July 2, 2015

When Our Greatest Motivation is Fear

I once worked for a woman that I feared. She expected her employees to work tirelessly without making mistakes or needing positive feedback. She took whatever I was willing to give and gave nothing in return, aside from the occasional silent glare as evidence that I'd disappointed her.

Despite all this or perhaps because of it, I desperately wanted to please her. I gave that job all my energy, creative juices, and best efforts. But I was really giving it all to her as if it were an offering, hoping she'd notice and approve, and at the same time hoping I'd avoid her wrath. However, because fear was the ultimate motivation for my work, I grew to hate that job I would otherwise have loved, and I flamed out in brilliant fashion.
I didn't realize it at the time but my relationship with my employer was a telling microcosm of my relationship with God. I had grown up with an incomplete understanding of the gospel. I rightly believed that my salvation came through faith in Jesus' death and resurrection, but I wrongly believed that my sanctification--everything after salvation--was up to me. I had to resist temptation through my own efforts. I had to conjure for myself the love, joy, patience, and forgiveness that God commanded in Scripture. I had to forever try harder and make positive steps forward.

The result? I feared God, not in a biblical way but in the same way I feared my harsh employer. I worked hard and then worked harder. I gave Him my best efforts, not as an offering, but almost as a request I was sure would be denied: Please love me. Please approve of me. Please reward me for what I've done for you. To me, God seemed as distant, disengaged, and disapproving as my boss had.

I couldn't understand why I felt so trapped or how to break free from the cycle of pride and self-condemnation. All I knew is that I wanted to please this God that I feared, but I never felt that I could get it quite right.

At a time that felt appointed, God used the book of Galatians to reveal my incomplete understanding of His gospel. He specifically used 3:3: "Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" My Christian life had begun when I placed my faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit regenerated my soul. Why would I think my spiritual life would revert to self-effort after that?

Trying to understand this, I began soaking my thoughts and beliefs in Scripture and a load of dirt rose to the surface. I'd always feared God, but I hadn't always understood His love for me. In fact, I'd pushed it away because I felt unworthy. As I soaked in it, His love finally broke through all my self-effort and self-condemnation. I realized just how far He'd gone for me, that He'd not only taken care of my sin but He'd taken care of my sanctification too. By giving me the indwelling Spirit, He's given me everything I need for life and godliness. That's the explosive, comprehensive nature of His grace.

The best part? His love expelled the unholy fear I'd lived with for so long. That fear had spoken so many lies to me, whispering that I'd never be enough, that I'd never be loved by God, that I was failure. That fear had me running a race to nowhere trying to earn what I had all along.

God's love brings so much freedom. He's freed me from feeling as if I have something to prove. Instead I've discovered His love is a catalyst toward good works and righteousness, but now the work is not motivated by fear. Work underwritten by God's love comes from a place of gratefulness and worship. 

June 30, 2015

Two Words to Stop Self-Condemnation

“I'm not sweet. I should be, but I'm not.” That's what I thought to myself as I pulled into the garage and closed it behind me, safe from the opinions of others in the cocoon of my home. I'd been thinking of someone who is sweet and how much I love her and how I wish I were sweet like her. And, although I was ensconced in the comfort of home, the familiar bombardment began, and I couldn't find a way to hide from all the thoughts, all the thoughts of everything I'm not.
I’ve been through this before, when the thoughts speak so loud that they seem real and true. Thoughts like:
      I’m not good enough.
      I can’t possibly step out in ways God has gifted me, because everyone will see my failures and weaknesses and take aim.
      I’m not enough for my friends and my husband. I should be doing more.
      I’m not mom enough.
      I’m too much of all the “wrong” things and not enough of the “right” things.
      I’m not a good enough Christian for God to use.

I’ve talked to enough women to know I’m not the only one that gets stuck in the mire of “not enough”. We are hard on ourselves, quick to point an accusatory finger inward, and prone to believe our condemning thoughts are directed by God Himself.

