Happy end-of-summer to you! I am writing to you from the epicenter of what everyone has decided to call a heat dome this year. It has been hot in Texas this summer - really hot - but we made it through! It is actually quite funny to witness the aftermath. Most of our area got a glorious rain shower earlier this week, breaking that oppressive heat pattern, and now everyone is smiling, everywhere you go. The positive and optimistic people are relieved and whistling, and even the perennially grumpy people are just a little less grumpy because it is only a normal 97 degrees instead of 107.
There is something so powerful about HOPE.
When we keep it close, we are filled with God's peace and power.
When we lose sight of it, we are severely weakened.
A fun part of aging is watching the different generations react to one another. Of course, every generation thinks it is infinitely superior to everyone who has come before. In this thinking, the actions and reactions to everything the last generation did are spectacular to watch. You guys think dressing in suits and ties and dresses and listening to orchestra music at your cocktail parties is great? Well, watch us - we're going to burn it all down and wear bell bottoms and have Woodstock. Then a few years later the next generation thinks all of that seems so ridiculous, so they're going to wear button downs and polo shirts and listen to new wave. Until the next generation thinks all of that is terrible and invents grunge. And that just brings us to the ‘90s!
The underlying theme to all of this action and reaction is the nagging suspicion that we're not doing this right. Every generation intuitively understands that there must be more to life than any of us are seeing and experiencing.
The word that is often used to describe the people who go against the grain and start new trends is counterculture. The Oxford Dictionary defines this as a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm. The present time is an amazing opportunity for a strong countercultural wave to sweep through, and to wash away the oppressive hopelessness that has saturated society.
We don’t just need a change in music and fashion: the very heart of our culture needs an infusion of hope to counter the crippling epidemic of anger and anxiety. These maladies are influenced by a lucrative business model wherein sensational news stories lead to more clicks and more revenue. I heard someone say the other day that if everyone on earth would simply obey the Ten Commandments, just about every news site in the world would run out of things to say overnight. This is true! As it is, we hear all day, every day about murder, theft, corruption, idolatry and adultery, coupled with a strong dose of envy and jealousy and discontentment. We hear about every terrible thing that every person, institution, and government agency has done, or even that someone just accuses them of doing, and that’s just in the last 24 hours. When you hear that day after day and year after year, you begin to internalize this distrust and disgust, and quite naturally, you begin to be very cynical, even jaded. It translates into the idea that no one is trustworthy, not even one.
Our anger and anxiety are also spiritual in nature, as we are influenced by the lack of faith all around us. No one can long stand with one foot on the dock and one foot on the untethered boat; this amounts to having a form of godliness, but denying its power. But too many Christians are letting the skepticism and cynicism of the world around them inform their decisions and actions. I have noticed so many people say things that begin with, “I know what the Bible says, but…”, and then fill in the blank with a reason they cannot possibly really believe or act on what the Bible says.
I know what the Bible says, but…
-I will not forgive him for what he did.
-I cannot believe that God is my provider.
-If God was really good, ______ would not be happening.
and so on. Too many Christians have mistakenly gone with the flow of our culture, trying to put hope and faith in things that could never bear it - people, places, and things - and then fall off the dock when the inevitable let down comes. Too many Christians have believed the lie that because those people and things can't be trusted, nothing at all can be trusted. The whole point of our faith is that there is ONLY ONE Who can be trusted to never leave, forsake, or fail.
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of all through Whom all things were made. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. He is the healer of the broken, the lifter of our heads, and the fairest of ten thousand. He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He is the Lion and the Lamb, He is the light in the darkness, He is the Good Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and still waters. He is the very gate we can enter through to peace and rest. He is righteous and good, and His mercies endure forever.
Jesus is the One to Whom the great cloud of witnesses from every era and land shouts praises. He is the One Who has inspired countless songs, poems, books, and lives - He is the faithful and true friend of sinners! He is true and lasting love, He is the strong bedrock of our faith. He is the great God of Hope, Who will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!
If we could face each day with all of these truths about Jesus impacting our actions and reactions, the world would quickly become a different place. In this age of unbelief and hopelessness, a refreshing countercultural wave of hope could quickly change the atmosphere. Case in point - in the couple of days I have been writing this, a wildfire has started in our town, which is not to be unexpected in a piney woods after a long, dry summer. Last night, it went from 100 acres to a few thousand in a matter of hours. Strangely, weather related stories are a hot topic right now, so our little town’s plight was on the front page of a London paper by morning. The comment section was just what you would expect - full of people saying ridiculously depressing, uninformed, and unhelpful things. In the meantime, some incredibly brave and hopeful men and women have spent over 24 hours now risking their own lives to do all they can to put that fire out, and will keep going until the job is done.
This is a beautiful picture of people refusing to go with the flow, and letting their hope impact a dire situation. There is something so powerful and revolutionary about hope! When we lose sight of it, we are severely weakened, but when we keep it close, we are filled with God's peace and power. I pray that the hope of Christ fills your heart and life today, and spills over onto everyone you meet.
If you’d like to spend some more time reading and thinking about the power of hope in our Christian communities, please check out my new book, available now -
Five years ago, when this blog was launched, seems like a lifetime ago in so many ways. Our family has grown since then, with a new son-in-law added to our fold and several precious grandchildren born. Our life, which had been roughly the same for so many years, has changed quite a lot, with a different home and ministry assignments, with the emptying of our nest, and with the relocation of people we love dearly. My hair is quite a lot more gray, my wrinkles are more deep set, and my body frequently lets me know I’m not getting any younger. I am sure that the same is true in your life - five years goes by in a blink but contains so much living.
