season of exile in a country called Babylon, where they were enslaved, killed, and abused at the hands of people who were known to be brutal aggressors. As they set up a humble leader named Zerubbabel, who was entitled to a royal authority but took the title of governor instead of king, God spoke this important clue for their hopeful and good future: 


“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

– Zechariah 4:6

How about you? Have you listened to the podcast yet? If so, what are your reactions and thoughts? Why do you think people continue to follow people (men?) with this kind of personality? What do you think the Bible has to say about it? If not, why not? I’d love to hear more from you!

With love from my Nest,

Robyn