Living in the Hope of Christ-Centered Faith: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Hebrews 11 v 1

As I prepare to celebrate the end of 2017, I have mixed feelings. Though our family endured a few harsh treks through the valleys of adversity this year, we also witnessed God working in our lives and in the lives of other in wonderous and unexpected ways.

Part of me couldn’t wait to ring in the new year and leave 2017 behind me. But another part of me needed to reflect on those difficult times, to acknowledge God’s loving grace in the midst of suffering. I wanted to rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness through the good and the bad, the energy-sapping and the easy-peasy.

After a few hard hits tossed us into the waves of uncertainty right before Thanksgiving, my husband and I cried out to God. We had no idea how we were going to swim through the raging waters that surrounded us this time . . . but we knew our loving Father remained in control.

The Lord had navigated us through storms before. He’d lifted our eyes to the horizon and helped us see His consistent Light piercing through the dark clouds that seemed to be closing in on us.

I thanked Him in advance for raining down the joy, peace, and heart-deep hope we’d need to trust Him through the day-to-day trust walk. He’d done it before. He’ll do it again. Wouldn’t He?

With my pinch of doubt rooted in the rocky and dry foundation of self-centered faith, I asked the Lord for forgiveness.

The dictionary defines hope as “a feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” According to the flesh, hope is also “a person or thing in which expectations are centered.” The verb means “to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence” (Dictionary.com).

With that self-centered definition of hope, it’s no wonder that inkling of doubt began to stain the foundation of my faith.

The writer of Hebrews offers the eternal perspective on Christ-centered faith, which is interdependent with hope.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis mine)

Uncertainty and reasonable confidence are as fickle as our everchanging feelings, which are centered on self and usually reliant on our current circumstances. Biblical hope, however, grounds us in the immutability of our sovereign God and His infallible Word.

That’s what I needed . . . the biblical faith of the believers in the Hall of Fame who abided in the Lord’s enduring hope.

“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)

These faithful ones weren’t obsessed with worldly riches, security, or comfort. They didn’t enjoy suffering, but they realized God didn’t waste one moment of their experiences.

As they praised and trusted Him, He used them to encourage and inspire others.

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39).

By faith, Abraham refused to hold back from God in fear. By faith, Jacob didn’t cling to unforgiveness or dwell on the years he missed out on with Joseph. And with bold assurance, Joseph trusted God’s sovereignty, embraced His purpose wherever God placed him, and proclaimed God’s faithfulness as he faced his mortality.

Rather than being hindered by his past adversities, Moses stood firm on God’s promises and “looked ahead to his reward” (v. 26). Moses persevered because he saw [God] who was invisible” (v. 27).

Their hope surpassed their temporal needs because their faith relied on the Maker and Sustainer of all.

“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (v. 40).

In our fleshly weakness, we may still struggle with moments of doubt, fear, insecurity, and even hopelessness. Still, we will be able to walk with confidence when our hope flows from the surety of the immutability of God and the interdependent fellowship of believers.

We don’t have to try to fear the unknown, succumb to weariness in the wait, or keep our balance on the weak legs of our everchanging desires, expectation, experiences, or feelings. We can face anything when we’re living in the hope of Christ-centered faith. Hallelujah!

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Living with Surefire Faith: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 33 v 22 - Photo by Lidia Hu

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 33)

Staring out the window of our hotel room, I scowled. We were supposed to be celebrating my husband’s birthday while in Kauai. Instead, I remained bedridden for the first few days of our vacation. My frustration quickly nudged me into a funky mood that triggered a full-blown pity-party.

The more I complained about my unfair circumstances, the more discontent I became. My grumpy attitude began to rub off on Alan, who had been doing all he could to nurse me back to health and improve my usually positive perspective.

While my sweet caregiver braved the rainstorm to pick up dinner from one of my favorite restaurants, I crossed the room and stared out the window.

Who was I to be complaining when my loving spouse was driving through the storm to make my evening a little brighter? Who was I to think I deserved better than the incredible blessing of celebrating my husband’s birthday in Kauai? When had I allowed discontent to demolish my hope?

By the time Alan returned, the Lord had given me a much-needed attitude adjustment. I apologized and thanked my husband for the delicious meal. We watched a movie that night and were able to enjoy short outings for the rest of the week.

