Walking Back to the Right Road: Remembering the First Altar


Hand-lettering and design by Sincerely Hope Designs | website | Instagram

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
C. S. Lewis

I grew up in my home church learning a lot about Abraham, singing “Father Abraham had many sons” just like all the other VBS-ers out there. (Ok, acknowledge that you just sang the tune in your head as you read those words.) My church just finished a sermon series on Abraham, and I’ve been reminded of so many truths in his story.

Let’s do a quick recap. God calls Abram (pre name change) at the beginning of Genesis chapter 12, telling Abram to leave his homeland in search of the land God will show him. So Abram takes his family and travels to Moreh at Shechem (v. 6) where God shows Abram the land He will give to his offspring (v. 7). Then Abram pitches “his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord” (v. 8).

Then there was a famine in the land, so Abram sets off to Egypt. When he and his family arrive in Egypt, Abram tells Pharaoh that Sarai (pre name change) is his sister (which is only half true because she was his half sister), so she is “taken into his palace” (v. 15). God sends diseases to Pharaoh and his household, Pharaoh figures out the problem, and he orders Abram to leave: “they sent him on his way” (v. 20).

After this, Abram goes “to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4). Sound familiar? Low and behold, Abram ends up right back where he started.

God took the initiative with Abram, just as God takes in initiative with us. But then Abram went his own way, as we are all so often prone to do as well. As has been pointed out per this sermon series, there’s no record of Abram and Sarai praying about the decision to go to Egypt, and there’s no text of God’s speaking to them to tell them to go to Egypt.

This is where we may be able to position ourselves with Abram’s story. Are we headed to our own Egypt, a place where we have not been called? Are we taking matters into our own hands by trying to force a plan that is not of God? Are we putting what we want before God’s will? We are so often tempted because of our lack of patience and selfish desires.

This wouldn’t be the last time Abram would take things into his own hands. Later, there’s a similar situation with longer-lasting effects (ch. 16). God made a promise to Abram that He would make Abram into a great nation and would make his name great (12:2), but Abram and Sarai grew impatient and decided to enact their own plan, just as they did when they went to Egypt. At the urging of Sarai, Abram has a child by Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant. Abram chose to do things his own way, and in doing so, caused much hardship on himself in the days to come. Yet even still, God did not turn His back on Abram; He called Abram back, though telling him this was not of His plan.

Abram should give us hope in that though we may go our own way, God gives the opportunity to return. Abram’s story is not to be used an excuse to wander, but that though if you find you have, it serves as hope in your return. Remember that after Abram wandered to Egypt, he returned to the place it all started, where he built his first altar.

Just like Abram, sometimes we need to return to our first altar.

Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Obedience That Reveals God’s Will


How often do we pray and ask God specific questions about our lives? Questions like, where should I live? What degree do I pursue? Is now the best time for me to move? Should I take this job offer? Who should I date? The answers to these questions are the ins and outs of our daily lives. They dictate how we will spend much of our time and days. It would make sense then, that we ask God to direct and guide us, waiting for a nudge one way or the other.

However, as I was reminded by a sermon at my church a few weeks ago, before we can discern God’s will for our personal lives (and the answers to questions like these), two other things must be going on. One, we must have a relationship with God through Jesus, and two, we must be actively maturing in our faith. Philippians chapter 3, verse 16 says, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.” As Christians, our role doesn’t stop after asking Jesus to be our Savior. We are to then grow spiritually, but we can’t do that if we aren’t being obedient. 

I know, I know. No one likes this word. Obedient. We associate it with other words like dependence, restraint or constraint. Yet Scripture tells us that obedience is what we are called to (Romans 1:5), that it’s beautifully liberating (2 Corinthians 3:17), and that it’s the path to our reward (Philippians 3:20). Being obedient to God’s commands goes against practically everything our culture tells us, but it’s what we are called to do – always (Deuteronomy 11:1). Jesus tells us in John chapter 14, verse 15 that if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments, and James chapter 2, verses 14-26 elaborates on the importance of growing spiritually.

