July 22, 2015

I Believe; Help My Unbelief

Have you ever wrestled with doubt? I haven't so much doubted the existence of God as I have doubted the character of God. Barnabas Piper, author of the new book Help My Unbelief, recently asked me a few questions about my own experiences with faith and doubt. I hope my answers will encourage you in your own faith today.

BP: What does “I believe; help my unbelief” mean to you?

CH: I actually pray this verse often, usually when I’m battling fear or uncertainty, and what I’m saying to God is, “I trust you, but I want to trust you more. Help me trust you in the next moment and the next when the temptation to fear comes calling again.” I’m choosing to believe his character and his promises, but I am also acknowledging that I’m feeble and susceptible to wavering. I am reaching out in belief, but I need him to reach out in return with an extended hand to help me along.

BP: Do you have a favorite Bible passage about belief and doubt? What is it and how has it impacted you?

CH: My struggles with doubt haven’t concerned the existence of God but rather the character of God. I have doubted that he loves me. I’ve doubted that he is for me. I’ve doubted that he is good. But mostly, I’ve doubted that he will be faithful to me.

There was a time when he clearly called me into a specific situation, I followed him, believing he’d be faithful, and then difficulties and obstacles appeared and remained too long for my comfort. I wavered in my belief that God would come through. I started making a Plan B in my mind, but then I read a passage that gave me great comfort and fed my faith in a way that helped me persevere through the uncertainties. The passage is about Abraham’s faith and is found in Romans 4:17-21. I go back to it often:

“God in whom [Abraham] believed . . . gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

I love that Paul says God can call things in existence that didn’t previously exist, which He did for Abraham in the form of offspring. I also love that Abraham “in hope believed against hope”. In other words, faith allowed him to look beyond the physical, beyond his circumstances, beyond what seemed impossible, and wait for God to call something into existence. When I read that passage, I began praying for that kind of faith.

BP: What is belief in God?

CH: I immediately think of Hebrews 11:6: “...whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Belief in God is a choice to trust that he exists and that what he says about his character is true. I think of it not as much a choice of climbing up to “get” God but a choice of throwing my full weight--my very life--backwards onto Him.

BP: What do you see as the relationship between belief and doubt?

CH: I’ve noticed in my own life that believing God is a choice that leaves me hanging out in uncertainty for a longer period than I’m usually comfortable with. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he exists, because I can’t see him. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he’s going to come through for me according to his promises. But faith is giving him the space and opportunity to show me he exists and to actually come through. Faith involves waiting. Doubt exists and creeps into those waiting spaces. Doubt demands measurable, tangible results or answers almost immediately. Doubt insists that I prepare a Plan B just in case. Doubt reminds me that I’m basically in freefall while I’m waiting. So, in my mind, the relationship between belief and doubt is that they often mingle together. I have to call on faith (“I believe; help my unbelief.”) to tamper down doubt’s incessant shouting and help me wait it out.

BP: How can a person strengthen their belief in God?

CH: One can strengthen their belief in God by “feeding” their faith.

I have had salient moments in my life where I’ve heard or read something that deeply assures me of God’s existence and character. These are typically general revelations as Romans 1 speaks of it-- creation and moral law. For example, I heard a world-renowned surgeon on a television show talk about trying to reconstruct a child’s face after a terrible accident. He said, “As much as we try, we can’t completely form a face, but we do what we can.” It made me think of the intricacy of the human body and pointed me to a Creator. Recently, I went to an aquarium where I sat with my children and learned about the neon creatures that prowl the ocean floor. All I could think about was how these creatures surely were made by Someone extremely creative.

Noticing and thinking about how the world works (and how Scripture speaks so accurately about these things) definitely feeds my faith, but I also think about how I’ve seen evidence of God in my own life. Lately, I’ve thought about the “aliveness” of Scripture. As a writer and a prolific reader, I love words and have been greatly impacted by books, but I don’t go back to the same books and read them over and over again. Books have worked powerfully in my life, but their power to consistently affect and change my life is limited. What I find interesting is that I can read the Bible over and over again and it tends to read me instead. The Bible’s ability to cut straight to my heart year after year in season after season confirms it as true and God as real to me. Thinking on this feeds my faith.

July 16, 2015

Who Pours Into You?

Who pours into you? That's the question I get asked most often these days, and it's gotten me thinking. Because sometimes my answer to the question posed is a garbled mess. I know what people are asking: "Do you have an older woman that you meet with regularly who offers you her biblical wisdom and shoulder to cry on?" I've had it before, but I don't have it currently, and for some reason, I feel kind of bad saying it out loud. Almost like I'm doing something wrong.
But that persistent question has gotten me thinking about us all. I wonder if, in all our talk of discipleship and mentoring and "pouring into", we've created for ourselves a culture of entitlement. Do we believe it's a biblical imperative that there will always be a Paul to our Timothy? Should we always have someone "pouring into" us in a linear, hierarchical sort of way?

I don't think so. I think it's more circular than that. And I think to believe that we are entitled to have a personal "pourer" is to cripple ourselves from the growth we crave.

But perhaps that makes my point. Do we actually crave growth? Or do we crave a person who is god-like who can tell us what to do, empathize with our emotions, absolve us of our sins through spoken forgiveness, and guide us through our circumstances? Growth can definitely come from processing our lives intimately with another, but if we aren't prioritizing the growth that happens in relating directly with God, we will be forever stunted.

The Bible speaks of believers making progress by "eating" the Word. Babes drink milk but then grow to maturity and eat meat. A babe drinking milk is in a receiving posture, but when I think of eating meat, I think of how I purchase, cook, and serve it to my children. I am a "pourer" who also feeds myself on the meat I cook. Babes in the faith need pourers, but if we aren't babes in the faith, we must be able to feed ourselves (and are expected to feed ourselves).

