God’s Long-Term Planning Ability: Why I am Hopeful Today, #7

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Happy Advent! “Advent” means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event” “especially of something momentous,” according to a quick search of online dictionaries. In the Christian church calendar, it means waiting for and celebrating the arrival of Jesus, God in human flesh. It’s worth celebrating, for the people of God had been waiting for this event for hundreds of years!

Have you ever thought about why the church was waiting for Jesus in the first place? He didn’t just appear, do some amazing things, and get talked about after that–the Jewish people, the people Jesus was born into, had been anticipating his arrival for a very long time. How did they even know that a Messiah, a Savior, was coming?

Now, to be clear, most Jews are still waiting. They didn’t see in Jesus the person they were waiting for. There are lots of reasons for that (to explain in another post, perhaps). For the people who did–and do–see Jesus as this “notable person” who they’d been waiting for, why?

Last week we talked about promises, mostly the promises we make to one another. Well, God, from the very beginning, made a very big promise to Adam and Eve, and to all of us: He promised us a Savior.

In the very first book of the Bible, in Gen. 3:15, God promises that someone was coming who would “crush the head” of the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and led them astray.

Later, the prophet, Isaiah, foretold in 42:1-4:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight,

I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice, he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his law the islands will put their hope.

It was also predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; cf. Mt 1:33). His birthplace would be Bethlehem (Mic 5:2; cf. Mt 2:1, 6), and John the Baptist would be his forerunner (Isa 40:3-5; Mal 3:1; cf. Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3; Lk 3:4-6).

And in Isaiah 35:4-6, there is this prediction about the coming of a Savior:

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Who does that sound like? Sounds like Jesus, to me. Over this holiday season, may you seek the One who came to rescue us from our blindness, to help us leap like a deer, and to shout for joy.

Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas!

See you in the new year!

Love,
Sonja

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Promises, Promises–Why I Feel Hopeful Today, #6

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Do you expect people to keep the promises they make? We certainly don’t expect politicians, even ones we like and vote for, to keep all the promises they make. It’s pretty much a given that they won’t or can’t.

Maybe I’m being a little jaded, but it when someone makes a promise, what I actually hear is “I really wish I could do this,” or “I will try to make that happen.”

In a society where the first response to someone ‘fessing up to not following through on something they said they’d do is “No worries,” it’s hard to actually expect anyone to do exactly what they say they’re going to do, every time–or at least to make a really sacrificial effort trying. We quickly say, “No worries,” to indicate that we knew the task was going to be difficult, or that we empathetically understand that life is busy and we didn’t really expect them to do it, anyway. At least, that’s the way I take it.

What about God? The Bible, often referred to as “God’s Word,” makes a lot of promises. My grandmother once gave me a flip calendar of Bible promises. I was at an age where I was truly wondering if I could take God at his word.  What was he promising me anyway? I needed to know.

I had just moved to Japan, and I came across the verse “Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I knew what my desires were, but there was a second part to this promise. I had a job to do! I was to figure out what it meant to “delight in the Lord.” (I actually wrote a story about this time in my life that was published in Cup of Comfort Book of Bible Promises, still available on Amazon). Long story short, and 25 years of marriage, two beautiful daughters and a career as a children’s author later, I figured it out at least a little, and God has certainly kept his end of the promise!

What promises has God made in his book that you would like to see fulfilled for you? Do you ever take God at his word, doing your part to get to know him, worship him, love him and others as yourself? Do you expect him to keep his promises to you?

Here are just a few of God’s promises to look up, and next week we’ll talk about his biggest promise of all!

1 John 2:25–The promise of eternal life

Luke 18:27–All things are possible with God

Ezekiel 36:26–The promise of a new heart and new spirit

John 16:13–The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit

Matthew 6:31-34–God will take of our needs

James 1:5–God will give us wisdom

Psalms 119:165–God will give us peace

Proverbs 18:10–God will protect us

John 14:2-3–Jesus will come again

Revelation 21:4–The promise of an end to suffering and pain

Which ones resonate with you? Look them up. Is there something you need to be doing to, as part of the promise?

The image is from http://www.ministrybestpractices.com.