Our ability to discern God’s will for our personal lives will be hindered, however, if we aren’t being obedient. Romans chapter 12, verse 2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The truth is, whether we like it or not, this verse doesn’t say that even if we’re living in the ways of the world, we’ll still be able to tell God’s will for our lives. If we choose to be more like the world than like Christ, then we, in turn, wander from Christ. This is an implicative conditional sentence, meaning, if one thing happens, then so does another. When this wandering happens, it gets hard to tell which way God wants us to go. Are we doing what He wants or just following our own desires?

But the good news is that the same is true of the opposite. If we choose to be more like Christ, then we are able to know His good, pleasing and perfect will.

This is why it’s so important to not only ask Jesus to be our Savior but to continue to grow in faith, to mature spiritually. The beautiful thing is that when we make the decision to press in wholeheartedly, God will speak to us – and we can trust this truth! Isaiah chapter 30, verse 21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Then in the book of John, Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me […] My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (10: 14, 27). Sometimes God speaks through the urging of the Holy Spirit and other times in the wise counsel of those we trust. Regardless of how He’ll go about doing it, the point is, He will.

When we grow, ask, and listen, we must be prepared to hear from God. And one more decision awaits: will we obey His answer to us?

If you know you haven’t been obedient, you can ask God to redeem you and then walk in obedience. If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to be obedient to God’s commands when doing so is hard, be encouraged. Not only are you living how God called you to live, you’re being a light to others when you may not even know it.

Let us live up to (Philippians 3:10) the grace by which we are saved (Ephesians 8:9).



Why We Should Pay More Attention to Quiet Leaders


Photo by Alyssa Joy Photography | website | Instagram 

This post first appeared in Grit and Virtue.

Humility is rare. Much of the reason humility is quite so sparse is because it has never really been a value that has been popularized – ever. Today’s society values individualism, materialism, wealth, celebrity, and competition, just to name a few. The idea of being humble flies in the face of most of what our culture tells us to pursue. But God instructs us over and over to be humble.

Interestingly enough, meshing humbleness and leadership together can get pretty tricky. We often look to those in prominent leadership positions to use as guides by which to model ourselves. This is natural because these are the people easiest to see. Take for instance, pacers. In half and full marathons, pacers are the runners carrying long, pencil-thin sticks with a sign attached at the top which reads a particular time, such as 2:30 or 1:45. If you stay with the pacer of the time indicated on his/her sign, you too will arrive at the finish line in that amount of time. Similarly, in life, we expect the same result. This is why choosing our role models is so very important.

The Bible lays out some pretty specific guidelines for leaders, and these guidelines, in turn, provide a clear picture of the person we should choose as our real-life role models. In 1 Peter chapter 5, verse 2, Peter says to “watch over [your flock] not because you have to but because you want to. For this is how God would want it not because you’re being compensated somehow but because you are eager to watch over them.” Peter likely knew that compensation is often fuel for pride, humility’s foil. Compensation can take many forms. Payment may come in the form of money, but it may also come in the form of praise. This is where we must be careful in choosing who we look to as a leader. Is this person seeking praise and adoration? Or is this person leading because their heart is in the right place?

Sometimes the people we can learn from best are not those that are in the most obvious of leadership positions. If you look hard enough, you can find people who lead in silence. You have to intentionally keep an eye out for these folks because they don’t demand attention. These people are quiet, but they are doing a knockout job. Most of the time, these silent leaders go unnoticed, but they should be the ones that we pay most attention to. They’re often just doing their own thing, minding their own business, and focusing on their job. These silent leaders are not interested in compensation, praise, or adoration. Their intentions are true and virtuous.

Remember our pacer? Pacers are marked because of the sticks/signs they carry, but the runner next to them might maintain the pace the entire race just as well. This runner is not as easy to pick out because he/she has no pacing sign, but he/she is just as talented – if not more so – than the pacer.

 Often, silent leaders are humble but have great talent. This humility is a value that God calls us to pursue. These silent leaders have embraced a very difficult command, one that goes very much against how our culture tells us to act. Paul tells the Philippians that if they have any tenderness and compassion (or as the Message translation says, “if you have a heart, if you care”), give him joy by having the same love and being of one mind. Then he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Not only are we to not be selfish or vain, we are also called to value others about ourselves. It’s easier to strive to humble if you choose a role model that is also.

