Another Christmas of Faith-building Mishmash and Miracles

MEME - Merry Christmas to share with photo credit - Dec 2016As my husband, Alan, and our son, Xavier, helped me hang ornaments on the Christmas tree this year, I reminisced about the precious moments attached to each decoration.

The homemade ornaments brought back sweet memories from Xavier’s childhood. When he was only two years old, he brought home his very first December craft from school. Every year, he created a new ornament that I hung with joy. And every year I carefully packed away each priceless treasure so we could place them on the tree the following Christmas.

We have souvenir ornaments to commemorate our travels. Each one triggers conversations about our trips.

We remember. We laugh. We thank God for the countless blessings symbolized by those souvenirs.

Friends have given us ornaments. Some of those friends we still embrace like family, some we miss but haven’t seen in years, some are no longer a part of our lives, and some have gone to be with Jesus. Hanging those gifts fills my heart with both joy and sorrow, as I thank God for bringing those people into our lives . . . even if only for a season.

Tears streak down my cheeks as I admire the ornaments my mom sent Xavier, every year since she bought him his very first ornament in 1996. Now that she’s gone, we buy him a yearly ornament that we hope he’ll enjoy hanging on a tree in his own home one day.

But my favorite ornaments are the ones I bought after I received Christ as my Lord and Savior, after I learned the true reason Christmas was worth celebrating.

A beautiful shiny heart proclaims the Lord’s name and reminds me of His perfect love. A delicate slice of Olive wood with three crosses carved in its center celebrates Christ’s victory on Calvary. A jeweled cross that we used on a display at my mom’s Celebration of Life service hangs on a satin ribbon, comforting me with the hope of eternal life.

Almost lost in the branches, a simple nail hangs with a yellow slip of paper attached on a fading strand of curling ribbon. Inside, a poem by an anonymous writer declares Christ as Savior and the nail as evidence of His intimate love for each of His beloved children. The last two lines of the poem read:

“ . . . I know it was His love for us that held Him to that tree. But when I see this simple nail, I know He died for me.”

This Christmas, our family is rejoicing over all the wonderful ways God has worked in and through our lives. We’re also placing our heart-wrenching prayers at His feet.

We’ve endured great losses and faced difficult obstacles, but our Lord continues to fill us with peace and hope. Though we’re grieving much, we can’t stop counting the ways God has blessed us, ways that have nothing to do with material blessings.

We’re struggling with complications in my healing journey, as well as with finances and family strife. But we’ve also witnessed the Lord restoring relationships, giving us wonderful opportunities to serve Him, and giving our family all we need to continue trusting Him in this moment . . . one step . . . and sometimes one breath at a time.

Like the ornaments on our tree, this year and this Christmas is filled with faith-building mishmash and miracles that represent God’s proven faithfulness, sovereign goodness, limitless love, and endless grace.

As we approach the holiday that shines a light on Christ and consider the ornaments on our Christmas tree, I realized we’ve been celebrating Jesus all year and every year.

The circumstances we’re in currently won’t decide the measure of our love for the Lord, or the measure of His boundless love for us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for affirming You are with us always and worth celebrating every day of every year . . . not just on Christmas. Help us acknowledge the wonderful ways You’re working in and through our lives every single day. Please help us accept the tears and the cheers in life as priceless opportunities to experience Your constant presence, rely on Your limitless power, and surrender to Your immeasurable and trustworthy grace. Please, Lord, help us look beyond ourselves and our current circumstances, so we can love You and others with joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

What faith-building mishmash and miracles has God entrusted to you this year and this Christmas?

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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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