So what do we do when the low-grade guilt that’s been lurking around our mothering all day becomes loud and insistent? What do we do when comparison sneaks in suddenly and we find ourselves wishing we were something we’re not? What do we do when we’re overcome with feeling “not good enough”?

We must make it a habit, first of all, to actually think about what we’re thinking about, and refuse to believe every last thought we think. One of the most helpful and soul-breathing truths in battling the “not enoughs” is that the Holy Spirit convicts; we don’t have to convict ourselves. There is a vast difference between self-conviction and Holy-Spirit conviction. When God convicts, He gets specific with us about our sin (“You were wrong to withhold forgiveness when your friend asked for it.”), He uses specific scriptures, and His kindness toward us leads to a hopeful conclusion-- repentance and dependence. But when I convict myself or the enemy accuses, it is wide-ranging (“I’m a failure as a mother.”) and immediately defeatist. This line of thought only leads back to self: try harder and do better. In other words, I can make lists of action points, write sticky notes to remind myself of those action points, and vow to change myself, but I’ll only end up right back where I started--in guilt and condemnation.

If, after thinking about the types of thoughts we’re having, we discover accusation and not Holy Spirit conviction, how do we put off self-condemnation and put on biblical truth?

Our tendency is to prop ourselves up with self-esteem platitudes or turn to those who offer them. The trouble with this is that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we aren’t good enough. Have you read in Scripture what Jesus asks of us? Be joyful always? Count trials as blessings? Love enemies? Put the needs of others always above our own? I actually can’t do it. I truly am not good enough. It seems counter-intuitive to battle the “not good enoughs” by agreeing that we’re not good enough, but in reality it is the first step toward joy. The Christian life is impossible, as long as we’re attempting self-sanctification. However, we aren’t meant to live the Christian life by ourselves; we are meant to recognize our need and then--there must always be the then--receive the help offered.

What is this help and how do we receive it? To put off wrong thoughts and put on biblical truth, instead of cycling back to vows and self-effort, we add (and believe by faith) two words: But God.

I was spiritually dead in my sin, but God has made me spiritually alive.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4).

I am called to keep God’s righteous commandments, which I fail to fulfill, but God has given me the Holy Spirit to help me. I have all the help I need and will call upon that help. I can trust Him because He always leads me to righteousness.
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper. . .I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you” (John 14:15,16,18).

I am not good enough, but Christ in me makes me not just good enough, but justified and righteous before God. Because of Christ, I am never condemned.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I cannot live the Christian life by self-effort, but Christ gladly lives it in me. I live by faith, not by self-effort.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

There are things I will not be good at, but God has created me to joyfully serve Him in specific ways.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

What peace to rest in the work of Christ rather than parsing, evaluating, and defending (even to ourselves) our own abilities! What joy to know that God has made provision not just for our salvation but for our everyday lives! And these are the exact fruits--peace and joy--to watch for as we “but God” our “not good enoughs”.

As I pulled into the garage that day and sat prayerfully in the silence, I chose to release my fears borne from condemnation. I chose to turn my mind from everything I'm not on to everything that I am because of God. I chose to look at my roles, responsibilities, and opportunities through eyes of faith and to trust Him as I pursue those. I chose to believe that I have absolutely no reason to fear, especially other people and their opinions of me. 

I chose to believe the “but God” instead of my “not good enough”. 

A portion of this post is an excerpt from my newest book, From Good to Grace. If you ever decide you'd like to read and discuss the book with others, or if you just want supplemental videos to go along with your personal reading, please note that I've compiled book club questions and videos onto one page on my blog, which you can find here at any time that you choose to use it. Enjoy!

June 22, 2015

From Good to Grace Book Club: Video #3

Today marks the final video in my From Good to Grace summer book club. In this video, I've invited my friend Susan to talk about how we relate to other Christian women, especially when God leads them to make different decisions than our own.