We must intentionally choose humility to be one of our core values, and we should choose models that practice this value so that we too might do so. The Bible tells us in multiple places that “God opposes the proud but offers grace to the humble.” (See 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6, or Proverbs 3:34.) Jesus – our most important role model – came as a carpenter, not as a king on a throne. Jesus was the most humble of leaders, and we should always follow His model.


In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7


Practical Lessons from Romeo and Juliet: Part II


Hand-lettering // Hope Hickman @sincerelyhope.designs

I realized after writing this piece that it was quite long, so I decided to break it into two parts. In Part I, I talked about four lessons we can still learn from Romeo and Juliet. I also did a bit of a refresher on the play. 😉 If you missed Part I and would also like a recap of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you can find it here.

I love when literature becomes practical, when academia meets real life. William Shakespeare might have lived in the 16th century, but we’re still seeing these issues today. Learning from the past sure does help better our future. Here are four more lessons for us to keep in mind in the 21st century.

Listen to the people who care about you.

The Nurse helped raise Juliet, and Friar Laurence is a dear friend and advisor to Romeo. Initially, the Nurse and the Friar provide some solid advice to Romeo and Juliet. The Nurse wants to make sure Juliet is truly in love (and that Romeo does indeed return her love). Similarly, Friar Laurence is Romeo’s confidant, and he wants the best for him. The Friar cautions Romeo several times. Yet Romeo and Juliet disregard their advice and press forward with their desires. Yes, Romeo and Juliet are grown-ish (for their time period), but true maturity comes when you seek trusted council for your future. If Romeo and Juliet had taken Friar Laurence’s advice to slow down, would they have had to split up? No way. In fact, things probably would have turned out better for them. Granted, anything would have been better than the end they came to.

Talk about your feelings.

Romeo and Juliet talk about their feelings with each other, but they never express them to their families. They should have! Imagine how different things would have been. Rather than flipping out, Romeo and Juliet could have had a sit down conversation with their parents. I’m sure their parents would have been angry initially, but they would have likely come to understand. While you should be both tactful and mindful not to hurt others’ feelings, you should be able to express how you feel. If something is bothering you, gently express that to the person you love, whether that’s a significant other, family member, or friend. If they truly love you, they’ll be willing to hear you out and, most importantly, work something out.

Communicate your plans.

This one isn’t technically Romeo and Juliet’s fault. They had some communication problems because they were towns away and didn’t have iPhones, not because they were unwilling to work with each other because they disagreed on a plan. But regardless, Romeo didn’t get the message that Juliet was faking her own death, and, well, you know the rest. Communication is key to any good relationship. The way that communication is expressed is also very important. Be careful to be patient and gentle – and also expect that in return. Everyone deserves such.

Realize your choices affect everyone else’s lives.

Romeo and Juliet are quite selfish in their love. They don’t take their families or friends into consideration at all. We live by the choices we make – or, in Romeo and Juliet’s case, die by them. But it’s important to remember that everyone else lives with them as well. We should always be mindful of caring for those around us in our decision making. And most importantly, if you find yourself not having cared how your choices affect others around you, it’s never too late to start.


Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.
Friar Laurence, Romeo and Juliet Act II, scene iii

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Practical Lessons from Romeo and Juliet


Hand-lettering // Hope Hickman @sincerelyhope.designs

I teach ninth grade English, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is in the English I curriculum. I honestly love teaching this play. Most of the time, before it’s all over, my ninth graders don’t hate it too much either. 

I’ve taught this play several times now, and every time I do, I think about all the many things that people in today’s world can still learn from it. I’m convinced one of the main reasons we are still reading certain older texts is because people are still dealing with the same issues today. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, so let’s learn from them what not to do to avoid tragedy in our own lives.

Don’t act rash.

Character flaws lead tragic heroes to their downfalls, and acting too hastily is Romeo’s big time flaw.  Romeo meets Juliet, marries her the following afternoon, kills her cousin three hours after the ceremony, visits Juliet that night, flees to a nearby town the next day, receives word that Juliet is dead, and promptly takes his own life that night. What Romeo does not know is that Juliet is merely feigning death. He acts just minutes before that message is delivered. See how this whole play could have had several different outcomes had Romeo just taken a minute to think about his decisions? Take a cue from Romeo’s impulsive nature and take time in making your decisions, whether big or little. Now that you’ve had a quick reminder of the play, let’s move right along.