Part of growth is actually being the pourer. The non-babes are all meant to be pourers. If we're getting frustrated and resentful that no one is personally pouring into us, we're missing something. Perhaps it is our turn to be a pourer and, in pouring, we find the growth we're looking for.

But that doesn't mean we aren't to be or shouldn't seek to be poured into. It just often looks different than what we expect it to, and our problem is that we stick to only one formula--the hierarchical formula. In fact, God has given us the Church so that we might be poured into. This idea elevates the idea of intimate Church, because we must be open with our needs, our sins, and our victories if we are to be poured in to as we desire. I think we often wait for that one person to open up our heart and life to, but God intended for the mature to open ourselves up in community, so that we have a circular discipleship in which we serve and are served. This doesn't come easy. We have to fight for it.

So when I am asked, Who pours into you?, I don't think of one specific person. I think of my pastor-husband who preaches verse-by-verse through the Bible. I think of the elders who provide for and protect our church. I think of the young women who ask me hard questions and cause me to search the Scriptures for answers. I think of the women I'm discipling who in turn disciple me. I think of the staff and elder wives who serve so faithfully and encourage me to use my gifts. I think of my friends who are willing to say hard things. I think of the people in my community group who pray for me. I think of long-time friends who live at a distance and listen and respond objectively to my struggles. And, yes, I think of several older women who help me know what to do in parenting and marriage. This is the Church, and it's a gift to receive. Go grab hold of it!

And if God asks you to walk through a season of pouring without much receiving, know this: He is enough. He will feed you.

Reposted from October 2014

July 14, 2015

All the Moms

These days, we must be all the moms.

Each of us are to be The Fun Mom, The Organized Mom, The Pinterest Mom, The Soccer Mom, The Disciplined Mom, The Homeschooling Mom (or the Public or Private School Mom), The Blogging Mom, The World-Changing Mom, The Missional Mom, The Organic Mom, and The Volunteering Mom.

Never, of course, The Tired Mom, The Say-No Mom, The I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing Mom, The Sit-Down-On-The-Couch Mom, The No-Patience Mom, or The Needy Mom. We simply are to be great and glorious at all times, navigating motherhood with skill, energy, and enthusiasm.

Otherwise, we become the dreaded Bad Mom.
At least this is what we tell ourselves, there inside our heads where irrationality can disguise itself as rationality and truth. And gospel.

What does it even mean anymore to be a good Christian mother?

We’ve made it out to be an acrobatic exercise in self-effort, a performance to elicit evaluation, a frantic flying around hoping we’ll stick the landing, wherever that landing might be.

The result is what is really going on inside our heads: an acute awareness of all our failures, a gnawing and ever-present feeling that we’re not good enough, especially when we cannot imitate what we imagine other moms to be.

What does it mean to be a good Christian mother?

What if we took that question to God? What might He say?

We want details, specifics, formulas, but often Scripture makes us take a step back and grasp the big picture, the big picture being God’s own character and abilities.

“I AM” is what He said to Moses. Moses, who had the same volley of thoughts in his head that we do, reminding him of his not-good-enough--speech and leadership abilities in his case.

But just as God undergirded Moses’ calling, He undergirds our calling as mothers. I AM pushes away the not-good-enough: “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:11).

I AM said He would do it, and He said it would do it uniquely through the individual, Moses.

But what about the daily work of parenting? We still want the details, the specifics, the formula.

Later, when God freed the Israelites and He spoke His commands to the people through Moses, He said, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This is as specific as it gets.

To have more would only feed our self-effort in parenting. Which explains the lure of trying to be All the Moms. Being all the moms closes all the gaps, all the questions, all the fears. Nothing is outside of our reach, therefore everything is under our control. Trying to be all the moms makes us feel better, until it doesn’t, and then we vow to do more and try harder.

What if we instead put I AM as the foundation and focus of our work in parenting? What if we believed that He still is capable of bringing His will to fruition, and specifically His will for our children? What if we were at peace with ourselves that we are but one mom--not all of them--and that God will use our unique abilities and strengths and even our weaknesses to teach the children He’s uniquely gifted us with?

This is what it means to live by faith and not by self-effort. This is what it means to trust God.

I AM, not All the Moms.

July 10, 2015


He drank the cup filled with God’s wrath.
He drank it utterly dry
to the very last drop.

Yet I continue to come back to this ancient chalice,
heavy gold,
etched with scenes of battle, bloodshed, deceit, bitterness, gall, gnashing teeth of anger,
those scenes now covered with the blood of Jesus.
I come back to this cup,
I try to lift it,
I struggle with all my might,
I lift it,
I finally lift it
to my lips,
trying to catch a taste of the wrath,
of the condemnation for my sin,
to further quench my pungent desire to make my sin right by my own hand.
Mine. Mine. Mine.

Yet the hands of torn flesh, the hands of God,
who put on my flesh, my sin, my wretchedness.
Those hands take that
cup from my weak and trembling hands.

Those hands,
mighty hands,
lift the chalice
as a feather
and turn it upside down to show me,
ever so gently,
there is nothing left to drink.

Empty cup.
Empty tomb.
Empty plan of mine.
No wrath, no condemnation, no need to lift it again.

It is finished, my child.
It is finished, he says,
heart-wrenching love mingled with fierce adamancy in his deep beautiful eyes.
It is finished.

This beautiful piece was written by my friend Kimberly Girard. She is a wife, mom of three, and a writer. She's only recently dipped her toe in public writing, and, in my opinion, we are now all the better for it. Find and follow her online at her blog or on Twitter. Thank you for sharing, Kimberly!

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?

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