As a reminder:
  • There are three videos to correspond with the three parts of the book. The videos will stay available on my book club page if your book club wants to use them later. 
  • Read one part of the book, get together with your friends, watch the corresponding video, and then discuss! There are questions at the back of the book, but I've given you a supplemental question in each video.
  • Have questions from what you read? Send them to me on Twitter, on Instagram, or Facebook with the hashtag #fromgoodtograce. I'll choose a few to answer in future posts, and one group will be chosen at random on August 1st for a Skype chat where I'll answer your questions in (sort of) person! Fun, fun! 
Let's continue on with Part There of the book today!

Part Three of From Good to Grace: Responding
Before watching this video, read chapters 7, 8, 9, and the conclusion.

In this video, I talk with my friend Susan about:
  • what it means to give grace to other women
  • how comparison is a symptom of the goodness gospel
  • how to combat comparison
  • how knowing God's approval is essential to giving grace to others
  • the importance of rejoicing in our differences

From Good to Grace Book Club - Part 3 - Responding from Christine Hoover on Vimeo.
(Download this video for viewing here.)

Supplemental question for your group: How are each of you called to adorn the gospel? How can you champion one another in those callings?

June 15, 2015

From Good to Grace Book Club: Video #2

I hope you've been able to join me for my summer book club with From Good to Grace! If you're just tuning in, you can find out more about the book and book club in the intro video. Or you can jump right in with the first video, in which my friend Marylyn and I talk about how we tend to evaluate how we're doing in the Christian life based upon outward circumstances or our own behavior.

As a reminder:
  • There will be three videos to correspond with the three parts of the book. The videos will be posted each Monday in June, but they'll also be available on my book club page if your book club wants to go at a different pace or use them later. 
  • Read one part of the book, get together with your friends, watch the corresponding video, and then discuss! There are questions at the back of the book, but I'll also give you a supplemental question in each video.
  • Have questions from what you read? Send them to me on Twitter, on Instagram, or Facebook with the hashtag #fromgoodtograce. I'll choose a few to answer in future posts, and one group will be chosen at random on August 1st for a Skype chat where I'll answer your questions in (sort of) person! Fun, fun! 
Let's continue on with Part Two of the book today!

Part Two of From Good to Grace: Receive

Before watching, read chapters 4, 5, and 6.

In this video, I talk with my friend Amy about:
  • how the goodness gospel cultivates a reliance on self
  • how to combat self-reliance and the pride at our core
  • the belief that we can earn more of God's love
  • how we can receive God's love
  • the resource of the Holy Spirit that we have
  • how we can distinguish between self-condemnation and the Holy Spirit's conviction 

From Good to Grace Book Club - Part 2- Receiving from Christine Hoover on Vimeo.
(Download this video for viewing here.)

Supplemental question for your group: Are you living the Christian life with an orphan mentality or an inheriting child's mentality?

June 10, 2015

When Condemnation is Loud

There are times when I'm simply fighting to stand on solid spiritual ground, grasping for faith, and praying for the Holy Spirit to help me remember what I already know to be true. Especially when it comes to condemnation. I hear condemnation echoing in my heart like it's truth even while I rationally know it's a lie.
I'm in one of those times now and you better believe I'm fighting. My help in the fight is coming from the dynamite truths of Romans 5-8. Maybe today you need to hear them too?