 

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Happy, Hopeful Thanksgiving!

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What are you feeling grateful for this year? Sitting around my grandmother’s “Friendly Village” china (Johnson Brothers), piled high with her turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, we’d always finish dinner by telling each other what we were especially grateful for that year. Family and friends usually topped the list, but it was always good to say it out loud (Still is–my siblings and I still call to ask each other what we were thankful for the past year!). The fact is, no matter what manner of trials or illnesses or sources of anxiety there might have been during the previous year, there is always something to be grateful for. Usually lots of things!

This year, as I face the news that my lovely British publisher, Sunpenny, is changing its business model and will be returning the rights for the Sophie Topfeather series back to me at the end of December, I am sad, but still so grateful. Grateful for the two and a half years of being in relationship with them as they put out two beautiful children’s novels, with my name on the cover! Grateful for third grader who just this week checked out Sophie’s Quest for the third time. Grateful for the Muslim student who asks me weekly how many more pages I’ve written on Sophie #3 (six more this week, perhaps half-way)! Grateful for the opportunities to share with women’s groups how to pursue a God-given dream, as I did last Saturday at a nearby church.

I’m also so grateful that Jeff, my husband, believes in the series and won’t let this change of events be the end of Sophie and friends! Together, we’re seeking God’s leading, and together, we will work out this new “chapter.” What a thrill to put out our first book together this year, too–Mount Rainier’s Historic Inns and Lodges feels like the icing on the cake of our 25th wedding anniversary, and shows me that we really can do something special together in the coming year for Sophie.

Apart from the usual family and friends and book-related gratitude, I have to add that I am also very grateful that a little friend named Michelle has made it out of the hospital after a scary and uncertain three weeks. When a child is in the hospital on Halloween, you know they’re SICK, and when they are still in the hospital weeks later, you start praying non-stop. Seeing her walk into school today made my heart jump with joy. Look at the beautiful bracelet she made me while in the hospital!

Finally, thank YOU for helping me work out my anxieties of this political season through this blog. Your comments and likes and shares have helped me remember that we are not alone, and we have a great God who is with us and sovereign over all. I appreciate you!

May you also have a long list of things to be grateful for this holiday season!

Stay tuned for the return of the series, “Why I am Feeling Hopeful Today.”

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The Buck Stops–Where? Why I Feel Hopeful Today, #5

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Right after posting “Hope #4” last week, I heard about the Texas church shooting. Crushing. Sure felt like the darkness won that day, and it’s still a struggle. If I hadn’t just written that post about sin and darkness not lasting forever, it would have been even harder to feel hopeful this past week.

So while I do believe that light conquers darkness in an ultimate, eternal sort of way, surely–surely!–somebody has to pay for all this evil! Just like at school, it can feel so GOOD when a kid who has been super naughty finally gets his “comeuppance” (no one says that anymore, but what a great word) and a consequence for his actions has been administered effectively. The buck stops at the principal’s door, and dangerous or disrespectful behavior gets addressed and can actually change for the better, at least some of the time.

When someone is willing to shoot up a concert venue or the children inside a house of worship, or drive down a bicycle path full of cyclists and pedestrians, WHERE IS THE PRINCIPAL? These murderers usually die before they get their  comeuppance, and sometimes that even seems like their goal–take as many as they can on their suicide mission. It feels like they get away with murder, literally, and got everything they wanted in the process.

How we want to rage with the Psalmist! We cry out with David, Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice (Psalm 7:6).

Romans 12:9 tells us that justice–even revenge–is God’s to take. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 assures me that nothing that happens goes by unnoticed by God: For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

What of the leaders who have caused so much angst in our society? God has a word for them, too, from Matthew 18:6. Jesus says, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 

I guess we can take from all this that we CAN let God worry about giving people their comeuppance. So what should we worry about? Jesus makes that pretty clear, too, but it might be too radical for most of us to handle:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-48, emphases on all these quotes are from http://www.Biblegateway.com).

 

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Darkness–Like Halloween–Doesn’t Last Forever: Why I am Hopeful Today #4

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It’s the week of Halloween as I write this. Not my favorite holiday. I don’t know exactly why, except it probably has something to do with my introverted personality–I don’t particularly enjoy making a spectacle of myself.

