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Hope this Easter

This world is so hard, isn’t it? Between world events of war and airplane crashes and hate crimes, tragedy seems to be all around us. And that’s just in remote places happening to people we don’t know. There is often tragedy in our own lives too. Circumstances that others bring on us, or perhaps things we do to ourselves that put us in a place we can’t seem to get out of. Between our jobs and our relationships and trying to keep afloat financially or emotionally, it can all feel like too much sometimes.

Do you ever see those people around you, maybe you know them, maybe you don’t, and they make it look so easy? It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and think that no one understands what you’re going through. It’s tempting to think that no one knows the darkness you know, no one feels the depth of your pain. Sure, the people around you may not have perfect lives, but theirs seem like a dream compared to what you’ve endured.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe others don’t know your life or what you’ve suffered. Maybe they don’t know how you feel inside about the trials you’ve seen. But one person does. One person has suffered every bit as much as you have and probably more. One person has seen and felt your pain, as well as his own, and can identify with all that you’ve gone through. His name is Jesus.

I know that sounds like a cheesy church line, but hear me out. Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, he was a co-creator of the earth and everything in it, he ruled over all. He voluntarily gave up his kingship to come wrap himself in human flesh. And he didn’t come as a wealthy king or ruler or businessman. He was born to poor parents and stayed poor his entire life. He had little in the way of comfort. Once he started his ministry, he constantly served others. He gave and gave and gave some more through teaching, loving, healing, and investing in others. His followers and closest friends rarely understood him and after he had spent three years pouring himself out to those around him, he was repaid by being hung on a cross and dying a terrible, painful death. He was abandoned by those who said they loved him, he was betrayed by a dear friend who he had invested years of his life into. The very people who were praising his name a week earlier were calling for his execution at the top of their lungs. Even his own Father in heaven had to turn his face from him because of the sin he took on for us. It was unjust and unfair because he hadn’t even done anything to deserve it.

I say this to help you know that Jesus has been through it. He has dealt with what you’ve dealt with in some form and he’s there now to help you know that he’s still going through it with you. He is our only reason to hope. Hebrews 6 reminds us that “we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” Jesus is our strong and trustworthy anchor when we feel tossed by the storms of life and circumstance. He is our hope when we feel like everything around us is hopeless, when we feel stuck, when we feel unloved.

He didn’t come and endure pain and death for nothing. He came and suffered so that we can know everlasting love and hope. He was temporarily separated from his God and Father so that we don’t have to be. Through a faith in Jesus, we can experience the same relationship to God that Jesus has and we can experience the benefit of the power of the relationship that got Jesus through his time here on earth. We are promised those very same things because God is our Creator and Father and because Jesus took our sin for us.

The journals you were given have two verses about hope on them. Our desire is that these will lead you to seek out hope in the only place it can truly come from: Jesus. If you have questions about what giving your life to the One who gives hope looks like, please contact us! We would love to meet with you, pray for you, and encourage you in your spiritual journey. There are lots of other passages about hope in the Bible as well. If you don’t own one, you can find many translations online.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62:5-6

May the God of hope 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.
Romans 15:13

Deeper Still :: The Glory of Christmas

This year I asked God to give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Many people know Christmas brings me joy, but only a few people truly see my giddy, overwhelmed heart and tears as I contemplate the awe and beauty of it all.

In the Old Testament God set forth his law for people to understand his holiness, for people to know how to approach him, and for people to pay for their transgressions through sacrifice. He mercifully revealed himself and showed his people that he is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) But to approach him took great care, ceremony, and permission. His presence was shown in a pillar of fire, or on a mountain, or so magnificent that one had to hide in a cleft of a rock and only see God’s back because his presence was too rich, holy, and glorious for human consumption. He was and is good, but to approach him demanded sacrifice. *

Enters Jesus, a human, a baby, made for relationship.

Everything that was known about God changed the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary. Can you imagine the God of the universe in the womb of a young woman? He entered through a family line lowly enough to show his availability to everyone. The details and order of the prophecy and lineage for God to be born into the world at the perfect moment: profound.

It is difficult for me to fathom the radical shift in God’s availability to humanity through relationship with Jesus. He meets me in my questions of doubt, and lovingly guides me to truth through his word. During Christmas I imagine myself worshipping a baby in a barn. He is the same God shining in glory on the mountain with Moses. As a baby he’s defenseless, and yet that tiny baby came to crush the yoke of slavery and injustice with power and might on the cross. A thrill of hope, joy to the world, Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.