Pay attention to your instincts (and those red flags waving around).

At the beginning of the play, Romeo and his friends decide to crash the Capulet’s party, but before arriving, Romeo mentions that he has a premonition of his own death. Yes, Romeo’s feeling is extreme, but Juliet has a very similar one later in Act III. (Shakespeare’s foreshadowing at it’s best.) Their instincts were sending them a message, but they chose not to listen. We all have little pulls one way or the other that warn us against danger. Our conscience works in our favor! If you have an unsettled feeling or a sense that something just isn’t quite right, pay attention to your instincts. They’re there for a reason.

Stop being disobedient, so to speak.

The family who is throwing this shindig hates Romeo’s family (and that feeling is mutual), but, it’s a masquerade so Romeo is covered – literally. But should he be? Romeo’s not supposed to be anywhere near this party, per his parents, the hosts, and basically everyone, as the feud is public knowledge. This is only the start of his disobedience. He and Juliet ramp this up several notches when they decide to marry secretly less than 2 hours after meeting each other. Juliet even plans to run away with Romeo after faking her own death. Can you imagine?! Are they doing any of this out of spite? Of course not. But are they considering anyone else? Nope. Regardless of the reason for the feud (in case you’re wondering, it’s never specified), Romeo and Juliet blatantly disregard everyone else’s feelings. But why? They fail to consider that their friends and family (and even servants) love them and only want good for them. Similarly, remember that the people who love you always have your best interest at heart. They want what’s best for you.

Don’t hide things.

Romeo and Juliet don’t tell their parents nor their friends of their love because they fear that their parents will, of course, forbid their marriage. You may not be hiding your entire relationship because you’re afraid of forbiddance, but you may be hiding pieces of your life from your friends and family because you know they’ll disapprove. Or perhaps you aren’t seeking advice because you’re embarrassed about whatever you want to ask about – but that’s telling in and of itself. If you’re hiding things, this alone is a red flag. (See above.) Assuming your advice-giver is of sound mind, if you think the response you might get is going to be one of warning or disapproval, you likely already know the advice they’ll give.

Have no fear, this doesn’t end here. We’ve got half the play (and half the lessons) left to discuss. So, in the words of DJ Casper, stick around for part II.

The Changing of the Tides and the Steadfastness of the Shore


The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Isaiah 40:8

I spent the past week at the beach. In fact, I’m writing this as I sit on the balcony of the condo, listening to the waves roll in. If you listen close enough, there is a deep roar that ebbs and flows, capped by the wash of waves as they arrive on the shore. Today there is a warning for riptides.

There is so much to take in and appreciate at the beach. It’s awe-inspiring to think that our God made such a vast display of beauty. The ocean is such an incredible thing to me. I just don’t think that I will ever not stand in awe of it.

In the mornings, there’s almost a different air at the beach. Mornings are like this anywhere, really. Part of it is because no one is much stirring, but it’s more than that, too. There is a still and calmness in the atmosphere. Then the sun comes out, the day gets hot, and the ocean gleams a brilliant blue, reflecting the sun’s yellow glare. And in the evenings, the temperatures cool and the sunsets seem to last for hours. This is my favorite time of day. Reds, yellows, pinks, purples, and various shades of blue streak the sky as the sun dips down into the ocean, and the changing of these colors creates a constantly moving painting.

The beach is such a perfect symbol of change, of steadfastness, and of a constant renewing.

With the ocean, the tides are coming in, or they’re moving out. The water is rough one day and calmer the next. The sea is a deep dark blue then it’s a shade of light foam green. Meanwhile, the shore is steadfast. The tides come and go, the water rushes or ripples, and the color may vacillate, but the shore’s foundation remains. Some may view the shore as shifting because of the sand, but I’d argue that it’s renewing. As the ocean changes, so, too, the shore adapts though it does not cave in or sweep out to sea.

Similarly, life is ever-changing, both with changes that we choose and changes we are dealt. Ecclesiastes chapter three, verse 1 tells us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Changing tides, roughness of waves, or color of water all manifest themselves differently in each of our lives. Maybe you’ve been tempted by the tides to drift out to sea or to slowly give up your footing in your beliefs. Yet you’ve realized how far you are from shore and are swimming to return. Perhaps the waters have been rough for you lately. You’ve lost a job, you miss a relationship, or your financial state is troublesome. When these waters ease to lapping ripples after having been rough, rushing waves, we are thankful for the change. And for the relief. Maybe the color of your waters have changed recently, and maybe this change isn’t good or bad; it’s just a change. You’ve moved homes or jobs or full-blown careers. The point is, this life is full of change. 