Whether our lives are going well or we’re right smack in the middle of difficult trials, griping can blind us to the wonderful glimpses of hope God places right before our eyes.

We can miss the opportunity to experience peace in the presence of the only One who can offer a foundation of everlasting hope.

No matter what kind of day we’ve had, even when our circumstances feel bleak, we can find reasons to celebrate God, to rejoice in the surefire hope He’s placed at the tips of our fingers, to enter His presence with a joyful song of praise (Psalm 33:1-3).

Why? Because “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.” (v. 4)

Every infallible, life-transforming word of Scripture affirms God was and is and always will be “faithful in all He does.”

The sound of God’s voice holds eternal power to make and maintain everything in the world, yet He makes time to hear us and care for every detail of our lives (vv. 6-7).

When we gripe about our circumstances, we’re telling God that He isn’t enough for us.

But God is enough.

As the psalmist proclaims the evidence of God’s divine power and supreme greatness, we can confidently place our hope in the Lord and submit to His authority. He’s proven to be worthy of worship and reverence (v. 8).

The Maker of all secures it all (v. 9). His plans for each of His beloved children are ordained before we took a breath.

Still, we doubt Him when things don’t go our way?

We can stand firm on God’s purposes and promises, because we can count on His unchanging character (v. 11).

He who formed our hearts, knows our hearts and all we think, say, and do (vv. 13-15). The greatest leaders of the world combined are no match for our God (vv. 16-17).

So, why do we push Him away or feel betrayed when things get rough?

We can’t run away or hide from Him. We can’t make Him stop loving us, caring about us, or pursuing us.

We may feel far from God, forgotten by God, or even failed by God when the days are long and hard. But we can be sure that “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love” (v. 18).

Fear, meaning to revere, honor, acknowledge His majesty, know and trust His sovereign goodness and limitless might.

Hallelujah!

God’s trustworthiness ensures our hope in His reliability, so we can live with surefire faith and join the psalmist in singing:

“We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield” (v. 20).

Even when we feel rushed or anxious to lunge forward, we can be certain God works at the perfect pace for our personal journeys.

He longs for us to sing: “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” (v. 21).

We can rely on El Shaddai‒Lord God Almighty.

We can cry out to El Elyon‒The Most High God.

We can lift our hands to Adonai‒our Lord and Master.

We can rest in the arms of Jehovah Shalom‒the Lord is Peace.

We can follow Jehovah Raah‒the Lord our Shepherd.

We can trust the heart of Jehovah Jireh‒our Provider.

And we can wait expectantly for Jehovah Rapha‒The Lord that Heals‒whether our healing comes on this side of eternity or when we’re welcomed into the arms of our Savior.

When we’re self-focused or dedicated to self-help, it’s too easy to start losing our joy, shattering our peace, and dimming our once radiant light of hope. Even the blessings seem a little duller when we’re devoted to seeking self-satisfaction.

But when we cry out to the Lord, asking Him to empower us to live in surefire faith and grateful joy, we place every ounce of our hope in the infinite and immutable power and promises of His name.

“May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in You.” (v. 22)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Photo taken by and used with permission by Lidia Hu.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Weeping Worship: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 40 v 5 EDITED

Suggested Reading: Psalm 40

Sometimes trials feel like aggressive adversaries. Problems can seem like uppercuts to the chin and right hooks below the belt. Troubles come in the form of extra-long waiting periods, rejections, losses, unexpected life changes, relentless pain, or well-earned weariness.

How long, O LORD?

What next, all-knowing God?

Can I get a little help here . . . will you, please send assistance to my family, my friends . . . soon, Lord?

We want to believe, to wait on God expectantly, bravely, and joyfully. But sometimes the wait of suffering presses into our hearts until we fall onto our knees in weeping worship. It’s easy to consider this a moment of weakness. But these tears are soul-deep prayers through which our spoken or unspoken needs drop into the gentle, open palm of our sovereign Savior.

Like the psalmist David, we can cry out to the Lord without worrying about the volume of our groans. Our hope remains secure in the hands of our dependable, personal, and merciful Master (Psalm 40:1) who has given us a history of His faithfulness.

