Hope

Fathoming Hope

Romans 5:2-5

“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Today, I encountered a woman whose story painted for me a picture of hopelessness. She was desperate and alone, discontent with just about every aspect of her life, and seemingly helpless to do anything about it. Beyond that, she was haunted by her past experiences and memories. She had become so accustomed to loss and disappointment that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

I myself am no stranger to despair, having struggled with depression for many years. But there was something different about this woman. That something was God. No matter how hopeless I might have felt in any given moment, or even for entire seasons, I never lost sight of God. I knew He loved me. I knew He had a plan for me, and one that would give me hope and a future. I knew that He would work everything I felt and was going through together for good and for His glory. Granted, the hope I had was at times about as big as those mustard seeds of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20. But as it turns out, hope works kind of like faith—it grows.

But for hope to grow, it has to exist. And then it has to survive some harsh conditions. This woman may have had hope at one time, but hope that was crushed by one too many harsh realities and rude awakenings. Or she may have never had any to begin with. One thing was and is clear to me. She needs the hope of salvation, the hope of redemption, the hope of restoration—in short, she needs Jesus. From the outside looking in, she seems so far from Him. But look at what Luke 15:20 says about the story of the prodigal son:

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.”

God will run to this woman, too. She needs only to start out in His direction.

Sovereign Lord,

I don’t even know the name of the woman I’m praying for—but you know.
You know her name, her story, her sorrow, her past, and her future.
And you know the plans you have for her, plans to prosper and not to harm her,
plans to give her hope and a future.
The impossible is possible with you, so a mustard seed of hope is something you can do.
I believe you for this hope, and I pray it in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen!

Lenten Blossoms
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Through the Glass

During our Spring Break Orlando trip, we spent a day at Animal Kingdom. I had never been, but had heard great things. But at the end of the day, it was just a zoo. True, one where you could see a Komodo dragon, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, but still. At this zoo, some of the animal habitats were pretty elaborate. Some were designed to look authentic and some were designed to look intentionally inauthentic. I mean, really, how many Bengal tigers really live on the palace grounds, lounging by a decorative fountain? But I noticed that even the “authentic” habitats fell short. Often, we were looking through glass that kept catching the reflection of the people and lights on the outside. When we weren’t looking through glass, our view seemed to always be marred by a water bowl, or a mesh fence, or some other manmade contraption.

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You know what I kept thinking of? 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)—

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

My understanding is that Paul was speaking here of a reflection in a mirror. But the verse loses something in our day, because a reflection in a mirror is pretty true to life. But it wasn’t so in Bible times. They hadn’t perfected the art of glass or reflection, so things were pretty cloudy—like seeing your reflection in a pair of sunglasses. It’s just not the same, is it?

To me, this verse foreshadows the greatness of heaven. We might notice here that it’s a beautiful day, but compared to heaven, it’s downright dingy. We can’t imagine it, because we don’t know any better. But we need faith and hope to believe that there’s something more, something amazing, waiting for us beyond this life. And then, we won’t have to hope or believe anymore. We’ll see and we’ll know—and not dimly, through the glass.

Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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Our Unreasonable King

Joshua 10:12-13

“On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel….
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down
about a full day.”

Have you ever read the book, The Little Prince? I first read it in graduate school, and I have finally decided that Tijge is old enough to read it as well. So I’ve been reading it out loud to him over last month or so. There is a point in the book where the little prince is travelling among planets near his own, very small planets, each inhabited by only one person. On the first planet, he meets a benevolent king…

“…the king insisted that his authority be universally respected. He would tolerate no disobedience, being an absolute monarch. But since he was a kindly man, all his commands were reasonable.” And then a bit later, the little prince “ventured to ask a favor of the king: ‘I’d like to see a sunset… Do me a favor, your majesty… Command the sun to set…’” The king replied, “…One must command from each what each can perform….Authority is based first of all upon reason….I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable….You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But I shall wait, according to my science of government, until conditions are favorable….around seven-forty!”

