Finding Our Hope

The Lord has been so incredibly kind in giving me a new heart and new words to preach the truth back to myself in hopes others will benefit. As the new year progresses and as I grow in Him there has been a shift in focus.

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was to fight despondency in my life. As the Lord continues to refine me the message has changed.

With that said I want to introduce a new blog!

Finding Our Hope  exist with the same purpose and mission as Fighting Despondency. You’ll find all of my old blog posts transferred over to the new site.

My prayer is that the name will better reflect the mission and purpose, which is to preach the truth of God and his promised future. and to EQUIP, INSPIRE, AND EDUCATE followers of Jesus in a way that benefits spiritual growth and solidifies the Christian Worldview through a message of HOPE.

I want to invite you to follow my new blog Finding Our Hope.

(it’s as easy as clicking the link and hitting follow button on the right)

Hope is the anthem. I pray you’ll join me in that song.

Maranatha,

Matt Stephens

When Death Shall Be No More

Claire Wineland is an 18 year old woman who is living with a chronic illness called cystic fibrosis (CF). Claire has a mission, and an admirable one at that. She aims to raise awareness about CF and raise money to help families affected by this disease.

If you keep up with current events, charities, or have been on Facebook recently you may be familiar with her message.

(here is a link to one of her vlogs if you’re not)

She has been fighting for her life since she was 16. She’s living her life with an incurable disease, but is making the most of what she’s been given.

She’s living an amazing legacy and has accomplished more in her first 18 years of life than many of us ever will. I admire her efforts to normalize death and ultimately teach coping mechanisms, but I want to take the opportunity to present a greater message.

The Normalcy of Death and Coping with Loss

Death is not a normal thing.

Despite our best efforts to live a longer, healthier, or even more *organic* life, death still happens. And it still feels odd.

On this side of Heaven, we must experience and learn to cope with death. It’s heart breaking when you lose someone you love and causes us to feel grief. When faced with death and our own mortality we are left with the decision to either give into despair or be propelled into hope.

Death is hard because I’m not sure if it was part of Gods original blueprint for Humanity. If that’s the case, then there’s a reason it feels so incredibly unnatural.

I’m not enough of a theologian to know if that last statement is definitively true or not. But I like to dream, and in my imaginative/uber nerd mind I see His original plan for death being a little like a scene from Lord of the Rings. I like to imagine that you would reach an age where you would board a boat that “retired” you to a place like Valinor…but we’ll leave that idea to my crazy imagination 🙂

(please keep reading if I just lost you on that one…lol)

No matter what passing into Eternity would have looked like before the fall, we must face the fact that in the here and now, it’s difficult. Much like our friend Claire, there are healthy ways we can help each other understand death and cope with it, but I long for the day that death shall be no more.

Live it Well:

This begs the question: In the here and now, with death being inevitable, how will you choose to live your life? Chances are you don’t have a disease that has limited your life span. Chances are that you have a long life ahead of you that will be filled with many blessings and a life that I hope will be lived of love.

Do not be afraid of death.
Death will be conquered.
Do not be afraid of that last breath.
While you are here, live of love.
Live as if every breath might be your last.
No one is promised tomorrow.
Only today,
and not even the rest of today.
We are only promised the PRESENT.

Live selflessly.

Live well.

Live each day like your legacy depends on it.

In His grand plan of redemption, death is put to death and will be no more when he comes to make all things new.

Though death is inevitable, so is its defeat.

Our Conquering King will return.

He will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Death will be no more.

There will be no more mourning.

No crying.

No pain.

And behold,

He will make all things new.

I’m thankful for the message Claire is bringing. One that teaches us to cope with the inevitable. I feel that it’s a message that speaks hope into our fallen world. I’m not sure if she has a Christian worldview or not, but her approach to what we will inevitably face one day is a message of hope.

Claire, I doubt we will ever meet, but thank you for changing the world. Thank you for being a living example of what it means to make the most of life. Thank you for living selflessly and changing the lives of countless individuals.
May God bless you richly for your work.

Twenty Seventeen – A New Year’s Resolution

Every year about this time, millions of Americans begin the process of reinventing themselves. For the first time in close to 300 days, they set goals and strive to become a better person…some for the first time in their lives. I’m obviously talking about the R word here…resolutions.

I’m guilty of falling into the trap of self improvement. In fact one of my goals this coming year is to get back onto a super food diet (bye bye golden arches :P) but there’s something even bigger we can set our sights on for this new year.

Self Sacrifice

I wrote a year ago about how self sacrifice needed to be our goal for 2016. Here I am a year later reflecting on what it looked like over the past year. As I reflect, I begin to realize that it’s taken a new shape; A new form. Much like other goals we set, over time it begins to evolve and become something else entirely.

Since themes evolve, I want my themes to build on each other. To be building blocks firm on the foundation of Christ. As they begin to grow and take new shape, I want to be able to extend my hand out and draw others in. So with that said, drumroll and dramatic silence please….