God has lifted us out of the “slimy pit, out of the mud and mire,” setting our “feet on a rock” and giving us “a firm place to stand” more times than we can count (v. 2).

When sorrows smothered our joy and we couldn’t see hope piercing through the dark clouds of affliction, the Lord put a “new song” in our mouths (v. 3). He plucked the refreshing lyrics from His infallible Word‒the Bible‒the unchanging truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.

The chorus affirmed the power God the Son’s sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, and promise of eternal life in heaven to all who come to the God the Father through repentance and forgiveness of sin to devoted obedience to Christ as Lord . . . life empowered by God the Spirit.

This new song evoked great praise (vv. 3-4).

So, when the fog on the horizon dims our hope, we can look back and rejoice over the many wonders God has done, the mundane moments of grace-filled love and the miracles we still can’t explain away (v. 5).

Yes, we can rely on the Lord’s all-knowing goodness no matter how heavy our burdens, how hard our paths, how long our wait, because He assures us that every step is ordained and ordered according to His perfect will and flawless timing (v. 5).

The King of Kings helps us obey Him, trust Him, surrender to Him with heart-deep devotion. He helps us proclaim His majesty, as we hold strong to our Redeemer’s immutable truth and irrevocable love (vv. 6-10).

We can wail or sob softly, while approaching the Lord with confidence in His compassionate and capable hands.

“Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me” (Psalm 40:11).

Though troubles will come, God’s matchless grace prevails. Though our sinful nature will sometimes tempt us to dip our toes into the mud and mire that the enemy uses to distract us from living in the wake of our inheritance, God remains reliable and invites repentance that leads to restoration (v. 12). We need not fear hardships or people who try to hurt us, intentionally or accidently (vv. 14-15).

We can weep as we worship, exalting the name of the Lord Almighty (v. 16). He knows we’re “poor and needy,” desperate for His deliverance, and anxious for Him to come without delay (v. 17).

There’s no need to hold back tears for fear of looking faithless.

As we accept our weaknesses, we can believe our weeping reaches God’s ears as confident and courageous war cries of unshakeable faith.

Faithful Father, thanks for reminding us that weeping can be a strong show of faith in Your soul-stirring and enduring love‒the solid foundation of our eternal hope. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” (Psalm 40:5)

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When There’s No End in Sight: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 86 v 7 - Photo by Jeanne Doyon

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 86)

With a heavy heart, I endured another bout with weariness. Though discouragement crept up on me, God continued to help me trust Him with my troubles. Over the last few months, He’s blessed through interactions with some amazing people who minister to others even though they are enduring great suffering.

Their passion for serving God and others as they praise Him in all circumstances deepens my faith and my desire to serve the Lord with every breath He gives me.

God has given me numerous opportunities to focus on Him as He allows me the privilege of praying for hurting friends. I’ve been participating in an online group of believers who are interceding in prayer, as an infant and his family wait in a hospital for a miracle of God’s healing mercy.

Witnessing the bold faith of this forum inspires me to praise God as I press onward.

This week, the Lord refreshed my spirit with a call from a friend who shared how He’s using this series to help her through her seemingly endless season of trials.

Praying with her lifted my eyes toward God’s undeniable trustworthiness and majesty.

How could I have fallen into the ditch of doubt so easily after all the times I’ve seen God come through, sometimes in miraculous ways and other times in ordinary-yet-divinely-extraordinary ways?

While thinking about the pain and heartaches that others are experiencing is difficult, praying for them is one of the most empowering and faith-building gifts and privileges we could ever receive.

When the weight of emotional or physical suffering feels like oversized boulders on our backs, it may seem impossible to shake off discouragement, doubt, and despair.

We may begin to feel as if pressing on is useless, as if fighting is futile, as if persevering is an endless cycle of disappointment. That moment is when we have the opportunity to be the strongest we’ve ever been.

As we lean into longsuffering, fully accepting the reality of our utter helplessness, we are ready to trust our mountain-moving deliverer with confidence proven by His past faithfulness.

We don’t have to fear falling to our knees and begging God for help. Like the psalmist David, we can embrace our weaknesses like warriors.

In Psalm 86, David’s words echo with desperation, as well as determined confidence in God’s character, faithfulness, compassion, power, and love.

“Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)

By admitting his dependence on God, David displayed steadfast courage and faith. His persistence in prayer, as he called to God “all day long” (v. 3), proved his belief in God’s compassion as well as His nearness.

David’s tenacious trust of the Lord’s goodness and love (vv. 5-7) confirmed his willingness to rely on the extent of His limitless reach (vv. 8-10).

With a spirit of surrender, David devoted his life to following the Lord with an “undivided heart” (v. 11). His commitment never faltered, even when he struggled with obedience. He placed every detail of his existence in his Lord’s capable hands, even when he doubted.

No matter what obstacles met David on the road ahead, he remained motivated by gratitude and love toward the One who loved him beyond compare, the One who renewed his thinking and changed his life (vv. 11-13).

Though David’s problems didn’t go away (v. 14), he continued to hope in God’s consistent track record and immutability (vv. 15-17).

When the walls seem to be closing in on us and we’re trembling with uncertainty, God remains steady and sure.

When we feel as if persevering has zapped the last ounce of our strength, God offers to carry us.

Our faithful Father created us, cares for us, remains with us, and promises to sustain us. He is the same yesterday and undoubtedly today and forever, so we can count on Him to be true to His Word.

When we’re tired of marching down the treacherous roads of the unknown and the uncontrollable, the signs of God’s goodness can be found in our rearview mirrors and in the God-breathed words of Scripture He’s placed within our reach.

When there’s no end in sight to our rough roads, God will help us take one stride at a time . . . starting with the first step of crying out in confidence: “Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for hearing our prayers and reminding us that we can count on You, no matter what we’re facing or how we’re feeling. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Photo taken by and used with permission from writer Jeanne Doyon.

Meme created by and quote written by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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When We Can’t Hold On: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 18 v 2

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 18:1-18)

October cleared the charts as a tough month seasoned with plenty of opportunities to lean on and praise the Lord. It’s been three years since I lost my mom to cancer. I entered the sixth year of my healing journey and am still experiencing severe muscle spasm flare-ups that lead to debilitating headaches. Physically and emotionally spent by the end of the first week of October, I considered cancelling the vacation we’d planned.

By God’s grace, I was able to travel. I spent the first few days of our vacation recovering in our hotel room and could only endure short outings each day.

Still, I thanked God that we were able to enjoy our time together as we continue to adjust to our “new normal.” But adjusting is a process.

After returning home from our trip, I spent a few days drowning in discouragement.

The Lord blessed me with some amazing people who offered encouragement and prayer, some were readers I haven’t even met in person. But during a few of my darkest valley moments, their attempts to lift my spirits fell on deaf ears:

“You can do this.”

“Stay encouraged.”

“Keep hanging on to Jesus.”

“Hold on to your faith.”

Though people meant well, those phrases reminded me how weak I felt.

My depleting strength made it impossible to believe I’d be capable of doing anything, staying encouraged, hanging on to Jesus, or holding on to my smaller-than-a-mustard-seed faith.

Some days, all I could do was simply rest in God’s presence.

On the good days, I’d read my Bible between unplanned naps or bouts with chronic pain. I’d let worship music pour over me and let my sighs . . . and sometimes my tears . . . be the prayers I placed at God’s feet.

I couldn’t depend on my own strength. I didn’t have all the answers I needed. Self-help failed me every time. As always, the Lord comforted me and strengthened me as He carried me through the prickly patches of adversity.

When I couldn’t cling to hope, when I couldn’t imagine pressing on or persevering, God never failed me, never disappointed me, and never let me go.

God held me close and embraced me with His endless supply of grace.

Like the psalmist David, I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t just give me strength. God is my strength (Psalm 18:1).

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

We can call on the One who is worthy of all our praise, no matter what we’re up against (vv. 3-6). When everything around us feels like it’s falling apart, when it seems as if we’re losing our grip, we can trust God to rise up in majesty and fight for us (vv.7-15).

God reaches down to take hold of us, to pull us out of the depths of discouragement, despair, depression (v. 16). When we feel outnumbered, outmuscled, or out of chances, the Lord turns our eyes toward His promises and rescues us . . . often first from ourselves (v. 17).

Many of our fiercest foes and our toughest critics face us in the mirror each day. But whether we’re battling the lies we tell ourselves or our circumstances are jabbing us until we fall to our knees, the Lord will support us (v. 18).

