Finding Dory and the Prodigal Son

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

Not too long ago, I watched Finding Dory for the first time. I live with my pastors and their two ridiculously cute children. So, I get lots of opportunities to watch kids movies and I love them. It might sound a little ridiculous, but by the time the movie was over, I was in tears…overcome with emotions.

The premise of the story (spoiler alert!) is that Dory loses her family. She suffers from memory loss and can’t remember her way back home. At one point, she can’t remember anything about her family. She just knows that somewhere out there her parents must exist. Dory has a flashback of her family that gives her just enough information to begin her journey back home. She perseveres through the dangers of the deep blue sea and despite all odds, makes her way back to her family. When she finally makes it to her parents, she discovers that they have been waiting in the same place patiently for her, believing that one day she would remember where she came from and make her way back to them. They had carefully laid out paths of shells in every direction, so that their beloved daughter would be able to find her way back. That hit me hard. This story reminded me so much of the story of the Prodigal Son referenced above. After arriving at his lowest point, the son remembers the home and the Father he came from. He finds his way back and when he arrives, His Father is already waiting with open arms.

Sometimes we get so caught up and distracted by the cares of this life that we can suffer from memory loss too. We forget our identity in Christ. We forget who we are. We can lose our way. Sometimes we get so caught up we don’t even realize what we have forgotten. But God is so faithful. He patiently waits for us, waiting for us to have the slightest glimpse of remembrance. He carefully lays the path before us to follow, a path that lands us right into His embrace. Despite the fact that I have been a Christian my whole adult life, there are times I get caught up doing things my own way. I try to carve out my own path, but God always brings me to the point of remembering what I have forgotten. I hear the gentle reminder deep within my Spirit, you have forgotten your first love (Rev. 2:4). He lights up the path before me and brings me back to Him.

There was another lesson I drew from Dory. We all have people in our lives that we love and desire the best for. There are people in our lives that we want to sit down, shake by the shoulders and say, “Remember who you are!” This scene served as a powerful reminder to me that I can trust God to lay out the paths for my loved ones to follow home. I can trust that God could lay out paths that I never could, paths that are uniquely suited and designed for that specific individual. God knows if the path needs to go through the valley or the wilderness. He knows all the bends and curves that are necessary and while I may not understand the paths he chooses, or allows, for myself or my loved ones, I can know they are always right. As Dory points out to her parents, she was never alone throughout the whole process. So it is with us. We are never alone.

The motto of the Marine Life Institute, where Dory goes to find her family, is “Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.” Those three small words made an impact on my heart. It is God’s job to rescue and his job to rehabilitate the brokenness in my own heart and the brokenness that surrounds me. It is my job to release every worry, concern and care into His hands. He is more than able and more than faithful to bring restoration and redemption to the places of my deepest needs and longings and even to my hurts.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

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A Season of Hope and Expectation

At one point several months ago, I was talking with a friend about seasons of waiting. All of us can relate to the feeling of waiting on God for answers to prayers that as of yet, go unanswered, or at least as far as we can tell.  These seasons can be long and painful.  Wrestling with physical and emotional pain, unmet longings and unfulfilled dreams for prolonged periods of time can wear on us and challenge our faith.

As my friend and I prayed for one another, I began to think about Christmas.  Christmas comes every year on December 25th.  The actual celebration of Christmas is a one day event.  However, we celebrate Christmas beginning the day after Thanksgiving and throughout all of December.  Before we ever open or exchange any gifts, we prepare for more than an entire month.  We go shopping.  We decorate.  We bake cookies.  We sing carols.  We celebrate in anticipation of the moment when Christmas morning will finally arrive.  How different would this time be if instead of celebrating, we spent our time complaining that we couldn’t open our gifts yet?  What if we spent our time doubting that there would even be a gift with our name on it under the tree?  It would certainly dampen our excitement and expectation.

