Hope of Kindness: The Jesus Place

We are so  honored to be with you each day sharing hope. Our outreach has grown at a tremendous pace. We are averaging over 100 new subscribers a day. We just past 103,200 in followers. That’s because people are searching for hope and we provide it.

We are in a new promotion. The person who is our 105,000 will wins some nice prizes. That is only 1,800 away It goes very fast so don’t miss out. 

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Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, is writing  a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It reaches out the military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, PTSD, and many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides every day. That is almost one every hour. We need to help stop those statistics. Be looking for more updates about the new book. 

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+ Update! The book has been sent to my editor recently. Now I wait and see how many red marks she will have in it. 🙂

There will be some incredible interviews with veterans in this book. Up to twenty different veterans agreed to let me ask them some very personal questions. Some answers will have you in tears.  

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I am very happy to see Linda Claire back as our guest blogger. Her posts are dynamic, gut wrenching, and full of true. Thank you so much Linda for opening up your heart to us. 

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The Jesus Place

By Linda S. Clare

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably kind person. I’ll hold open doors for wheelchair users. I smile at an elderly man on a park bench. I brought home every stray cat I ever saw. But put the same old man in front of me at the grocery store, counting out his bill in pennies, and my saintly kindness melts into impatience and even indignation.

When I was around twelve, Mom worked so I had to babysit my younger sister all summer. Sis was pretty typical for a second grader—she loved to play with her Barbies, her friends and since we grew up in Phoenix, she loved to swim. I was not especially kind to her and more than once lost my temper, swatted at her and then for several hours had to plead with her not to tell our parents.

One day, when I just didn’t feel like watching her and her gabby second-grade friends, I was extra mean. I locked her in the bathroom and then went to my air-conditioned room to read. Not exactly the picture of virtue. Big Sister Fail.

For that and many other sins, I doubt I’m winning the Good Girl Award any time soon. Then and now, it’s too easy to stay safe, to be cocooned in the familiar, to resist any push to step out into nothing. Supposedly, this desire for control over our lives goes way back—to that Tree with the fruit and Eve, who didn’t know a serpent from a stick. Any way you slice it, we’re stuck with sinful natures that get us into trouble and lock true kindness in the bathroom.

As my own family has struggled with addiction and mental health issues, I’ve been told to get some Tough Love so many times. My friends don’t like to watch me suffer and others just wish I’d shut up. Tough Love seems like the perfect answer to a really terrible problem.  Most people who see our circumstances from the outside think my addicted/alcoholic sons are simply playing me. Why, they’re having the time of their lives, sponging off mom and dad, getting drunk or high without consequences. I should tell my sons to get out, grow up and by the way, get a job. Right?

Well, hallelujah, you nailed it. Except that life is never so simple.

Fear of threats to our beings and our cultures is a natural human response. When we face a dangerous animal, natural disaster or in times of war, our fight or flight response kicks in to help us survive.

But at times, we trick ourselves into self-serving misperceptions of danger, and it is then that we cling to baseless fears that only hurt us. The early Christians had every right to fear the Romans and others who were trying to kill off the early Church. Over the millennia, we’ve made laws and statutes to keep our ways of life intact. Yet again and again in the New Testament, we are reminded to be kind to one another.

As in the early Church, today it’s easy to slip back into the clutches of the Old Covenant—the Law. The only way to grow in faith is to “long for the pure milk of the word,” which tells us to be humble, not thinking ourselves more than we are. The first step in growing a Just Love is to stop finger pointing and confess our own shortcomings. We can love the Law but we don’t always have to enforce the Law—especially when it comes to those we look down upon. This is grace.

So with my sons and their addictions, I’m compelled to extend to them the grace God freely offers to me. Every day I see my grown children’s brokenness adding up. The scars of addiction, as well as poverty, under-employment, mental health issues are etched deep into their expressions, like crevasses carved by glaciers.

I know this sounds odd, but I genuinely believe my sons hate what they’re doing. Life has become a vicious cycle of mental illness compounded by drug and alcohol use that only temporarily eases the pain.

Every day, the only truly kind act—that mercy thing God is so famous for—stares into my soul. Mercy, compassion, lovingkindness—call it what you wish. It dares me to love my boys again, by yes, first offering a way out. I say, “You’ve been trying things your way for a while now. How’s it working out for you?”