I also think back nearly thirty years ago to a South African mom at the international school in Japan where I taught for a few years. She came to me extremely concerned one day. What was this Halloween? Why would we celebrate darkness and the Devil?

I remember being taken aback. Why did I celebrate Halloween? I tried to explain that it was just a fun excuse to dress up and get candy, and no one really meant anything by it, but every year since then, when the television is full of horror movie commercials and dark shows about vampires, werewolves, etc., I have the same antsy feeling I had that day as I tried to explain the American holiday in a Japanese setting to a South African mom. As a mom myself, I enjoyed making costumes for my kids and taking them trick-or-treating, but I’m always glad when Halloween is over.

Lately, the evil in the world–pedestrians being mowed down on purpose by trucks on sidewalks around the world, out-of-control gun violence on Chicago streets, university campuses, and concert venues, plus all the #MeToo evidence of sexual misconduct, not to mention the state of the truth in our political world (do I have to go on?)–all this blatant evil looks like it’s “winning,” (to borrow a phrase).

Is it? Is the evil in the world winning? Just the evidence of evil in my own community can weigh me down, let alone thinking about all the evil on display in my own country and around the world! But is that the final answer? Is that God’s final answer?

Next week, we’ll see specifically what the Bible has to say about political leaders and who they answer to, but for today, for this week of Halloween, I just want to remind myself and all of us that the darkness isn’t permanent. God has another plan for that, and he has already declared victory. Stay tuned for specifics on that, too!

It is enough for me today to remember this:

The people living in darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Matthew 4:16).

and this assurance from John 1:15:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

That gives me hope for today, and a promise for tomorrow.

The picture above is courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org.

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“Be still!” Why I Feel Hopeful Today #3

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It made an impression on me nearly 30 years ago when my friend, Linda, happily informed me that my new home in Seattle didn’t have poisonous snakes or dangerous spiders. Seattle rarely had tornadoes or lightning or anything else that people think of that might hurt you. There didn’t even seem to be a bad part of town that we should completely avoid, a contrast to our former college home in Chicago. Also, unlike Chicago, she had never even seen a cockroach here! Win!

Of course, we might get earthquakes occasionally, and the threat of a volcanic eruption is always somewhere in the way far back of your mind, but drizzle is the most immediate threat, and it won’t kill you.

Other places, as the news often reminds us, are not so lucky. Why should one place be hit with constant tornadoes or hurricanes or fires or rattlesnakes or (fill in the blank for your personal nightmare senario), when other places seem safe by comparison?

For that matter, why does one person get cancer and another is healthy as a horse? Why does one person seem to get everything they want and another struggles just to get by?

Life isn’t fair. It just isn’t, no matter how we try to attribute blame or rage at God, or ask, ‘Why me?’ Sometimes, there’s just no figuring out why some people seem to have it so easy.

I have to admit that I’ve had it pretty good. A couple run-ins with cancer, but always the “good kind,” doctors have said–completely treatable with little risk of spreading or recurrence. I feel pretty lucky. I am blessed in so many ways, and I know it, and I’m grateful.

Still, as we’ve been talking about in this blog series on HOPE, sometimes the overwhelming sin and despair and loneliness and cruelty and foolishness of the world around me can cause those little anxious pangs to run through my chest and make me wonder how things will ever really be okay for friends going through truly hard times, and for our country and world.

As Jesus spoke with authority to the wind and the waves, “Be still!”, amazing and restoring hope to the disciples, so he also speaks with authority into our troubled world. If the storm around us stays frustratingly in place, he can speak the comfort and calmness into our inner being, creating a peace that “passes understanding.”

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

His disciple, John, trusted in this peace of Christ completely. John quoted Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). John is repeatedly referred to as the “Beloved disciple.” He knew Jesus loved him. He knew it.

Recently, I had some unfortunate news that isn’t life-threatening or even that painful–mainly frustrating, because it means a lot more work and expense coming up that I wasn’t planning on. My initial reaction, though, has been to wonder what God is up to! I feel peace about it, that this is a necessary step leading to something good. You can “Call Me Pollyanna,” as in my first post title in this series, but I think something deeper is going on.