This week I read an important aspect of the birth of Christ that I had never heard, or at least had never paid attention to. Leviticus 25 maps out a significant detail of the law of Sabbath. It describes the Year of Jubilee, the last year of the seventh period of seven years, the forty-ninth year. “In that year, all slaves were to be freed and all debts were to be forgiven; all the land and all the people were to have rest from their weariness and from their burdens. The seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths.” **

Matthew 1:17 says, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” This makes Jesus the beginning of the seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the True Jubilee! All true rest comes from Jesus Christ. He frees the slaves! Through him all debts are forgiven! He came to earth to have relationship with us, to allow us to rest in his love, mercy, and grace. He came as a baby so he could endure all the human pain and suffering we endure, to take it all to the cross, to show us he is indeed with us and for us. The seventh seven! The detail in scripture to show the Deity of Jesus is truly miraculous. My soul longs to know more.

Christmas

Christmas Tree

To be sure, I love my family’s Christmas traditions. Baking, decorating, hosting, all things red and green. My house feels cozy, warm, and lovely. I enjoy hearing my kids laugh and play as they work to solve the year’s 1000 piece puzzle. These aspects of Christmas fill my heart. But I know they are temporary. As the years go by, the laughter will quiet, the decorations will fade, and the warmth in my home may grow cold. Of course I imagine I will deeply grieve the loss of days gone by as I’m sure many older people do, but O God, please allow my prayer to remain the same:

Give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Keep my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your word. Fix my gaze on the eternal, not on the temporary. Allow my soul to feel your worth above all things. (Proverbs 2:3-5, Psalm 119:37, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Luke 2:19)

Wise Men

Merry Christmas isn’t just a greeting for me. When I say Merry Christmas to you, it is as if I’m praying a short, small prayer for you, whether you want it or not. May God show himself to you this season no matter where you are… someone who doesn’t believe, someone who is all alone, someone who is in a personal season of winter, someone filled with hope and joy, someone filled with despair, someone neck deep in doubt, someone who wears a Santa hat everyday, someone who hates me, someone who loves me… The prayer is the same: Merry Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. Show yourself fresh and new, deeper still, the way you did in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago.

Thank you, Jesus, for coming.

He has come, he is here, he will return.

Joy to the World!

What does Christmas mean to you? Have you pondered the Incarnation? Believing in the resurrected Christ begins with believing God came to earth as a baby. How does this affect you personally? What are one or two things you can do to capture the wonder of Christmas this year?

*Do yourself a favor. Go back and click the links to the passages in Exodus. Marvel and be amazed at the glory of God and how different relationship is with him because he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Ponder, mediate, engage your heart and mind in the glory of Christmas.

**Tim Keller’s new book Hidden Christmas, page 38

— Angel

How To Care For Your Succulent Plant

Let’s get growing…

Succulents like dry air so they are perfect for our Tucson climate both indoors and out. Your container holds a thin layer of horticultural charcoal to sweeten the soil and help with drainage. Succulents do NOT like soggy roots so let your plant dry out thoroughly between waterings. Check your plant every week but water only as needed; maybe only a small amount every two or three weeks. TIP: If you decide to transplant your succulent as it grows larger, consider choosing a container with drainage holes.

Give succulents as much light as possible. Succulents are desert plants. They thrive in hot places with plenty of sunshine but may get sun burned if left in direct sun during our seriously hot Tucson summers. Provide afternoon shade outside. Inside, locate your succulent near a bright window but, again, watch for direct sun on the delicate leaves to prevent sun burn. TIP: An east facing window sill may be a great place for your succulent.

Succulents come in a wide range of varieties. Some thrive in indoor conditions and some do not. Typically, the greener the succulent, the greater the chance that it will survive inside. If your particular plant falls in the gray, blue, orange or purple color range, it may be more successful outside on your porch, patio or balcony. TIP: Don’t give up on your succulents if they get leggy. Snip off stems, strip the leaves, and root the leaves in potting soil. Or lay single leaves on the surface of potting soil to start a new baby succulent from the base of the each leaf.

Remember to have fun as a succulent gardener!