Some days they answer. Other times, they duck their chins and slip out of sight. On days they stay, I can say, “If you want to try treatment, I’m here for you.” On the days they run, I pray for them to run—straight into God’s arms.

Either way, I cannot change their minds. But what I can do no matter what, is treat them with respect. Look them in the eyes. Remind them how very much they are loved. This is the kindness I am learning from Jesus. Trees and serpents aside, I am so much less apt to sin again when I stay in the Jesus Place.

For me, the Jesus Place is about the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus reached out to the poor, the disabled, the ones more successful people looked down upon. When He modeled for them the Lord’s Prayer, he was showing everyone, at any time, that we are so much more than our latest screw-up.

When He said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” He was tapping into much more than the problems we have if we max out the credit card. In biblical times, if you were a subsistence farmer, one bad harvest might not only result in you losing your land. You could wind up an indentured servant (slave) until you repaid your debt. The ones Jesus spoke to were the most vulnerable in that society. The ones living on the edge. Those with little or no hope.

The Jesus Place promotes mercy because it hands out mercy. Mercy is getting a break when you don’t deserve it. In turn, compassion upends cynical stereotyping and replaces it with hope. Hope we desperately need.

I know. It isn’t easy. Giving undeserved passes to rule breakers is really really hard. I’m not good at it either. But love is dangerous, people. It asks you to put your very tender heart out there on the altar when you know full well some bully is going to stomp on it.

But because Jesus was tempted in all things and yet did not sin, He could take all my stinky socks and my catalog of dumb, dumb moves and hang it all with Him on the Cross.

I used to think that made Him seem like some awful Poindexter—teacher’s pet who always knew the answer. My reaction was a little bitter, like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady from old SNL. Isn’t that special?

Trouble is, I wanted to sit in judgment of everyone else (because I’m almost always right) but run crying to God when someone dished garbage back to me. I didn’t see the connection between blue-eyed movie Jesus being annoyingly preachy and the actual Son of God, who is very serious about bringing Light into the world.

For me, His light used to be made of being nice to kitties and old grandpas and kid sisters—but only if they didn’t interfere with my day. It was like earning a Gold Star from the Big Guy if I held open the door for some poor wheelchair user, which by the way, is required by Jesus and not optional at all. Real compassion asks for real love and real hope that love wins.

You don’t have to listen or do what Jesus says. That’s not how He rolls. But He reaches out to those of us who aren’t so tough anymore, those for whom life and awful things like addiction have locked us in the bathroom. He promises that if we are merciful, we shall receive mercy. That if we show mercy to others, we are actually blessed. Blessed! Just for being truly kind, for merciful acts big and small. We don’t even always have to be in control, which is OK although some days, I’d still rather drive than ride. And even then, Jesus is really patient with me. Mostly.

I have to believe He is patient with my sons, too, and doesn’t wish for them to suffer. Tough Love says they deserve to suffer, and maybe that’s right in some cases. But Just Love keeps pointing me back to the Jesus Place, a place where the downtrodden, the forgotten, all of us debtors can find comfort under the Yoke of Love.

And in modern times, if we run up a big bill, we aren’t thrown into debtor’s prison or enslaved, at least not yet. We can, however still be financially ruined for a few bad spending decisions or an unexpected health crisis. The serpent is alive, I’m afraid.

Yet Jesus calls across millennia, looking us in the eyes and saying, “You’ve been trying life your way for a while now. How’s that working out for you?” Hang out at the Jesus Place for a while, friend. You’ll find it full of mercy, love and hope.

 

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The Walls We Build to Protect us often Entrap us

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect. 

— Ronald Reagan

We seem to have become a more public society in a very private way.  We have placed ourselves and our identities out into social networks, yet we conceal ourselves with user and screen names, firewalls and private barriers.

This age of technology has emboldened us to speak out in ways we would never consider face-to-face, through e-mails and blog sites, yet hide our true emotions behind the walls we have built around who we truly are.

I spent a majority of my educational life learning how to construct walls.  I studied the materials to use for specific situations, differing loads each can handle and the dynamics that external forces could cause.

In my career, I have designed and built  firewalls in residential, commercial and industrial computers systems.  However, over the past few years I have spent more time concentrating on breaking walls down rather than building them up.

