Tag Archives: hope

Spring Forth into the New

Green shoots are springing up everywhere as we look around outside in this new season. Some plants that appeared dead have sprouted new growth, and isn’t it a delight to look upon evidence of new life? This can bring hope, hope as new life is seen in the natural world and hope as new life is in us as God’s children.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

As a friend said to me recently, the past year was a rough year. Certainly we all dealt with the usual challenges in life, but also had to face the pandemic, turmoil in our country, and, in Texas, a rare deep freeze. The Lord has seen us through it all, wouldn’t you say? Thankfully, we can emerge from this time with stronger faith, with more resiliency and endurance, for we have seen again that God is good and that He has brought us through. God is always faithful to be with us and to bring us through.

It is time to shake ourselves off and move forward. It is time to step into all the Lord has for us ahead. It is time to giddy-up and go!

Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV)

In order for us to go on into the new, we must move past the past that would hold us back. What is holding you back? Are you still reeling from what’s happened this last year (and may still be happening) to your family, your ministry, your job, things you care deeply about? Are you caught in a place of fear, sorrow, pain, hopelessness? Are you worn down and worn out?

The scripture above commands us to leave the past behind. Easier said than done, right? Sometimes our focus is on those things we no longer can do anything about resulting in regret, discouragement, depression, or overwhelming sadness or grief. We are to process with the Lord that which is hindering us or stopping us from moving ahead. We are to trust in God as our Healer, the Lifter of our Head, and the Restorer.

Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NKJV)

Then we move on. We are open to the new thing the Lord is doing; we are looking for it to spring forth. Even where there has been wilderness or desert in our lives, we trust in God to make a new way. We are not stuck any longer. A road in the wilderness! Rivers in the desert! Jesus is the Way. As we put our hand is His, He leads us forward showing us the path. He directs our steps. He makes the crooked places straight. We are simply to trust Him.

In chapter 1 of the book of Joshua, God calls Joshua to become the new leader of the Israelites and is given his assignment: to lead the people across the Jordan to Canaan to claim the land as an inheritance. God’s words to Joshua ring true for us today as we say “yes” to God’s call and to God’s assignments as we advance His kingdom.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:8-9 NKJV)

It’s time to move forward in the light of His glory and grace. It’s time to spring forth into the new!

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Feeling Stumpy?

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed buying sentimental gifts for my parents, especially gifts that might bring a tear to their eyes. Although my motive may have been misplaced, my intention was to use those gifts to express my affection for them. When my parents sold their home a few years ago, I inherited one of those gifts: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In a typical burst of sentiment, I had given this children’s book to my mom and dad on the occasion of their joint February birthdays, when I was eighteen years old; my dedicatory message to them is inscribed inside the front cover.

This poignant story recounts the relationship between an apple tree and a boy. The young boy climbs the tree, swings from the tree’s branches, and even carves a heart into its trunk to signify his relationship with the tree. Later, he carves another heart into the bark with the initials of himself and his young sweetheart. Ultimately, the boy grows into manhood and sets off to make his way in the world. When he needs money, he sells the tree’s apples; in need of a home, he uses the tree’s branches for lumber to build a house. Throughout this tale, the tree persists in referring to the aging man as “Boy” and continually waits in expectation of his next visit. Ultimately, the “boy” asks the tree for her trunk to construct a boat. The tree lovingly acquiesces and is consequently reduced to an old stump in the ground. The story closes with the boy’s return as an elderly man; the tree welcomes him but explains that she has nothing left to give him. He responds that he only needs a place to sit and rest. The tree invites him to sit down and rest on her, as an old stump is indeed good for that. He accepts her invitation and takes a seat on the old, barren stump. The last line in the book reads, “And the tree was happy.”

The image of the old stump suits the way I have regarded myself this year — barren, depleted, isolated, and exhausted. At times, I have felt abandoned (although I could not exactly say by whom) and alone (despite a loving family surrounding me). I have felt increasingly useless and have speculated whether I have anything left to offer anyone. Such thoughts have plagued me during this pandemic season complicated by spiritual and political unrest in our culture.