As we draw nearer to Him daily in prayer and seek to know Him intimately through Scripture, God confirms His love for us remains unconditional, unmatched, and unending (v. 19).

We may not be able to see the light at the end of our current tunnel of adversities. We may not be able to feel the ease of relief today. But we can trust God hears us, cares for us, and will always be there for us.

Almighty Lord of Lords, thanks for reminding us that we can cry out to You in prayer and stop trying to flex our muscles to prove we’re strong enough to hold on. Please help us trust You will never let us go. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemies, from my foes who were too strong for me.” (Psalm 18:16-17)

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Photo taken by and used with permission from my husband, Dr. W.A. Dixon, Sr.

 Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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From Hopeless to Hopeful: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 77 v 11

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 77)

During a flare-up a few weeks ago, I suffered severe muscle spasms and nerve pain that triggered a debilitating headache. As the hours ticked by with no relief and the pain increased, hopelessness closed in on me.

Help me, Lord! Have mercy on me! I can’t take it anymore!

I couldn’t think of the Bible verses that had lifted my heart so many times before. I couldn’t remember the attributes of God that had anchored my faith in the One who promises to never change, never leave me, and never let me down.

Curled up in a wah-baby-melt-down, I could barely whimper prayers for mercy so I thanked God for the prayer warriors who, though struggling with their own trials, stood in the gap to pray for me when I had nothing left to give.

Eventually, God relaxed my muscles and wrapped me in a deep sleep. But for the next few weeks I had limited energy. The Lord refreshed my spirit, as I rested in His presence, listened to worship music, and savored His Word in small bites.

Today, I’m still struggling with fatigue and trusting the Lord with my daily battle with chronic pain. I’m reflecting on the overwhelming sense of despair that had smothered me, that feels as if it’s closing in on me during the harder days.

How did I get in the deep, dark pit of hopelessness when I know God is and always will be faithful and trustworthy?

These feelings can tempt me to slink into shame for being faithless, but the Lord reminds me that the valley moments He’s brought me through are behind me. The faith He has authored and is perfecting in my life is still intact. He promises to remain true to His character and true to His Word whenever I face trials.

Was it a hard road? Of course.

Did I feel like giving up? More than once.

Did I truly believe I couldn’t take one more second of suffering? Absolutely!

But even though I felt helpless, I was still praying . . . though some of those prayers were silent tears slipping down my cheeks.

And even though I felt hopeless . . . somehow . . . I still knew my hope was secured in these truths:

God is listening. God is with me. God is the same trustworthy and loving God He’s been and always will be.

So why didn’t I feel like I knew those facts when I was focused on my circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by my suffering?

Because faith has nothing to do with feelings.

Faith doesn’t depend on the way I’m feeling when I’m suffering, the measure of my strength or weakness, or my ability to remember the right verses when I can’t even think straight.

When we’re drowning in despair, the Lord patiently allows us to process without leaving our side, without changing His character, without losing control of the situation.

As I continue to recover from the flare-up, I’m thanking God for being constant and true, loving and faithful and abounding in grace . . . especially when I can’t feel Him, when I can’t see His hand, or recall His words, or even attempt to say I believe.

We’ll all have times when we feel as if our faith is faltering.

Like the writer of Psalm 77, most of us have “cried out to God for help” (v. 1).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (v. 2).

As the psalmist struggled through weariness, doubt, discouragement, and hopelessness, he rested in the unchangeable, secure foundation of faith‒God . . . simply God.

When he questioned the Lord (vv. 7-9), he opened his heart and reached toward God’s consistency (v. 10).

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12).

The psalmist turns to praising what he knows to be true, the surety of who God is and what He’s done (vv. 13-15). 

He affirms God’s majesty as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (vv. 16-19). He remembers that the strong people of faith never relied on their own strength (v. 20).

The psalter is filled with examples of God’s people coming before Him with raw emotions, struggling with suffering, doubting and dipping into despair.

As we read through these verses, we can see where the writer switches from being self-focused to being focused on God and how He’s worked in and through the lives of others who’ve come before him. But we can’t tell how long this process takes.

We don’t have to beat ourselves up or be ashamed of our times of weakness. We don’t have to hide our hurts or shy away from our moments of hopelessness.