Archaeologists and historians have found walls dating back thousands of years that are still standing in the same position they were built, mostly for self-preservation and the defense of property.  Here’s how Globalsecurity.org explains the protective measures and “walls” built around the Green Zone, the common name of a 10-square-kilometer area in Central Baghdad, which is the center of the Coalition Provisional Authority:

The Green Zone is defended with coils of razor wire, chain-link fences, earthen berms and armed checkpoints. The area is defended by M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and HUMVEEs with .50 caliber machine guns on top. The Green Zone appears under siege, with barriers, high concrete walls and checkpoints. US officials are rarely visible outside it and rules for British personnel bar them from leaving it unless accompanied by four bodyguards and an armored vehicle.

Clearly, anyone near the Green Zone can see the defensive measures put in place for protection of property and personnel; however, many of us have built similar and oftentimes impenetrable walls and defenses around ourselves, which can’t be readily seen, nor easily dismantled.  They can be an innate introverted personality or a perimeter fence of shyness, self-destructive measures to combat fear or a fortified impassable barrier around our hearts from years of emotional scarring.

Many of us have lived with these protective measures in place for so long we have become accustomed to and comfortable residing behind them.  They have become part of our life and who we are, and then we question why we can’t get closer to people or experience a fuller, more joyful life.

These types of barriers are rarely constructed over night, but rather built over time.  With each disappointment we go through, wrong done against us, and regret we carry with us, another stone is placed in our wall.  Over time we don’t even notice how high or fortified our walls have become.  

When a breach in our defenses occurs or an area of vulnerability is discovered, we reconstruct our walls taller and stronger to ensure our safety from future “attacks.”

I am not immune to the “emotional” wall-building industry, very few are.  I have constructed some sturdy yet hidden walls to protect myself from being hurt.  I have questioned, “How did I allow myself to get hurt again?”  I tell myself, “I won’t let that happen again.”  My solution—I close myself in and don’t allow those feelings to be exposed.  I place another couple of courses of brick in place, I don’t make myself as vulnerable, and I quit taking risks.

However, over time (and many lonely days and nights), I have learned hurt and pain comes with living and the key to wall demolition is accepting that disappointments will happen, branching out of my comfort (or Green) zone into uncomfortable situations, praying for and forgiving those who hurt me, and seeking God’s greater purpose behind those hurts (becoming closer to him, growing as a person, learning how to be more Christlike, learning to accept others, discovering a person or type of person isn’t right for me, having proper expectations, etc.).

When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).
Growing as a follower of Christ is not reacting like the world reacts to situations—with anger, vindication, and vengeance.  It means living like Jesus lived—with compassion, grace, love, hope, forgiveness and concern for others.  It also means learning from the pain you experience to grow, in yourself and closer to him.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

I discovered if I stop “living” (and putting myself out), I may be able to reduce the hurt I encounter; however I will not live a life worthy of my calling as a Christian.  I will not experience the life God has called me to live. (Ephesians 4:1)

Jesus taught this lesson in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  The landowner gave a number of talents to three of his servants.  Two of the servants doubled the amount of talents they were given by putting the money to work, while one buried and hid the talent he was entrusted to.  When the landowner returned he admonished the “lazy” servant who did nothing.

For whatever reason you find yourself hiding behind your wall—fear, past disappointment, insecurity, etc—begin the process of tearing down those walls by asking God to help you to forgive yourself, forgive others for what they may have done to you, remove the load you have been carrying, give you strength and fortitude to step out into new situations, and live a life worthy of the calling you were given.

We are all imperfect and fallible.  Life is too short to hide behind our walls, carry undue burdens, harbor ill feelings toward others or not utilize the gifts and talents we were given.

The walls we have constructed to “keep people out” are the same walls that “keep us in.”  

Begin your journey of experiencing God’s best for your life today by living it outside of your walls, outside of the constraints you have put on yourself and outside where others can experience the true beauty God has created in you.

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Gaining Hope through Hopelessness

It is not an easy thing to allow ourselves to hope when our hopes have been disappointed over and over again in the past. Learning to hope, however, means opening ourselves to the possibility that the future may be different from what we have known in the past. To hope is to allow ourselves to anticipate the possibility of good things. Hope is the expectation of good

How many blessings have we continually missed without notice, by fixing our eyes instead, on what we feel to be our trials and our losses? And, do we not think and talk about our trials until our whole horizon is filled with them, and we almost begin to think we have no blessings at all?