I’ve been on this particular road for a long time, weathering a few storms of disappointment along the way–and God has been faithful. He’s let me see little bits of what he might be up to, and it gives me confidence that he is in charge of this latest change as well. I know he loves me, and that this will all turn out for good, if I allow God to be God, and not try to micro-manage things too much.

Do you know yourself to be a beloved child of God? You are! He is claiming you:

Beloved, now we are all children of God! (1 John 3:8).

Will you claim him? If you have never let yourself truly believe that you are a beloved child of God, trusting in him to still the storm around you–or the storm within you–won’t you try it today? What do you have to lose?

 

 

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Even in Scaryville: Why I Feel Hopeful Today #2

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Really? Really?

I can’t think of anything scarier than being surrounded by fast-moving flames, with no clear path to safety. Or how about being trapped into a small space, knowing that a house or office building has collapsed all around you and the rescuers (that must be out there somewhere) have no idea if you are alive or even there at all. Oh, and your leg is broken and you can’t move an inch in any direction, and there’s barely any room to breathe. Or maybe a crazy person is shooting into a crowd of innocent people?

The Bible is full of scary situations, too. Imagine a ferocious storm is threatening your ship, then you’re thrown overboard by superstitious sailors, and then you’re swallowed by a big fish, like Jonah. Joseph was thrown into a deep pit in the middle of nowhere by treacherous brothers. That would be right up there in Scaryville, too.

Why on earth do I entertain these terrible thoughts, even for a moment? My imagination went there, uninvited, while watching the news over the past few weeks. I let myself dwell there for awhile when I saw posts on social media that belittled prayer. Even Christians who I know posted things like the image at the top of the page. Of course, their point is well-taken: don’t “just” pray, DO something! Change a policy, send some money! Don’t just stand there, or kneel there, or sit there with your eyes closed and hands folded! What on earth can that accomplish?

The thing is, if you are deep in that pit, or surrounded by heat and flames, or trapped in a tiny, rubble-filled space with a broken leg, new policies and money and even an outpouring of blankets and water bottles and food won’t do you a lick of good.

Prayer, on the other hand? Let’s see. Jonah, in the belly of a big fish, deep down in the sea, cried out to the Lord. The Bible says:

From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry . . . . The engulfing waters threatened me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God (Jonah 2:1-2).

A man trapped with his wife in the terrible California fires recently claimed that God led him to the pool that kept him safe, although his wife died in his arms.

I’ve heard rescuers say that they found someone trapped in rubble because they got “a feeling.” Stories like these could be repeated in legion. Who knows?

2 Corinthians 1:21 promises “. . . He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Can God be any closer than that? It means we are never alone, never beyond reach, never without hope. Because, if life gets scary, I’m relieved to have a God who hears me and can move rescuers in the right direction to find me because they “get a feeling,” who can be with me in my pit. And, if my time has come, God is right there to comfort me and guide me home.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Of course, let’s all send money, donate time and boats and energy and water and blankets and food and whatever else is right and good!

But, please, don’t forget to pray.

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Call Me Pollyanna: Top Ten Reasons to Feel Hopeful Today

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Tiny, but actual pangs of anxiety have been coursing through my chest lately as I read headlines from Washington and North Korea, and as I try to imagine what others are going through where earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, and fires have recently struck. It’s not a good feeling. I’m wondering, friends–How are you doing?

In my house, we’ve been mildly joking that as soon as FEMA completely runs out of resources, the “Big One” will hit the Pacific NW, and we’ll be completely on our own. Somehow, it feels too possible to actually find it funny enough to laugh out loud. (My husband went to Costco recently for a big case of water, just in case, so I don’t think he’s laughing too hard either!)

Hope on the ground feels a tiny bit thin at times, to be honest.

So, in this era of threats and tweets, natural disasters, fake and real news and constantly having to discern between the two, I’ve come up with a list of my “Top Ten Reasons Why I Feel Hopeful (and Why You Can, too).” I need this list, and maybe you do, too?