Hope in Jesus

This world is so hard, isn’t it? Between world events of war and airplane crashes and hate crimes, tragedy seems to be all around us. And that’s just in remote places happening to people we don’t know. There is often tragedy in our own lives too. Circumstances that others bring on us, or perhaps things we do to ourselves that put us in a place we can’t seem to get out of. Between our jobs and our relationships and trying to keep afloat financially or emotionally, it can all feel like too much sometimes.

Do you ever see those people around you, maybe you know them, maybe you don’t, and they make it look so easy? It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and think that no one understands what you’re going through. It’s tempting to think that no one knows the darkness you know, no one feels the depth of your pain. Sure, the people around you may not have perfect lives, but theirs seem like a dream compared to what you’ve endured.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe others don’t know your life or what you’ve suffered. Maybe they don’t know how you feel inside about the trials you’ve seen. But one person does. One person has suffered every bit as much as you have and probably more. One person has seen and felt your pain, as well as his own, and can identify with all that you’ve gone through. His name is Jesus.

I know that sounds like a cheesy church line, but hear me out. Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, he was a co-creator of the earth and everything in it, he ruled over all. He voluntarily gave up his kingship to come wrap himself in human flesh. And he didn’t come as a wealthy king or ruler or businessman. He was born to poor parents and stayed poor his entire life. He had little in the way of comfort. Once he started his ministry, he constantly served others. He gave and gave and gave some more through teaching, loving, healing, and investing in others. His followers and closest friends rarely understood him and after he had spent three years pouring himself out to those around him, he was repaid by being hung on a cross and dying a terrible, painful death. He was abandoned by those who said they loved him, he was betrayed by a dear friend who he had invested years of his life into. The very people who were praising his name a week earlier were calling for his execution at the top of their lungs. Even his own Father in heaven had to turn his face from him because of the sin he took on for us. It was unjust and unfair because he hadn’t even done anything to deserve it.

I say this to help you know that Jesus has been through it. He has dealt with what you’ve dealt with in some form and he’s there now to help you know that he’s still going through it with you. He is our only reason to hope. Hebrews 6 reminds us that “we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” Jesus is our strong and trustworthy anchor when we feel tossed by the storms of life and circumstance. He is our hope when we feel like everything around us is hopeless, when we feel stuck, when we feel unloved.

He didn’t come and endure pain and death for nothing. He came and suffered so that we can know everlasting love and hope. He was temporarily separated from his God and Father so that we don’t have to be. Through a faith in Jesus, we can experience the same relationship to God that Jesus has and we can experience the benefit of the power of the relationship that got Jesus through his time here on earth. We are promised those very same things because God is our Creator and Father and because Jesus took our sin for us.

The journals you were given have two verses about hope on them. Our desire is that these will lead you to seek out hope in the only place it can truly come from: Jesus. If you have questions about what giving your life to the One who gives hope looks like, please contact us! We would love to meet with you, pray for you, and encourage you in your spiritual journey. There are lots of other passages about hope in the Bible as well. If you don’t own one, you can find many translations online.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62:5-6

May the God of hope 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.
Romans 15:13

What is Easter?

What is Easter? What is its purpose? Why do we take time to celebrate this day? In our culture it is mostly a time filled with chocolate, bunnies, brightly colored eggs, ham and pretty new dresses. Some spend it with family and some may visit a church they haven’t been to in a while. And hear me say, these things, in and of themselves, are not bad. I mean, who doesn’t love chocolate? Or getting a new dress? But Easter is so much more than Peeps and Cadbury Eggs. Easter is a holiday that brings hope more than any other. Easter is the culmination of Jesus’ whole life, everything that he was sent from heaven to do. That is the reason my heart bursts with joy on this day.

Easter is a day we celebrate that Jesus not only died a bloody death on a cross for our sins, but that death could not defeat him. He fully died on Friday, but rose back to life on Sunday. He was buried in the ground and three days later was walking and talking with his friends and followers again. This is amazing, but how does it affect my life right now, more than two thousand years later? Because his defeating death means that we too can defeat it through a relationship with him. He allows us to share in this victory with him!

Jesus gives us access to the ruler of the heavens in a way we can not obtain on our own. Due to our sin and imperfection, we are necessarily separated from God. Without Jesus we spend an eternity separated from God and his glory. But with Jesus, we defeat death and sin. We can spend an eternity WITH God. Through belief in the redeeming love of Jesus, belief in his death on the cross and his victory over death through his resurrection, we have hope. Hope in a way that we can not get any other way. Not through relationships with people, not through money or power, not through worship of other things.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. ~Romans 10:9-10

That’s all we have to do. We can’t earn it or buy it. There is nothing we can do to be worthy of the gift we receive through Jesus. It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how righteously we live or who our ancestors are. The gift is available to all equally. All we have to do is confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. This relationship with Jesus that is so much more than religion is the only thing that can bring us true hope in this nasty, sinful, hard world.