Romans 5 
By faith in Christ, we are...
  • justified
  • at peace with God
  • standing in grace
  • able to rejoice at the hope of seeing God
  • growing in perseverance, character, and hope
  • equipped with the Holy Spirit
  • loved by God
  • saved from God's wrath
  • reconciled to God
  • able to rejoice in God
  • receiving an abundance of grace
  • receiving the gift of righteousness
  • reigning in life through Christ
  • made righteous
  • delivered and set free from the power of sin
Romans 6
  • We no longer live for sin, because it's not who we are.
  • We are now people who've put on Christ. We're new people. We're no longer slaves to sin; we're free from that.
  • We are alive! We will live eternally because Christ does and we're wearing Christ.
  • Just as Jesus lives to God, we live to God. Because we're wearing Christ.
  • We are under grace, and grace teaches us not to sin.
Because of these truths...
  • We are to obey grace and disobey sin.
  • We aren't to present our bodies to sin; we present ourselves to God as slaves to righteousness.
As a result...
  • God will bear the fruit of holiness in our lives and, in the end, everlasting life.
Romans 7
But what about the law? 
  • The law itself says that when a husband dies, the wife is released from the covenant with him to marry another.
  • We are no longer married to the law. A death has occurred--Christ's. We are married to another--the Holy Spirit--to bear fruit to God.
  • The law bore the fruit of death because it couldn't save us from our sins. 
  • Is the law bad? No. The law is good in that it points the way to righteousness, but it also doesn't help us attain the righteousness it points to. The law shows us what sin is, but not how to perform what is good. We're sinners. We can't perform our way to righteousness. This is a war inside each of us, but Jesus has delivered us from the war. He married us to another, the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8
We are married to another: the Holy Spirit.
  • There is no condemnation in Christ in this new marriage with the Holy Spirit.
  • This is a new law, one of life. We are free from the law of sin and death and condemnation. The new law points to righteousness and also how to be made righteous. 
  • What we couldn't do (perform our way to righteousness), God sent His Son to do. He fulfilled the law on our behalf.
  • The law set our mind on the flesh (what we do) and led us to death (we can't save ourselves).
  • The Holy Spirit sets our minds on Him (what He does in us) and leads us to life and peace (we are saved and secure).
  • Because of faith in Christ, we have the Spirit indwelling each of us. Therefore, we are not led by our flesh. We are not led back to fear and bondage, like the law leads. We are led by the Spirit, who leads us to the Father's heart and confirms that we are in fact His children and that we are heirs of His and co-heirs with Christ.
Yet we remain in the flesh, which means...
  • We still suffer, but suffering is temporary. Glory is eternal.
  • Creation waits to find out who are the children of God.
  • Creation also groans and labors for relief from the corruption of sin.
  • We (who have the Spirit, a guarantee of what's to come) also wait with groaning for our final liberty, for our adoption, and for the redemption of our bodies. This is the hope we were saved for, and we wait for it with perseverance. 
  • We are weak in waiting well for this hope but the Spirit helps us in prayer--groaning prayer. The Holy Spirit also makes intercession for us to the Father.
  • All things eventually work for our good because God is conforming us to be like Christ. 
  • In everything we endure in this life, we can't be separated from the love of God. He is for us. We know this because He didn't spare His own Son but gave Him up for us. Won't He then freely give us what we need for this life? We are therefore more than conquerors because of God's love.
Summary: Because of Christ and our faith in His work, we have a hope, we have the Spirit helping us, we are prayed for by the Holy Spirit, God is working everything to conform us to be like Christ, and God is for us. What is unaccounted for? There is absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ.

June 8, 2015

From Good to Grace Book Club: Video #1

Today's the day! I'm launching my online book club for From Good to Grace!

I made an intro video you can watch to learn more about the book and the book club, but here are the main details you need to know to join in the fun with us:
  • There will be three videos to correspond with the three parts of the book. The videos will be posted each Monday in June, but they'll also be available on my book club page if your book club wants to go at a different pace or use them later. 
  • Read one part of the book, get together with your friends, watch the corresponding video, and then discuss! There are questions at the back of the book, but I'll also give you a supplemental question in each video.
  • Have questions from what you read? Send them to me on Twitter, on Instagram, or Facebook with the hashtag #fromgoodtograce. I'll choose a few to answer in future posts, and one group will be chosen at random on August 1st for a Skype chat where I'll answer your questions in (sort of) person! Fun, fun! 
It's that easy. So let's get to it.

Part One of From Good to Grace: Good, Bye

Before watching, read chapters 1, 2, and 3. (And if you're reading this post through a reader or by email, you may need to click over to my blog to see the video.)

In this video, I talk with my friend Marylyn about:
  • how we tend to evaluate our "goodness" on outward circumstances or our behaviors
  • how we try to manipulate God with our "goodness" to get what we want from Him
  • how we can receive hard things as love from God
  • how we cultivate dependence upon the Lord

From Good to Grace Book Club - Part 1 - Good, Bye from Christine Hoover on Vimeo.
(Download this video for viewing here.)