I know that God is challenging me to view my seasons of waiting as seasons of celebration.  We are told in Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  If I’m truthful, I spend too much time complaining in my seasons of waiting, rather than rejoicing in what is to come.  I lose sight of the fact that I serve a good God, who gives good gifts.  What He has for me is good.  He has a hope and a future for me that are good.  He works all things out for my good.  I don’t have to question that what He has in store is, in fact, good!  The gifts may not come on my time schedule and they might not come in the wrapping paper I would have picked out, but I can be assured that my Father in heaven knows how to pick out gifts that are perfectly suited and right for me.  The gifts He blesses me with are better than anything I would have picked out for myself.  And what’s more, He knows the best timing and the best manner to present me with the gifts He has for me.  I have often heard it said that it’s all about the presentation.  I think of a marriage proposal.  I think about the planning and consideration that a man goes through when he proposes to the girl he loves.  He considers the date, the setting, the atmosphere, the audience, the ring.  All of these details work together to make the proposal of marriage even more special.  How much more does our heavenly Father consider the perfect timing and manner in which to present us with the special blessings he has for us?

I am challenged to mark my season of waiting as a season of hope and expectation.  I have my mind made up to celebrate all season long.  This is no time to give in to doubt and fear.  I want to usher in the new thing God is doing with an attitude of rejoicing, because I can know with confidence that my blessings are on the way.

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25)

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On Snowstorms and Springtime

For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.  I will create dry rivers in the wasteland. (Isa. 43:19)

The first day of spring this year fell on March 20th.  I am the kind of person who loathes winter.  People have tried to explain to me the benefits of winter, but to me it’s dark, cold, snowy and wet and I don’t like it.  Give me spring, summer or fall and I’ll be fine, but something in me dies a little when winter comes around. (Okay, so maybe that’s a bit overdramatic, but you get the picture).  That’s why I was personally insulted and offended when just shy of a week before the first day of spring, my little corner of New England was hit with a snowstorm.  Not even right.  In theory, I understood that the arrival of the snowstorm didn’t mean that spring wasn’t still coming.  It may have taken a little longer to reach those warmer temperatures, but spring weather was inevitably coming nonetheless.  I just needed patience.

When it comes to our lives, we don’t have calendars and timelines to tell us when the hard seasons of life are going to give way to seasons of joy and blessing.  But we do have faith and we do have hope.  I learned something from the snowstorm.  That snowstorm came a week before the day that marked the beginning of spring.  The storms we experience in life lie to us.  They speak discouragement to our hearts and try to make us believe that storms last forever.  What they don’t tell us is that our spring, the new thing God is doing, a shifting of seasons, could literally be right around the corner.  The presence of the storm doesn’t mean our breakthrough isn’t coming.  I believe that our breakthrough is coming much sooner than we think.

Every once in a while, I reflect on my history with the Lord.  Without exception, the greatest trials and difficulties that I have overcome have brought me to the greatest blessings in my life.  All of those situations had a few things in common.  I could never seem to figure out how to get out of my circumstances and into the breakthrough.  Things always seemed to be at their absolute worst.  And there were always a lot of voices (both internally and externally) attempting to rob me of my hope.  Each time I have found myself in this pit, God has put together for me what I could never figure out on my own.  He has turned what seemed to be the absolute worst around for my ultimate good.  And He has proven over and over again that no matter what anyone says, there is always always always hope.

Don’t lose heart in the storm.  New things are coming.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)
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Demolition or Restoration

Demolition or Restoration?

A couple of weeks before the start of 2017, I was praying about some circumstances on my way to work.  It was one of those fervent, desperate types of prayers.  I looked over and saw right in front of me a big white truck, upon which was written, “Restoration. Recovery.  Reconstruction.”  I felt in my spirit that God was saying that this is the work he is doing in my life and in my circumstances.  Over the next couple of weeks, my excitement and anticipation grew as I began to hear many confirming words that 2017 is to be a year of restoration, a year of recovery and a year of rebuilding.  Every word brought me greater hope and confidence that my life was on the mend!  Everything was coming together.

What actually happened in the months that followed was not something I was prepared for.  Instead of coming together, things in every aspect of life seemed to unravel and began falling apart.  My life was stripped bare and I found myself alone with the Lord.  Standing in the mess of a pile of broken pieces, I asked God, “What is happening in my life?”  Did I not hear you correctly?  Wasn’t this supposed to be my year of restoration?  I was determined to continue trusting God’s process, even though I honestly couldn’t make sense of my world or what was going on around me.