During those inevitable difficult times, instead of sinking into isolation, we can reach out to others and ask for prayer. We can pray for others, remembering all God has done and reminding ourselves that the truths we’re proclaiming apply to us, too.

And we can experience the Lord’s power intimately, to feel His grace carrying us through because we cannot possibly imagine taking one more step on our own.

Every breath is a testimony of God’s sustaining grace. Every tear is a prayer caught in His loving hand. Every sob is a song of proclamation that affirms God hears, God cares, God is with us.

Every time a prayer warrior intercedes on our behalf, every time we pray on behalf of others, God proves He remains the same yesterday and today and forever.

When hopelessness overwhelms us, we can inhale a sense of peace.

We can trust God to anchor us to the unfailing hope of knowing Him and knowing He will stay true to His Word and His character no matter how we feel or how long these valley moments may seem.

Lord, thanks for affirming that we’re never too far for You to cradle us in Your everlasting hope. Please give us all we need to trust You one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Relying on God, Not Self: Living Brave Series

MEME - Relying on God Not Self - Blog

(Suggested Reading – Judges 7:1-25)

In 2014 my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant. I was recovering from my first of two shoulder surgeries and working with doctors to manage the constant high-level pain caused by my upper thoracic back injury.

Still, I immediately agreed when my mom asked me to serve as her caregiver. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that reality hit.

How was I going to care for her when I was right in the middle of my own healing journey?

My husband comforted and encouraged me, as I sobbed and prayed. What were You thinking, Lord?

A few months after my second shoulder surgery, an injection in my back, and a new medicinal plan that would hopefully help me manage my pain while I cared for my mom, I flew to Seattle.

I suffered constant pain every day. And every single day, the Lord showed up and carried me through.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any harder, I tore muscles in my hip and pelvis.

The injuries in my shoulders and upper back flared up as I hobbled on crutches for weeks, cooking, cleaning our small living space, and monitoring my mom’s meds (and mine).

I learned how to depend on God the most on those days when I had no strength of my own.

My faith deepened as I watched my mom trusting God through her healing journey, too. She would read daily devotions from Jesus Calling, pray for others, and rely on the Lord daily.

During our time in Seattle, my mom and I were like our own little army against the world.

We took every step by faith, depending on God completely, surrendering to Him totally, and trusting Him implicitly.

To this day, I’m in awe at how the Lord brought us through the ordeal, how He blessed us with joy, peace, and strength we couldn’t have mustered up on our own.

I think back on those difficult months often, with my mom now at peace with Jesus and me heading into the sixth year of my healing journey.

I consider how Gideon must have felt when the Lord asked him to face an army with a whittled down troop of soldiers.

God had already guaranteed Gideon the victory and proved He would be with him through the battle. He remained patient when Gideon struggled with fear and doubt. He reminded Gideon that his own strength was irrelevant.

With pared down troops, Gideon would have no choice but to put his trust in God’s power, not his own abilities or the strength of his support system (Judges 7:1-6).

“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped [the water] I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’” (v. 7, emphasis mine)

God didn’t snatch the soldiers away.

Gideon had to choose to embrace his weakness, to let go of his safety net, before he could experience the power of God.

 In compassion, the Lord still offered Gideon comforting reassurance (v. 10-11).

God knew his servant would experience moments when doubt or fear muscled out every ounce of courage he had managed to muster up.

So, He allowed Gideon to hear testimonies of what others saw in him as the Lord worked in and through his life (vv. 13-14). Though Gideon couldn’t see past his own weaknesses, those around him witnessed God’s power surging through his obedience.

The “mighty warrior” God had called forth rose up to the challenge before him, using the simple tools he had been given (vv. 15-16). There was no doubt the Lord alone defeated the enemy Gideon had once feared (vv. 17-22).

Gideon’s courageous faith, made stronger through his moments of doubt and discouragement, emboldened those who witnessed the small army’s victory against the Midianites (vv. 23-25).

We’ll all face obstacles, enemies, or battles that seem impossible to overcome and make us feel inadequate.

When we feel too weak, too unprepared, too afraid to walk the path the Lord has paved for us, we can guarantee victory by lifting our arms in complete surrender to God.