I was going to create a nice, concise set of bullet points, but my tiny little anxiety pangs have actually subsided this week after spending time working on this, so I’ve decided that I need to spend more time with these–not just read them fast in a quick list. If that’s what you need too, I’ll be focusing on one bullet point each blog post, and then I’ll recap them all in a short list at the end.

Number 1:

  1. The sun still rises and sets (pretty spectacularly from my living room window lately, I might add). My God is Lord of all, including nature.

    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

God still has a plan for each day, a plan leading to something bigger and better that only he can fully understand. If I trust God, I need to trust that all the disasters (natural and man-made), are ultimately subject to (not saying caused by) God’s bigger plan.

Most importantly, God’s Word tells us that he loves us. He loves me and you and all those folks in dire straits and even our political leaders on the right and the left. He even loves all those football players taking a knee. He made each of us, you see, to be part of his ultimate plan (John 3:16, for a reminder).

So, when Jesus says in Matthew that not a “least stroke of the pen” will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished, and he also says that “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” are the greatest commandments in the Law, maybe I have my answer as to why the sun rose and set again today: I get another chance to try to love God wholly and to love my neighbor as myself.

Have I done that? Have I tried to love God and others as myself in every conversation, in every social media post? In every action, no matter how subtle? Have I neglected to take action or words that would show love to God and others?

Thank you, Lord, for giving me–and all of us–another sunrise and sunset today, for giving us another chance! That’s a reason to hope, because, as it turns out, our hope isn’t “thin on the ground,” but with the Lord!

See next week’s post for Reason to be Hopeful #2~

 

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Book Club Materials Now LINKED to the Website!

Just a quick follow-up to the blog post from Sunday about the new book club! Thanks to the awesome, FAST, accurate help from the WordPress people, I have now got a link to the materials on the SOPHIE’S QUEST BOOK CLUB PAGE on this website. Just look at the header buttons in that green strip, and find the book club.

Click on that, and then scroll to the bottom. The link to all the materials is just above the Contact Form. If you have any questions about any of it, feel free to use that form to contact me and I’ll try to answer your question or put you in touch with the very nice woman who created the four-week plan.

Feel free to pass on the word to people in your church, school, or neighborhood. The book club strikes me as a fun, unique way to share the gospel and to become a better neighbor by trying to understand our diverse world a little bit better.

Even if we believe different things, God made each person and loves each one enough to die for them! We can show that we love others too, when we try to understand them. I like it when people try to understand me, and you probably feel the same way.

Thanks for sharing about the book club in whatever way feels right to you!

I hope you’re having a great day!

Sonja

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Book Club Blessings–A Free Gift for You

Courtesy of Cateresa Boston

Have you ever participated in a book club? My oldest daughter and I joined a group that met all through middle school. We met new people, read new books, and heard thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of topics that were often decidedly different than those we heard from our regular circle of friends. While we often didn’t agree with each other and liked different kinds of books, we respected each other and enjoyed our time together a lot.

What I loved most about being in a book club, though, was the time my middle-schooler and I spent in the car together on the way to and from the meetings. We’d chat about some of these decidedly different thoughts and opinions, and it really helped me get to know my daughter in a brand new way; I think it also probably helped her know where I stood on some things, and why.

A surprise book club blessing this summer has brought up a lot of these old memories. A church librarian in Ohio, who had been given a copy of Sophie’s Quest last Christmas (thanks, Mom!) teamed up with a new home-schooling volunteer at her church to create a month-long book club experience using Sophie’s Quest! They had never done a book club at church before, but they made detailed lesson plans, creative snack and craft activities, greatly expanded the discussion questions I had included in an Appendix, and created worksheets to help kids understand literary concepts like the Hero’s Journey, and to think about prayer and the biblical names of God in a new way.

They sent out an invitation. Would anyone even want to come to a book club every Thursday in the middle of the day throughout the month of July? To their surprise and delight, over 20 kids eagerly signed up and showed up! We even Skyped together one week, and I was amazed by their thoughtful questions and enthusiasm for the whole experience. It gives me goosebumps to think about it!

Best of all, the creator of this fun book club has made all of her materials–the thoughtful product of hours and hours of her time–available to me and YOU for FREE! Continue reading

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