Nonetheless, as Christmas approached, the promise of the “stump Scripture” somehow rang in my spirit: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1 ESV) From the apparently dead stump of Jesse — a stump defeated by sin and affliction — God visited humankind and caused the Messiah to spring forth. Indeed, in God’s mysterious economy, hope arises in seemingly impossible circumstances.

As the holidays approached and I meditated on this verse, my very beloved ninety-year-old father contracted COVID and was hospitalized. Following an initial rally and predictions of recovery after physical therapy, extreme weakness overtook him, and pneumonia set in. Our children and grandchildren were scheduled to join us a week ahead of Christmas to celebrate the holiday, and I sensed I should read The Giving Tree at our gathering. Deeply sorrowful at the prospect of losing my father after his heroic fight against the virus, I searched our stash of children’s books, to no avail, and consequently dismissed my intention of reading that book as maudlin and focused on preparations for the family’s arrival and the inevitable phone call from one of my sisters about my father’s worsening condition.

Our youngest son and his family arrived first, and the toddlers raced upstairs to play with their toys. During the course of the afternoon, I ran to their play area to retrieve something and, to my astonishment, discovered The Giving Tree lying on the floor of the game room. Our three-year-old book lover had apparently rifled through the book stash and happened to pull out that very book! Of course, I snatched it up and opened it to re-read my inscription to my parents: “To Mom and Dad, who never stop giving.” With a sense of wonder, I placed the book reverently on my bathroom counter, in case it should merit an official reading the next day.

That next day, all the children and grandchildren arrived, and one of my sisters called to report that our father’s breathing had become more labored, but that he was awake and could hear. She kindly offered to hold the telephone for him as we each spoke our final words of love and thanks to him. After that final tearful phone call, only a few minutes transpired before she called me back to report that our father had taken a final deep breath and transitioned into eternity.

My father was a hero in every sense of the word, a man of impeccable integrity, unparalleled wit, humor, and insight. He loved people and mentored many (albeit unwittingly). Even in death, he left a rich legacy of faith and faithfulness, honesty, authenticity, and humor.

What happened after that phone call? We celebrated Christmas, six days early, as the entire household had planned (not knowing the Lord had appointed that very day to call my daddy home to Himself). What a comfort it was to be surrounded by all our children and grandchildren! After everyone’s gifts had been opened and admired, I read The Giving Tree aloud, with our three-year-old grandson voluntarily clambering into my lap (particularly meaningful, as he was named in honor of my father) to follow along with the story’s illustrations. As I explained about new life springing from stumps and seemingly dead places, the message of Jesus Christ springing from the stump of Jesse increased in poignancy and vibrance for me, as God had truly given me a righteous legacy through Messiah, in parallel with the heritage given me by my earthly father — who now lives with Him and whose legacy lives forever with our perfect heavenly Father.

Where we are experiencing death and barrenness, we can be confident that the Lord is able to cause new life to spring from that stump. Just as the ancient olive trees in Israel, though gnarled and consumed, serve as the source of saplings full of new life, God is able to make His grace and power abound to us and transform our ashes into beauty. Indeed, He delivers us from destruction!

Yet if even a tenth remains there, it will be burned again. It will be like a fallen oak or terebinth tree when it is felled; the stump still lives to grow again.  Now, the “stump” is the holy seed. (Isaiah 6:13, TPT)

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The Times, They Are A-Changin’