So this Easter, I plan to celebrate with all my heart what Jesus did for us all those Sundays ago. To thank God for his free gift to us all and worship a good and loving God that had a plan to redeem me from my sinful, messed up life that I may not perish, but have everlasting life. And I will pray that people all around me, from all different backgrounds, will have joy overflowing from their hearts too, from the confession they have made of their belief in Jesus.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. ~John 3:16-17

Emily Weatherford
-Written by Emily Weatherford. Emily is a part-time claims adjuster and full-time wife and mother to a six-year-old girl. She has lived in Tucson and been part of Cord of Hope for almost a decade. She is so thankful for the grace Jesus has shown her in her life and seeks to show that grace to others.

Lamenting with Hope

A battle cry to God that voices a heart of desire and ironic faith in His goodness….

I am convicted of my misunderstanding of the value in private and public lament, and in my limited scope I often fail to understand true surrender. Driven by pursuit for harmony, I find I am restricted in my ability to accept or deal with the pain that inevitably arrives in life.  This warped philosophy often encourages me not to dwell on pain, or the doubt and questioning it often brings.  Yet Biblically, lament has always been a valid part of the Christian life. Why do I fear somber moments and hold little confidence in sorrow? Why do I fear lament and sometimes believe the lie that lamenting will quickly morph into doubt and despair; failing to recognize doubt and despair are often the ground necessary to grow in confidence and joy. I propose surrender-the turning of my heart over to God, thanking Him for mercy, and receiving His terms for renewal, is impossible without battle. Is it inconceivable to surrender to God unless there is a prior, declared war against him? God lovingly reminds me sanctification is a lifetime process and He reveals my delusional thinking when I assume that my internal conflict with Him was finished at the time of conversion. Consistent surrendering uncovers and dissolves my burning concern with the self. While the battle for my soul was a definite victory at the point of my conversion, it is hardly the last fight. If I desire to invite a lost culture, that experiences a life that is neither easy, nor good, to consider the gospel, then I must learn to sing melodies that face life with both honesty and hope.

When I reflect on times of lament, I recognize moments when I have vocalized anguish, anger, and confusion.  But I question if those moments were categorized as a deep yearning to ask, seek and desire to comprehend the heart of God. Have I allowed the lamenting process to be a time of vigor search and hunger to pursue truth, rather than to rant and rave with already finalized assumptions?  I am learning I can lament, with a dialect of pain, anger, and confusion while still moving toward God, and that lament is as far from complaining or grumbling as a search is from purposeless wandering.  A lament is the drive to move toward the darkness of heart-rending sorrow that does not make sense and even worse seems to be a contradiction of God’s love for us. My heart is moved by seemingly meaningless pain that can either lead to the hardness of sentimental faithfulness and condescending disbelief, or compelled to search and comprehend the heart of a God who sent his son to die for me.  Lament cuts through artificiality, shreds pretense, and exposes the rawness of trust that angrily approaches the throne of grace and kneels in reverential, vigorous wonder. Lament softens my hardness of false piety or haughty unbelief, intensifies my search, and puts me before the face of Jesus.

To enter the language of lament, I look to the psalms. Many psalms reflect the struggle of the people of God to comprehend the devastations of their lives in light of God’s promise to protect and sustain. The patterns of the Psalms teach a pattern for life. We turn and return to praise, and lament is an essential part of that process. To sob with God over the broken state of our world is to join Him in His Holy mourning. Bringing that pain to God is to allow Him to offer us the other side of the picture –the hope of Christ – the peace that can be carried together with lament. The lament psalms themselves are a confirmation of this, because what else is lament, if not another form of praise to a God who hears us and is in control?

I encourage you to listen for lament-find a place to sing with one another the songs of sorrow. Pray the psalms-line by line until you join the multitude that wrestles with God and receives the blessing of his daughter or son. Then your heart will not be as afraid of lament, nor your soul so cautious to live the contradiction of sorrow and joy. Then may we not only learn to sing of sorrow with a new passion, but live lament until it breaks loose into the liberty of joy.