But just as the shore is steadfast, so, too, must we be with God, Christ, and Scripture as our foundation. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Because our Savior doesn’t change, we must stay rooted in Him as our foundation so that as the tides change and the waters constantly move, we are steadfast in our faith, with Christ as our center.

The first two are quite opposite, aren’t they? Change and steadfastness. It’s ironic that the beach can be a picture of both. In this life, we will deal with change no matter what; the steadfastness piece is up to us, not in the sense that we refuse change but in how we deal with change. We can swim offshore and bobble around as does a buoy, or we can stand firm on the shore with our feet planted in the sand.

As for the sand on the shore that moves under the waves? It’s a perfect picture of renewal, just as we must renew ourselves. “All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). God’s Word is alive, and being firmly planted in it will give us the firm foundation and rejuvenating renewal to help us as we face the tides of change in our lives.


When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
They will not sweep over you.
Isaiah 43:2


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Politeness Versus Compassion


It’s possible that a person can be polite but not be compassionate. Some people can appear one way but be another entirely – which is a subject for a different day – but appropriate for this point. Furthermore, there is a sincere difference between being polite and being compassionate.

Let’s start with a basic example. Say you’re walking in a building at the same moment another person is walking out. This polite person holds the door for you and smiles warmly as you walk inside but doesn’t really care if you trip and fall only five steps past the doorframe. By the time you’ve face-planted in front of a small crowd of people, Mr. or Miss Polite is walking swiftly down the street not thinking another thing about you. Similarly, another polite person may help you to your feet after your misstep while secretly wishing they would have been five steps out the door so as to not have been obligated to help you. However, if a compassionate person sees this scenario unfold, he or she is likely to feel sad for you. You’ve just taken a tumble, and he or she hates that for you and sympathizes with you. Compassionates may even empathize too if they have been in a similar situation. While you feel embarrassed, they can literally feel that as well. Now we’ve all probably been guilty of being the door-holder or helper-upper, but there’s a difference in occasional and regular.

Dig a little deeper, and you can continue to unravel this difference. When you talk to polites, they make eye contact, nod their head, make engaging facial expressions, and cause you to believe that they care about whatever it is you are saying. Polites can recall a topic from an earlier conversation to make you think they care how your problem turned out or what has happened since.  Spoiler alert: just because they remember that fact does not mean they really care about it.

So why does this difference matter? It doesn’t necessarily. If this is a co-worker who you see at the water cooler every other day, this difference probably won’t affect you dramatically. But what if you become good friends with the water cooler person? Or what if you start dating the water cooler guy or gal? Then this gets to be a bigger issue. Politeness only goes so far in a relationship. (It goes about as far as the first person mentioned in this article did: five steps inside the door before face-planting.)

This begs the question, how can you tell a compassionate from a polite? Honestly, it’s difficult. First, it takes time to figure them out. People can use politeness as a mask (causing others to see only their polite side), so it takes some time for true colors to show. Plus, if emotions are involved, we will always want to see the good in people, but sometimes, for our own good, we need to be willing to see the whole picture – and discern the difference between being polite and actually caring.

For another thing, compassionates usually are not self-absorbed. Most of the time this is relatively easy to pick up on, even if it is after some time. We all know the people that go into lengthy detail about their private lives even when we don’t ask. No-compassion-polites are smart though. They’re polite, so they probably will not talk your ear off about themselves because, well, that wouldn’t be polite. But when you do ask them about themselves, they make their answer count. They can pinpoint the most influential task they’re a part of at the time, the highest achievement they’ve surmounted recently, or the greatest reward they’ve received lately – all while making this extravagant statement seem oh-so-very humble.

I’m from the South, and I believe in being polite. And it is possible to be both polite and compassionate. But let’s not be fooled by those that are polite but don’t really care. Why? Because you deserve to be cared about. Find those who are willing to feel and who care deeply. You deserve a heart, not just a handshake.