As a friend recently described a special envelope she had typically kept in her Bible for safekeeping; in this envelope was a list of significant events in her life, events that served as milestones in her family over a span of several decades.  In hearing her describe the joy she experienced upon discovering the list after having misplaced it for a period of time, it struck me that that list was a part of a permanent, even eternal legacy.  She will give that paper to her children as a record of momentous spiritual events in the life of her family.  Those events have eternal value.
Conversely, some things may contribute to our legacy but may not be a permanent part of it.   Just as we buy different kinds of clothing for different seasons, and we accumulate various types of supplies for particular chapters in our lives (baby bottles, children’s books, snow suits or sleds, pool toys, cameras, typewriters, computers, bread machines, even sound equipment that subsequently becomes dated), some items outlive their usefulness.   At intervals, we are compelled to sort through our “stuff” and give away or throw away things we no longer need (but to which we may have become attached).  This process is not always as simple as it sounds, as nostalgia can easily overwhelm us!
The challenge is to discern what is part of the permanent, eternal legacy of our lives and what might be temporarily vital but not carry lasting value.   With Aglow, we also face new seasons:  we distill what is and will always be part of who we are as a ministry, but we must lay aside the strategies that may have been pivotal in the past, but which no longer are proving useful or relevant in our current culture.   When God has used certain things to minister deeply to us, it can be very challenging to release those activities and approaches.   (Just yesterday evening, I was looking through a photo album and was overwhelmed with nostalgia at the sight of photos of our eldest two children when they were small; even their clothing was very dear to me, as it was passed down to their younger siblings yet ultimately given away or thrown away.  I remember how difficult it was to part with those clothes, as they symbolized the end of an era!  As a result, it was a bittersweet experience to gaze on those photos and wonder how those years had evaporated so quickly!)
The temporary things may CONTRIBUTE to the legacy, but they are NOT the legacy.   Jesus is our inheritance!   I am so grateful!  These days, I am continually asking God what has eternal value and what is merely temporary — what has outlived its season of usefulness — so I can focus on the eternal things.  Often, despite my earnest desire to move forward with Him, I find it challenging to welcome new seasons that, at least at first glance, seem unfamiliar and even frightening.   May the Holy Spirit empower me afresh to embrace the next part of my journey with confidence in His goodness and in the knowledge that He can be trusted to retain those aspects of the past that have eternal value!   Yes, we can agree with the Psalmist that we have a beautiful, eternal inheritance:  “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, my cup [He is all I need]; You support my lot.  The [boundary] lines [of the land] have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”  (AMP:  Psalm 16: 5-6)
I love this song by Amy Grant called “Heirlooms.”  Jesus is more than an heirloom to you and to me.  We can praise Him forever for that!

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Shakedown or Breakthrough?

cracks-2099531_640In Christian circles, we love to pray for breakthrough, discuss breakthrough, anticipate breakthrough. However, it appears we seldom actually experience it. Part of the difficulty might lie in a lack of understanding of what breakthrough entails.

By definition, breakthrough involves breaking or piercing THROUGH an obstacle or hindrance into something different; it means to leave something familiar or confining and move into something new that allows more freedom. While the concept of a breakthrough may sound grand and glorious, we often fail to experience it, primarily because we do not want to pay the price. When we count the cost of moving into an unknown, unfamiliar place, we honestly are not certain we are willing to relinquish the comfort and familiarity of the old place, however confining it might have become.

Breakthrough can be painful, and it usually entails the loss of something precious we cannot carry with us into the new place. When a baby is born, he or she loses the familiar place of comfort and constant, immediate supply of everything needed. The baby has to learn to breathe, to wait for others to supply his or her needs, and to thrive in a radically different environment. What constitutes great joy for the parents — to finally see and hold their precious child — might not be that thrilling for the baby, at least not initially. The baby is not allowed to take the womb or the umbilical cord into the new place. If that were possible, such accoutrements would certainly prove ridiculously useless when carried around outside the womb!