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Peace in the Storm

This weeks guest is a someone I count blessed to have in my life and call a close friend. I have never met him in person, I pray one day I enjoy that blessing, just to be able to say Thank You, for his heart and compassion, in person. He is a pastor, and author of “Give Faith a Second Chance”. He has been the receiver of second chances himself and can relate to “being at the end of your rope”.  With all the accolades I could provide for Christopher, his greatest assest is his heart for God and his heart for people. He has donated numerous copies of his books to the recovery centers I speak at so others may know God is a God of second chances, people he’s never met and may never met. His Goal only exist in furthering God’s Kingdom, not his church membership. I am very blessed to count us friends and hope you will also be blessed by his post

Peace in the Storm

Back before satellite, Doppler radar and “Stormtracker” technology, it was kind of hard to tell when a storm was coming, its severity, and when it would be over.

Along our journeys in life, wouldn’t be nice to have a life storm Doppler? The kind of warning that would let us know in advance that a job loss or problems with our kids or cancer diagnoses or loss of loved ones were coming.

Funny though, how we spend a lot of time, too much time, anxiously awaiting those kinds of things, that may or may not happen. Trouble sleeping, hypertension, frustration are all fruit of worrying. And yet, all the worrying and anticipating in the world can’t keep those kinds of storms in our lives from arriving and hitting hard.

I don’t think my brave friend Heather, 36, as well as some other women I know, spent much time worrying whether or not she was going to get breast cancer. It just kind of came out of nowhere. And now she is fighting a valiant battle, and winning; but nonetheless it is a weathering storm – physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s like the kind of summer storm that haunts all night long.

In terms of jobs, some people had warnings; many did not. Some with more than 20 years at a job, some with great employment records, have been hit by this economic storm. And try to find a job right now…very difficult – the storm lingers.

In marriage, there are peaceful times and there are stormy times. A lot of marriages are in the middle of storms – often because of other storms hitting at the same time. It can feel like you are stranded on a boat in the middle of a raging sea and storm with no one else around to help or understand.

A lot of young people find themselves in a constant storm of pressure and expectation. Caught in the middle of wanting to make friends and keep friends that have different priorities and boundaries than their own, and negotiating with high expectations of success in all things by parents and other adults. It must feel like the wind and waves just keep coming, hammering – making you wonder if the boat can hold together through the storm.

All of this is a lot like how the disciples felt in Mark 4:35-41. On a journey themselves across the sea with their mysterious friend who was napping in the stern, they were suddenly overwhelmed by a vicious, demon-like storm that came out of nowhere. The storm looked like it would spell the end for this group.

In terror, they turned to their peaceful, calm friend and leader and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!” Giving voice not only to their fears but to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed and turned to a higher power for help.

The higher power in the boat and in this story of course is Jesus. But still the question, “Does he care?” The answer is “Yes.” But other related and important questions might be, “Does he care in a way that we are used to and are able to see (or willing to see by faith)?” and how about “Are we willing to trust and receive the kind of care and peace he wants to offer in storms?”

Awakened by his friends, Jesus stands up and rebukes the storm (just sounds cool) and says, “Peace, be still.” And all is calm – immediately. The reaction then and now is…awe. What can this man do if the winds and storms obey him? What power does he have? All power on earth and heaven.

And if he did and still does have all power on earth and heaven (which he does), what does that mean for us today?

“Why are we so fearful and faithless? For in many tragic ways, we are just that – afraid to rely on Jesus’ methods and motives, afraid to act as though God’s infinite resources were on the side of love,” according to New Testament scholar Halford E. Luccock.

Is it a case of “too good to be true?” Is it a case of his power seeming to not work in the past – failing to keep other storms from smashing our boats? It’s probably a lot of things.

But here is what I know and what I want you to know today, this moment. I know you or someone you love is facing a storm. I know that it is terrifying and it looks like you or they might not make it this time. I know that it feels awful and vulnerable and you feel powerless.

But I also know that Jesus is in the boat. And he is peace personified and he is saying, “I’ve got this” to whatever storms you or others are facing. And he wants you to know and receive the peace he has to offer you. And, I know it is hard to see it right now.

Maybe this is the time – that in the midst of this storm, instead finding or creating your own peace, instead of giving into fear, that you will look to the rear of the boat – seeing, saying, thinking and believing, “He’s got this.” Maybe this is that time…

 You can find more about Christpher at www.christopherbwolf.com and follow his blog at http://christopherbwolf.wordpress.com/

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