Collectively, we endured the strange Covid era, which was certainly a marker for this whole generation. Regardless of political perspective, we are just now beginning to see the ramifications of pushing pause on society for a year or more, all the while upping the volume on fear and uncertainty in every way. It doesn’t seem that we have emerged from that time in a better place as a whole.
I am aware now that my over-50 status gives me a particular vantage point with my own cohort and those ahead of us - we can really remember what things were like before. Working with university students all of our adult lives has accentuated this to me. I feel like a covered wagon, Oregon trail participant because I know what the convenience store name 7-11 stands for, I remember when we had to wait patiently for radio stations and movie theaters to release new things, and I remember when there were only 3 tv channels. I can remember when all 3 of those stations used to play the national anthem and then cut to static every night at midnight, meaning there was nothing at all to watch mindlessly until morning, especially before VCRs came along. I remember when nothing was open on Sundays, when there was no such thing as an ATM or a debit card, and when answering machines were invented. More than that, I know my parents’ stories and experiences from their lives, and can remember what my grandmother’s stories told me about her generation and her own life that began in 1900. It isn’t just a myth that life used to be a little slower and less frantic, more relational and less virtual. The world is always changing!
I also vividly remember life BP - before phone. I was 29 years old when I got my first cell phone, and it could only text and make calls. I was in my late 30s when I got my first smart phone. I lived a lot of life, even adult life, before that little device entered my life. I do love it because now the best camera I’ve ever had, plus my phone, address book, flashlight, travel atlas, years of photos, and an entire encyclopedia set can fit into my purse. But it isn’t as innocuous as it looks. Five years ago, no one was sure how much the constant, instant access to the glories and horrors of the World Wide Web was impacting everyone, but now all of us who can remember life BP can see clearly what those things are doing to young people, and it isn’t great. Worst of all is the fact that when being glued to a screen has been normal to a person since they were very small, they might never know that what they’ve ingested for tens of thousands of hours isn't true after all, or that life can be any different or better than just virtual reality.
I am even more convinced of the need for us to share from one generation to another - not just of social things, but especially of our faith.
The 80s were such a great time to be a young person - I mean, as long as you take away the real and constant threat of the Cold War and the fact that we actually had regular drills at school in case a nuclear bomb was coming our way. Not one kid ever thought our plywood desk was going to keep us safe from an atomic bomb, as long as we ducked and covered in time! Thank goodness there was no social media then - we would have all been terrified, all the time. But aside from that, the 80s were amazing. The energy and optimism of Whitney Houston and Rocky Balboa and Back to the Future marked our generation.
So how sad it was to see one of our greatest action heroes of that era recently announce to the world that he doesn’t believe in eternal life at all, let alone in God. Like so many others alive today, he believes this is it; that all we have is today, and no promise at all of tomorrow or forever. When a person believes that, it marks and changes everything they do. When an entire society believes that, it will radically alter a culture that was originally built upon the foundation of Biblical Truth. If this is it, why not do everything only for my own pleasure, safety, and benefit? And why not be terribly afraid of or angry at everything that threatens life, pleasure, and safety? And if people really believe this is all there is, no wonder so many people are so frustrated, anxious, and confused about life and its meaning.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that this present reality is not all there is to life. Life here and now is very real and very important, but mostly because it determines what the rest of forever will be like. We were all created by God and in His image, with souls that will live forever. We are all carefully and purposefully created by God to be a beautiful and thriving part of His great, eternal story. This means that we don’t have to live like today is all we’ve got - instead, we can live knowing that the best is still yet to come. We don’t have to live in fear of losing our lives, because God holds our lives in His hands. We don’t have to make sure we just look out for #1, because God is looking out for us. We can actually love and care for others, even at our own expense, because He has shown us how to do it. We can thrive no matter what good, bad, or ugly things life on this broken planet throws our way, knowing that God works all things for the good of those who love and trust Him.
We must take care to let capital-T Truth inform our lives, and not whatever fickle social consensus has decided is true for today. We must take care to combat the relentless barrage of information being fed to us each day from sources that are sometimes just uninformed, but sometimes actually malicious. We must purpose in our hearts and minds not to engage in toxic things, or to just mindlessly scroll, but rather to think of whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. We must take care to put our minds on God and His Word, to live our lives in view of eternity, and to care for others rather than only for ourselves.
More than ever, the people in our lives need us to live like we believe the claims of Jesus to be true, and to demonstrate the power of hearts and lives revolutionized by the love and grace of Christ. Everyone gets more than enough of this world that is full of endless negative comments, lies and rumors and innuendo, tearing down of one another, and outright hopelessness - no wonder so many people are lonely, anxious, and depressed! Our family, friends, and neighbors need to see the transformation that Jesus can make in our hearts and lives - real love, forgiveness, freedom, kindness, peace, and hope. I pray God's peace and presence over your life today, as you realize more and more how your life fits into His amazing story of forgiveness and redemption!
Some new features have been added to the blog -
Keep your eyes on this space, as more is to come! For now, there is a new section called Grow, in which I will occasionally add a resource that has been meaningful to me, and that I'd love to recommend. Paying attention to our spiritual health and growth is vital, and there are some wonderful helps out there. Please take a minute to visit this new section.
Also new is the Books section, just in time for the release of my second book, available now! You can find ordering information there, or by following the link below.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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