Similarly, when a family moves to a new location, the entire household must adjust to a new home, new schools, a new church, and often even a completely different climate! When we left Norway and moved to Texas, our eldest child had difficulty understanding why he couldn’t continue wearing his stocking cap, and he tried in vain to pull down the short sleeves of his shirt to make them longer. He also had to acclimate himself to new idioms in the language that had been unfamiliar to him in our home in Norway, not to mention new cultural phenomena (We had committed the sin of forgetting to teach him about American football at the ripe old age of seven, as we are not a football-aware family!). He left behind Helly Hansen rain gear, which were not needed in Texas but had been worn regularly when playing outside in the rain in Stavanger, Norway.

The same principle holds true for spiritual breakthroughs as well. When the time comes to move into a new season, everything familiar to us invariably begins to shake. Fear may grip our heart, and we may strive to hold tightly to the trappings of the old season, whether titles, positions, ways we have functioned in the past, sweet stages of life with our children and friends, or time-tested ways of doing things. Everything dear to us may appear to be threatened. Might it be that we are, in fact, to count it all as loss — even the things given to us by the Holy Spirit for ministry purposes, the talents and roles we hold dear, the skills that were hard-won — for the sake of moving forward into the new season with the Lord?

Even for the Lord Himself, breakthrough was not without a price. To break through the barrier of sin that kept us from the Father, Jesus had to BECOME sin on our behalf; He endured crucifixion in order to move through it into victory over sin and death. When He surrendered His Spirit to the Father, a powerful earthquake caused such a shaking that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two; Matthew records that rocks split apart, and graves were opened (Matthew 27: 50-54, TCJB). In order to break through as the Redeemer, Jesus had to sacrifice everything He was and everything He had, including His earthly body. Of course, He thereby conquered sin and death forever, but He was not allowed to hang onto anything of this earth.

If things are trembling and shaking to the point that you feel your life is falling apart, hang on tightly to your Heavenly Father, as He is with you and will carry you into the next season. Release the things you have held dear and dare to move into the unknown; He will carry you through the barricades and into things you never imagined, not on your terms, but on His (which are far better than the best we could imagine). When the ground begins to shake, remember He is rolling away some stones that have kept you in the old season! May the Lord of the Breakthrough carry you through to fresh experiences of His goodness and Presence in this new year!

Be encouraged by the song “Forever” as sung by Kari Jobe:


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Residue from the Past? Bloom Anyway!

After a sustained bout of fervid horticultural attempts during the first ten years or so of my adult life, I came to the conclusion that proper care of plants proved far too time-consuming for my role as an overwhelmed mother of several young children.   I consequently threw myself into the silk plant trend with the goal of avoiding watering, fertilizing, rotating pots seasonally for optimum light requirements, and other such cumbersome details.

After several years of contented, indoor-plant-free living, a friend presented me with an orchid.  The flowers were delicate, exotic, and beautiful.  They lingered long enough to guarantee my heartfelt attachment to the plant.  In a moment of lapsed reasoning, I read up on orchids, trimmed off the old stems, and placed the barren potted stub in a northeast window.   Every so often, I remembered to put an ice cube in the little pot.   After a year or so of such treatment, I began to imagine I spotted a tiny sign of new growth.  I moved it to a different northeast-facing window in the kitchen, where I could keep the stub under closer observation.  In the meantime, various friends foisted their own abandoned orchids on me, as they claimed they did not wish to take care of them.  Two more friends gave me additional orchids as a gift.  I now have six orchids, happily shooting out new roots in sundry directions and occasionally surprising me with a bloom.

Apparently orchids are the perfect houseplants for me, as they thrive on neglect (my method of plant care)!  Over time, I have come to admire their beauty and have learned a few lessons in the process.   They require little water and seem to thrive when root-bound.   Their roots reach valiantly out of the potting medium through the air, seeking sunlight.   Am I that energetic and motivated when deprived of my creature comforts or under pressure?  I think not!

The several orchids I have observed generally bloom once a year.   After blooming, a leaf or two may turn yellow and appear to be dying; it is important not to pull the fading leaf off the plant until it nearly falls off on its own.   However, new blooms typically do not form until the fading leaves come off, new roots press toward the sunlight, and a new center stalk forms, a stalk that will ultimately bear buds for the new flowers.   This process follows in sequence on a schedule unique to the particular type of orchid.