We’re strongest when we let go of the false sense of security wrapped in self-reliance and embrace our weaknesses, admit our absolute need for God, and rely on Him for everything.

Like Gideon, we may have a few set-backs that will require God’s patient and loving pep-talks.

Because Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, there’s no way our skirmishes with fear and doubt can determine the measure of our faith.

The Lord knows when we’re weary, insecure, and in desperate need of His affirming love.

His sufficient grace is more than enough to help us when we’re tempted to give God our own brand of fleece-tests (Judges 6:36-40) to determine His proven faithfulness.

As we rely on God, not self, we can embrace our weakness and experience the peace of His constant presence as we walk in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, thanks for being patient when we waver and for being our strength when we’re weak. Please help us show that we accept the power You’ve placed in us by relying on You in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Carrying Shields of Faith, Not Fear: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 23

(Suggested Reading – Judges: 33-40)

For years after receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I functioned with fearful instead of fearless faith. I prayed for protection and provision with inklings of doubts that raised my levels of anxiety instead of peace. Rather than proclaiming who God is with confidence, I pleaded for affirmation and begged God to give me favor and grant my wishes.

Once I stopped treating God like my personal vending machine of pleasure, I began to understand the interdependence of believers and the trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty.

I’m so glad the Lord’s answers to my prayers aren’t dependent on my limited vision or fear-filled desperation for personal comfort.

In His sovereignty, God knows what I’m going through. He also knows what’s around the corner and what I’ll need to get through an upcoming crisis or over an unsavory obstacle. I don’t.

In His goodness, God cares about my needs . . . more than my list of wants. He grieves when I suffer and desires what’s best for me, even when what’s best requires a personal cost physically, emotionally, or mentally. I, on the other hand, usually don’t mind settling for the more feel-good roads of least resistance.

It took a while, and I sometimes still forget, that what’s best for me doesn’t always mean what I want or what will make my current situation easier.

Even though God is all good, my journey in this world on this side of eternity will often include too much heartache, too much waiting, too much struggling. But the Lord always remains in the know and in control.

When God nudges me forward or beckons me to follow, I can trust Him as Promise-Keeper and walk with courageous faith . . . even when I’m fearful.

As believers, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He is with us, empowering us, guiding, encouraging, comforting us. He speaks the truth of His Holy Word, assuring us of His proven faithfulness.

So, why do we sometimes hesitate when the Lord leads us to do something we’ve always dreamed of doing or something that requires us to depend on His strength because we know we can’t do anything in our own strength?

When we know God fights our battles and provides our strength, promising to be with us wherever He leads us, why do we sometimes shy away from risking failure or facing fierce opposition?

Because, sadly, our vision is often blurred by our human frailty and we act as if the measure of our faith depends on us.

Fear demands absolute proof of provision and protection. Spirit-empowered faith moves forward on the promised assurance of who God is and what He’s declared to be true‒the Bible.

Yet, in His goodness, the Lord knows we’re feeble. He’s persistently patient with us.

With awe-inspiring kindness, God respects our need to process our emotions and work through the layers of fear, insecurity, and self-sufficiency that prevent us from walking in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture affirms “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” (Judges 6:34). This “mighty warrior” had all he needed to follow God with bold confidence.

Still, doused in unbelief, Gideon tested God’s honor by questioning His abilities: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised . . .” (v. 36).

If? Gideon’s two-lettered badge of faithlessness basically implied God was a liar.

The Lord had promised, but Gideon didn’t trust His integrity.

In love, God tolerated Gideon’s self-focused insecurities and his vain attempts to surpass faith with fleece-filled litmus tests (v. 37-40).

While it may be tempting to judge Gideon and criticize his limp faith-muscles, it’s more than likely that we struggle with the same desires for God to give us confirmation before we step out in faith.

Unfortunately, it often feels safer to stand in reluctance, waiting in the pit of disobedience, unwilling to walk in the power we’ve been given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because, like Gideon, we settle for a perspective distorted by our own imperfections and limitations.

God has given us all we need to live brave.

As we shift our thoughts to God’s reliability, we can risk rejection and face the possibility of failure.

 By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, we can abolish fruitless fears and carry a shield of faith molded with the surety of God’s inerrant truth and unchanging character.