Around the same time, I started watching the show Fixer Upper.  Chip and Joanna Gaines are a wonderful couple with their own home remodeling and renovation business.  In each episode, they help prospective buyers pick out their own fixer upper home and in the weeks that follow, the Gaines couple transform something once run-down into something breathtakingly beautiful.  I noticed something though.  The first step of the remodeling process always involves demolition.  Walls are torn down.  Floors are broken apart to reveal what’s rotting and decaying underneath.  Structures are gutted, in order that new ones can be formed.  I realized that what feels like life crumbling apart is really only the first step in the restoration process.  God is not going to build something new on a foundation that is faulty.  He won’t build something new without first exposing and removing what is rotten underneath.  As it says in Mark 2:22, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost.  New wine calls for new wineskins.”

If you find yourself in a season where life seems to be falling apart, is it possible that God is building a new foundation?  Could it be that things are falling apart so that God could put your life back together?  Rest assured. When God restores things in our lives, He makes them better than new!  No matter what stage of the process we find ourselves in, we can know that God’s will is to always bring about restoration in our lives.

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
    Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
17 Soon your descendants will come back,
    and all who are trying to destroy you will go away.
18 Look around you and see,
    for all your children will come back to you.
As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
    “they will be like jewels or bridal ornaments for you to display.

19 “Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land
    will soon be crowded with your people.
Your enemies who enslaved you
    will be far away.
20 The generations born in exile will return and say,
    ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’
21 Then you will think to yourself,
    ‘Who has given me all these descendants?
For most of my children were killed,
    and the rest were carried away into exile.
I was left here all alone.
    Where did all these people come from?
Who bore these children?
    Who raised them for me?’”

22 This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
    “See, I will give a signal to the godless nations.
They will carry your little sons back to you in their arms;
    they will bring your daughters on their shoulders.
23 Kings and queens will serve you
    and care for all your needs.
They will bow to the earth before you
    and lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” (Isa. 49:16-23)

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From Overwhelmed to Overflowing

I recently went through a season of my life when I cannot read enough about hope. I couldn’t hear enough sermons on hope…what hope in God looks like, how it operates in my life and how I can experience it. When faced with circumstances that seem hopeless, it is a good time to dig your heels into the hope that God offers to the best of your ability and then allow the Holy Spirit to dig you even deeper. One afternoon, I found myself reading every scripture I could find on the subject of hope and Romans 15:13 jumped out at me:

May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing (through the experience of your faith) that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope. (Romans 15:13 AMPC)

I love it. This verse points out so many life-giving truths that we can apply to whatever situations we are currently facing. First, this verse makes it clear that the God we serve is a God of hope. And let me remind you (and remind myself as well), He lives in us! We always talk about how God is ultimately in control. Who better to be in control than the God of hope? If God lives in us and He is in control, then it stands to reason that we always have a reason to hope.

Secondly, this verse tells us that He fills us with joy and peace, in believing. Whoa. That is powerful. Think about it. Our joy and peace doesn’t come from a change in our situation. It doesn’t come from perfect circumstances. Nope. It comes from believing. What are you believing? Do you believe things won’t go well for you? Do you believe things will get worse? If you are not experiencing joy and peace, then it sounds like you need to change your belief system. Sometimes we need to wait for God to work things out in our lives, but we might as well be happy while we wait. That sense of peace and joy is directly tied to what we choose to believe.

Lastly, this verse indicates that once we get to the place of belief, faith, confident trust and expectation in Him that we will abound and overflow with hope. According to the above translation, we will be bubbling over with hope. I want this kind of hope. Too often, I feel so overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by life. Overwhelmed by feelings. Overwhelmed by family. Overwhelmed by relationships. Overwhelmed by work. Overwhelmed by ministry. Overwhelmed by what I do. Overwhelmed by what I don’t do. The list can go on and on. But what if you and I went from feeling overwhelmed to being overflowing with hope? How would that change our lives? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to find out.

It’s time to overflow.