However, one of my orchids is now in its third blooming cycle this year.  Moreover, it has two unsightly yellow, limp leaves that have failed to fall off the plant.   However, the fading leaves have not discouraged this orchid from unashamedly erupting again into glorious blooms!  I am reminded that perhaps we shouldn’t wait for the residue of the old seasons in our lives to be completely gone before we press into the new season.   Sometimes wheat grows with the tares; things that bear fruit may grow among a few weeds in our lives.   Retaining some baggage from a season that is ending should not prevent me from boldly moving forward into a season of growth.  In time, I will succeed in dropping my old suitcases from the prior season in favor of the beautiful growth of the new one.   In the meantime, I need to stop using the detritus of the old season as an excuse for failing to move forward.

Similarly, in my walk with Jesus, I was far from perfect when I came into relationship with Him. (If I had waited until I was perfect to know Him better, I would never have known Him!) He was not rattled by the evidence of sin, pain, and bondage in my life, for He knew what kind of growth He had created me to sustain.  He graciously tolerates my flaws as He sets about creating something of beauty.  Instead of cowering in the corner, ashamed of my imperfections, I can move forward with Him and allow Him to birth beauty in my life.   The dead leaves will fall off in due time.   

In Luke 17:14, we read that Jesus healed ten lepers.  However, they did not stand waiting before Jesus until the healing happened.   Instead, “He said to them, ‘Go [at once] and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cured and made clean.”  (AMPC)  Often, we are healed in the process of being obedient to move on; we are healed “in the going.”  If I obey the Lord to do what He asks me to do and choose to trust Him despite my circumstances and my “dead leaves,” I can move forward into the next season and bear fruit.   The fruit-bearing process will ultimately trigger the shedding of the baggage of the past season.   What a wonderful reminder from my valiant orchid!


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The Power of the Trickle

water_dropletI am learning that we should never underestimate the power of the trickle to erode strongholds in our lives and to flood us with God’s goodness.   Most things begin with small cracks in the fabric of our everyday routines. Typically, nothing changes dramatically overnight, and even the apparent dramatic changes are, in fact, the fruit of a protracted period of systematic beating against walls of resistance to what God desires to establish in our lives.

We read in Ezekiel 47:  1-12:

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The Sweetness of the Cross

images8ESYTBYZThen Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”  And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”  (Exodus 15:22-25)

This passage from the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness serves as an illustration of the power of the Cross in our daily lives.  In case you haven’t noticed, life seems to offer us a vast array of opportunities to taste rejection, disappointment, hurt, pain, infirmity, misunderstanding, and sorrow.  The fact that the Israelites recognized that the water was impotable — potentially even toxic — was significant!   Often we ignorantly take a deep swig of bitterness and end up experiencing its toxic effects for a long time after the poison has been ingested.   At least they knew the waters were bitter and unsuitable for consumption.

When Moses cried out to the Lord for help, He showed Moses a remedy in the form of a piece of wood.  In the Hebrew, the word is not a log, but rather a tree.  Jesus Christ was crucified on a tree and thereby redeemed us from every curse.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written,Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'”  (Galatians 3:13)   In the Old Testament reference here, the word for tree is the same as the word used for log in the Exodus passage. Just as the tree absorbed the bitterness of the water and made it sweet (safe to drink), the redemption provided by the Cross absorbs the bitterness of our sin and makes life sweet.   The Cross transforms the bitter waters of life’s painful experiences and losses into a door of hope for restoration and redemption. 

Father, teach me how to cast the power of the Cross into every river of pain and loss that I must navigate.  You are more than able to absorb the bitterness of my disappointments and give me in exchange a taste of Your sweet living water.  Remind me to apply the Tree to every trial, in Jesus’ Name, and watch your transforming power at work!

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