Mighty King of Kings and loving Father, please help us accept the power You’ve given us to trust You, rely on You, and follow You with fearless faith. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Following God When the Stakes Feel Too High: Living Brave Series

MEME - We Can't Lose God - Pic by Begona Maier(Suggested Reading: Judges 6:12-32)

When I first became a Christian, I discovered relationships and my personal comfort were my biggest idols. My prayers were fear-filled plea bargains. I’ll follow You, trust You, obey You, Lord, but please, please, please have mercy. I can’t bear the thought of losing (fill in the blank).

As I think back on my whining-prayers, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the cost of discipleship. I still placed God below and behind the things and people of this world. Even my emotions became idols. I didn’t want to face fear, grief, sickness, pain, or worry, so I coveted easy routes.

My selfish cries for favor were poor attempts to sidestep pain and lessen the risk of loss.

My pleas for comfort were sad tactics intended to help me avoid giving up what I wanted, what I valued, what I thought I deserved, what I worked hard for, what I called my own and did not want to risk losing.

But as I continued to draw nearer to my Savior, He helped me understand that following Him wouldn’t always lead me down easy streets.

God gives us all we need to live in fearless faith, walk in freedom, embrace His grace, and follow Him . . . no matter how high the stakes.

None of the wonderful things God does in and through our hard days would be possible if we refuse to risk those high stakes, if we deny the Lord because we think we have too much to lose.

When God invites us to trust Him, He assures us we’ll face trials and troubles, as well as plenty of persecution and opposition. He also promises He’ll be powerful, patient, and present, as He empowers us to live for Him.

But when we believe God, when we’re ready to live brave we’ll face the idols that keep us focused on what we have to lose instead of all God has given us, all He promised us.

When the Lord asked Gideon to destroy his father’s idols, He wasn’t just asking him to clean house. Gideon had to rid his life of the fears and insecurities he’d placed on the throne of his heart, before he could follow God with courageous faith.

When Gideon doubted and complained about the rough road his people had endured, God didn’t make excuses or apologize. He told Gideon to go with the strength he had, the strength God had given him, and to remember God Himself was sending him so there was no need to fear or fret (Judges 6:14).

When Gideon focused on his own feebleness, the Lord didn’t console him or give him a list of all he’d accomplished in the past. He simply assured Gideon that He would be with him (v. 15-16).

When Gideon demanded proof of God’s faithfulness (v. 17), depended on his own works by offering a sacrifice God never asked him to give (vv. 18-19), the Lord met Gideon right where he was (v. 20-21).

Gideon trembled in the face of God’s might (vv. 22-23), and God’s comfort resulted in Gideon’s outpouring of worship in which he emphasized the peace of God’s presence (v. 24).

Peace, not just power.

Bowed before the Lord, Gideon was ready for the biggest step in his pursuit of honoring God.

But even in his obedience, the “mighty warrior” still displayed weakness when he chose to act under the cloak of darkness (vv. 25-27).

Gideon’s not the last of God’s children to slip into the safety net of life as an undercover, lukewarm, conditional, or compromising believer.

Still, despite Gideon’s weak-spots and mess-ups, it seems God used his obedience to influence his father. Joash became Gideon’s supporter. He stood up for his son against the hostile crowd seeking revenge for the destruction of Baal’s alter, declaring false gods have no power (v. 32).

And after having seen the One True God in action, Gideon stood against the enemy armies (vv. 33-35).

When we’re following the Lord, we’ll often face problems that feel insurmountable or adversaries that seem unbeatable. It’s tempting to cling to idols, which can include our works, talents, abilities, skills, or connections, as if they were more dependable than the God who gave them to us.

Insecurities and fear may even become idols that we place before God, idols that tempt us to want to make God prove His faithfulness, to assure us that we won’t have to risk defeat, pain, loss, or anything we might value more than pleasing Him.

As lovers of God, we’ll come to realize the great cost of discipleship includes risking great loss and facing high stakes. But we don’t need not be afraid because our unchanging God loves us unconditionally.

God remains faithful, good, and trustworthy as He assures us that no stakes are too high because we’ll never lose Him.

Lord, thanks for assuring us that we don’t need to depend on our own strengths or fear the high stakes of following You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Begonia Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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