The theme for 2017 is INVEST.

This is the word the Holy Spirit has put on my heart and mind for 2017. I’m not sure what this will look like in the long run, but for now it flows out of the overarching banner of self sacrifice.

I will chose to invest in God. I will invest in the eternal not temporal perspective. I will continue to invest in others and their eternal destiny, and I will chose invest my love, time, and energy for the sake of the bigger picture taking place before our eyes.

All of this stems from one major concept…

This world is not home.
This body is a temporary vessel.
We are all embodied souls longing for something greater.
Longing for a right relationship with God.
Yearning to restore what was broken in the Garden of Eden.
And through Christ sacrifice the redemption of Mankind is continuing to take place.
And you are invited to be a part of that.

I welcome you to join me. I invite you to lay down the fallacy of self improvement over self sacrifice. I invite you to invest in the things unseen…the things that are eternal. Then everything else will fall into place.

If you desire to set a resolution that you’ll forget about by March, go right ahead. But this is my hope for you:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Self Sacrifice is the Banner
Invest is the theme
Hope is the anthem.

Don’t fall into the trap of self improvement this year.

Invest through self sacrifice.


In what ways will you chose to INVEST through self sacrifice this year?

Please leave me a comment below! I would love to encourage you along the journey!

And if you were encouraged by this post, please don’t forget to “like” and “share” so others can see. You never know who may need to hear these words 🙂

From the Inside of Love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Love is a scary thing.
To love someone, whether it be your family, friends, significant other, or spouse, you have to be vulnerable. To re-quote Lewis, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” The more God gives me the capacity to love others and the more people He places in my life to love, the more I realize this… love hurts. Lewis was onto something.

On this side of Heaven, unconditional love does not exist. We can strive for it, but it will always be filtered through the fallen nature of our humanity. The brokenness will always remain while we are here on earth. The only way to stay safe from it is to shield yourself. The only way to keep from getting hurt is to build walls around your heart. The troubling thing about walls is the fact that they are two sided. When you begin to guard your love and build walls around your heart, not only are you keeping love out, you are impeding your ability to extend love. It becomes irredeemable. This is where vulnerability comes into play.

You have to be OK with the scars of your past. You have to be OK with your fears being exposed knowing that they are going to still love you when the ugliness shows. You have to be OK with the possibility of heartbreak. After all, if heartbreak didn’t exist, would we ever know what love truly is? Maybe, but it would be convoluted.

How much different would our experience with love be if we considered these things in the microcosm of Perfect Love that we display to each other in our everyday relationships?

Only careful evaluation and prayers for clarity will tell.

I’m reminded deeply of my conversion experience. When you take a man who is consumed with self-hatred, shame, and anger, it is impossible for him to experience any good emotion. Love becomes nullified in light of fear. That’s why our Perfect Savior leaves these words with us through John:

“…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

You have to abandon fear and cling to the promise that Love exist to cast out fear, and God’s perfect love is not content with your fear. Fear has to do with punishment; love has to do with freedom.

I’m incredibly thankful that God abolished fear from being a controlling factor in my life.
It’s still a struggle, and much like many of you, I battle fear daily…
but His perfect love is casting it out. I hope to resonate this love out of the overflow of the Love of Christ. No matter what type of love it may be.

When we begin to change our perspective and see people from the inside of love, our relationships will begin to be less broken. When we anticipate great things instead of cowering in fear wondering what may be, and when we fight to be examples of the way we wish to be loved, the way we interact with others will begin to change. We’ll begin to look more like Jesus. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you a doormat. It does however free you from fear, and fear will make you its doormat. Fear will make you weak.

It took me a long time to trust Jesus. He broke me. He brought me to himself. He showed me what love is. He showed me how to love from His perspective. From the inside of love. I tasted that greatness. It both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. And I will never be the same. I will live of love. I will love others the way I want to be loved. I will love from the overflow of His redemption. I will do this till the day I die. And on that day, my prayer and hope is the legacy left behind will be one of someone who was not afraid to love well, love better, and display the Love of Jesus.

In everyday acquaintanceship, in friendships, in romantic relationships, in casual brushes with strangers, there is no such thing as an accidental encounter. His timing is perfect. But you must choose to love. You must choose to stop spending energy building walls and use that energy to build bridges. You have to choose to use that energy to love well.

As for me, I will build bridges not walls.

Choose freedom.
Abandon fear.
Leave it in the darkness,
Where it belongs.


Father,

Continue to draw me unto yourself. Breathe on me until my frame is knit to Your thought. Lift me until I see Your face and trust Your Almightiness without fear or insidious unbelief. Give me the ability to love others as you have loved me. May your freedom reign in this mortal body. May your perfect love continue to cast of fear.