Supplemental question for your group: What is the fruit being borne in your life? Is it gospel-fruit--love, joy, gratitude, and contentment? Or do you see bitter fruit from the goodness gospel of comparison, people-pleasing, lack of forgiveness, or discontentment?

June 4, 2015

Questions from Pastor's Wives: Will I Only Ever Be Seen as "The Pastor's Wife"?

This is the second in a short series of posts in which I'm answering questions sent to me from fellow pastor's wives. In the first post, I answered, "How do I respond when people leave our church?"  I've actually answered questions previously that I've received from church planting wives, so if that pertains to you, please find them here: Mothering While Churching, Fighting Exhaustion, and When You're Preparing to Plant and Feel Overwhelmed.

Here's today's question:
Do people, when they see me, always think "church" or will they ever want to know me for me?
"I feel like in almost every friendship I have, we start with normal conversation but we then inevitably end up talking about church. I'm not just a pastor's wife. There's more to me than that."
My take:
Pastor's wife, I empathize with you. You are navigating the confusing and blurry lines of relationships that all pastor's wives must navigate, specifically the distinction between true friendship and ministry friendship. You seek to love and honor in all of your relationships, but, as every woman does, you desire friendship in which you are not first seen as "the pastor's wife".

This isn't a shameful desire, but it's important to remember three things:

1) People may talk to us about church because it's one way they know to strike up conversation and attempt to get to know us. They may not know what else to talk to us about, especially if we don't reveal ourselves to them. More on that in a moment.

2) The vast majority of people talk to us about church with the best of intentions. They may not be aware of just how much others talk to us about church. They may not be aware of how little the pastor and the pastor's wife get asked about themselves rather than church-centric questions. They may think we want to talk about church, because it's something they see we're passionate about.

3) We can't control how people respond to us or view us. But we can control our own perspectives and responses. Is being identified and related to primarily as "the pastor's wife" frustrating at times? Yes, but I've learned to flip the frustration on it's side and instead search for the opportunity in it.
Mainly, being known as a pastor's wife affords me an opportunity to teach, influence, bless, and steer. In keeping this attitude and perspective, I'm much less prone to frustration over conversation about church in my relationships.

So how do we feed this perspective that being a pastor's wife in social situations is an opportunity and not a burden?

Resolve to not be sensitive about people wanting to talk church with us.

Take the church talk one step further. Turn the conversation to heart-level spiritual matters. For example, let's say someone is talking to you about the small group options at your church and possibly even complaining about what is offered. Simply ask, "So what are y'all talking about in small group?" and then turn the conversation personal and heart-level. Don't forget to share about what God is teaching you through your small group as well!

If the church talk continues, especially if there are questions or concerns expressed, steer the person to an appropriate avenue to express them. It's not our responsibility to defend or explain. We can simply say, "I understand your concerns. You should consider talking to so-and-so (person in charge) about it. They would be open and receptive to that conversation." And then change the subject.

Help ease any intimidation. It's laughable to me that someone would find me or my husband intimidating. If they only knew! But many people truly are intimidated of their pastor and pastor's wife. Which leads me to my next point:

Reveal yourself. If you read and remember nothing else, this is what I'd want you to remember. Let them see you as a real person and then they'll treat you as a real person. We pastor's wives are notoriously bad at revealing ourselves, often because we convince ourselves that we can't share our struggles, questions, or needs. Why? Because we're "the pastor's wife". We feed the very thing we don't want! Vulnerability is such a vital component as we navigate relationships in our churches.

As I've let go of my frustration, accepted this role as an opportunity, and stutter-stepped my way through learning the things I've shared with you, I've found the lines between friendship and ministry relationships have become far less blurry. I hope the same for you, that a friendship or two where you're not first "the pastor's wife" will be born.

What wisdom would you add in response to this pastor's wife?

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