Your Servant,

Matthew

 

For Freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free;
stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
-Gal. 5:1

No amount of self hate, regret, past mistakes, condemnation, guilt, or shame can take away our freedom. There is NO ulterior motif to the freedom that Christ has given us. Standing firm in the promise of His word will extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry,“Abba! Father!”
Romans 8:15

When I am tempted to despair over the man I was and the people I hurt, these promises ring true. God gave us a spirit of adoption. He set us free and we can stand firm in that freedom. The very offense that brought you to the cross has been redeemed and forgiven. And shame, sorrow, and past regrets are lifted.

Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 64:4,5

And there is NO CONDEMNATION IN HIM. He looks upon us and says
“Who stands to accuse you? Go and sin no more.”


Father,

Continue to wreck me with this truth. You are the true artist, and you have interwoven me into a story you have been writing since Creation. Thank you for your redemption. Thank you for your perfect love that casts out fear. Thank you for the freedom that is found in  your forgiveness.

YOU PAID THE PRICE. NOW I AM FINALLY FREE.

The Crisis of Identity

On Tuesday mornings I have the privilege of walking through life with a group of spiritually hungry teens. We meet week to week  to talk about different aspects of faith and Christian life (and to eat cheapo biscuits!). This week the student chosen topic was romantic relationships. I could already sense the brokenness this group had experienced in their young lives as they opened up about the peaks and pits of romantic relationships.

Since my marriage fell apart, God has given me a passion to see healthy relationships in the Church, and I’m no fool…I was in their shoes once. I sought to fill the broken places in my life with  failed relationship after failed relationship, building in me a chemical dependency on acceptance and intimacy all of which cultivated the snowballing nature of shame.

Almost immediately I knew our round table discussion wouldn’t be about dating, but something much deeper. There was more to be said; a foundation to be built. One of stone, not the quicksand of self-centered, self-serving, and destine to fail relationships.

So the lesson shifted. What kind of wisdom would the spirit provide in the short 45 minute window I had with these students this week?

The same message He had for me.

Longing and Identity

I wrote a couple of months ago about longing. It was a hard conversation I had with Tim, but the benefits have been so worth it. Since that talk the Lord has been incredibly gracious to provide conversations with others about their struggles with longing. Through a lot of those conversations and conviction of my own, He opened my eyes to the deeper issue that surrounds longing.

That would be identity.

Our longings confirm our identity.

If I gave you the dictionary definition of identity, it would look a little like this:the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.

We long for the next stage of life because our identity isn’t satisfied with where we are currently, and without an identity the desire for more will never be satisfied.

When we have a deep yearning desire that doesn’t seem to silence itself, including and most certainly not limited to the desire to be in a relationship, we have to begin to carefully evaluate the desire with who are in Christ.

God gave us ambitions, dreams, and yearning desires. These in of themselves are not bad or evil things. They are blessings from God, but much like many other blessing from God, the Enemy has bent them. The core issue I believe goes deeper into our psyche and heart than we typically admit. When we a dissatisfied and our yearnings reflect that dissatisfaction, we are relying on what has been bent. Our identity is seeking to be fulfilled in the flesh. But for us who have been reborn, the desires of the flesh must be put to death as we put on the desires of the Spirit.

The battle is eternal. Our desires will be bent. We will only want to look out for ourselves. That is where we need to find God. Take your longing to God. Find Him in the core of it. Let Him restore your identity. Only then will our longings be fulfilled. Only then will we see trees of life spring forth from our longings.

Now What?

If longings confirm our identity and identity is the fact of being of who you are, then the truth lies in this:

The fact of being of who you are as a redeemed follower of Jesus is CHILD OF GOD.

Our longings and identity have been captured by the enemy to makes us desire things that God didn’t naturally intend for us to desire. Money is a good thing but greed is not. Sex is a good thing but within the confines of a marital relationship. Relationships are a good thing, but only when we seek clarity over intimacy, and Identity is a good thing but only when it is rooted in Christ.

As a follower of Jesus, your longings will be satisfied when your identity is rooted in Christ. They may change, but true satisfaction comes from the Son.

With that said, because of the fallen nature of Man, relationships will always be messy on this side of Heaven.

We will experience heartbreak,
broken friendships,
disagreements,
and unrequited love.

But there’s something special about knowing who you are as a child of the King that speaks deep into that brokenness. There is something special about finding God in your longings. There is somethings mysterious about your identity being re-created by Him.

Then triumphantly, we can hold up our banner of Salvation and sing aloud: It is no longer I who live…but Christ who lives within me.

To be honest, this is a real struggle for me. Identity has never been  easy, which is why I’m writing about it. As I begin to let Christ re-orient my identity in Him, and as I navigate post divorce life as an upper twenty something, the words of Christ ring deep in my heart…

But seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.


Father,

In light of longing, identity, heartache, and redemption, speak though the brokenness. Speak through the longing. Speak into our hearts until our identities are in line with your desire for our lives. Give us the vision to seek you first, then the rest will come.

Your Servant,

Matthew