When I read this section of the book, I couldn’t help but think about how different this king is from ours. Of course, God is benevolent and kindly, but I realize with great joy and peace that He is far from ‘reasonable,’ at least by this king’s definition. You see, God needn’t wait for conditions to be favorable to make a command and have it obeyed. All throughout the Bible, we see accounts that assure us that God’s commands defy the laws of nature, the laws of science, the laws of man, the laws of the universe….and as unreasonable as they may be, they are OBEYED.

God parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13); Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25), walked on water (Matthew 14:25), calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), brought the dead to life (John 11:43), was crucified under the cover of darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45), and rose again on the third day (Luke 24:6).

This is how I know that God is with my friend, Russell, who is fighting for his life after a heart attack at age 39. It’s how I know that if there is even one kidney on the face of this earth that is a match for Emily, God knows exactly where it is, whose it is, and how to get it to her. It’s how I know that if God wants us to adopt a child, He is perfectly capable of providing divine intervention, divine revelation, divine wisdom, or divine peace. And whatever you’re facing today, our God—our King—can be trusted to command the absolutely unreasonable on your behalf. And to Him be the glory!

Resilient

In this life, there will be pain. Many of you know that all too well, because in this life there has been pain. Or in this life, there is pain at this very moment. We collectively and personally experience pain of all kinds. We witness natural and manmade disasters; physical, emotional, and spiritual battles; financial hardship; and other tragedies. Other than to fault a fallen world, we often have no explanation for the pain we experience. But do you know what I’ve discovered over and over again in the midst of great pain? Resilience.

There’s a song that I love by Gungor that says:

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust;
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.”

And I see this in those around me who have suffered, yet carried on. I can picture your smiles, your experiences, your relationships, and all of the amazing opportunities you’ve had as a result of that pain. I find encouragement from watching others suffer well, even though I know we would all prefer a pain-free existence—at least we think we would until we realize the ripple effect (often positive) that our reaction to this pain can cause.

I also find encouragement in a number of scripture passages that give strength in times of trial and hardship, and that help me know that—when I too face hard times—God will sustain me.

  • “I can endure allthese things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 CEB). I love the versions of this verse that highlight its true meaning. Many translations claim that we can “do all things” through Christ’s strength in us. But this not-so-subtle distinction takes us from a place of control, initiative, and confidence to one of dependence, vulnerability, and weakness. Thankfully, it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect and is displayed for all to see.
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). More than conquerors. We are not simply survivors, we are not even simply victors. We are MORE than conquerors through him. We will win and we will prevail—no matter what shape that victory takes in the end.
  • Love … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Many times our pain and loss result from our willingness to love sacrificially, in a way that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres—in a way that, frankly, calls us to risk everything. Understanding this risk, we may be tempted to avoid love altogether. But love perseveres, and when we have love, we too will persevere.
  • And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love remains, no matter what. No matter what our circumstances, no matter what our hardships, we are in a position to love. First and foremost, we must love God. When we do that, we will love others by extension. And when we love others, we aren’t called to love selectively. We are called to love those who curse, persecute, judge, hurt, and betray us. We are also called to love those who grieve, those who are persecuted, and those who suffer loss.

Resilience. Perseverance. Strength. Victory. Love. If you’ve lived these out in front of me, I thank you for the inspiration you’ve been. I pray that God will continue to sustain you, for his glory and your good.

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Jesus and Orange Jell-O

Jeremiah 29:11
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

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I stood in line today to get lunch, and secretly prayed that there would still be a Rice Krispie treat left on the dessert tray by the time I got to the front of the line. After waiting for one of the servers to check a first and then a second kitchen. She brought back what I presumed were the last two. So I took it, and sat outside in the breeze, eating it gratefully.

My mind drifted back to my time in the Air Force, and a similar appreciation that I felt for a different dessert: orange Jell-O. Don’t ask why, I couldn’t tell you. But now and then, the cafeteria would offer orange Jell-O for dessert. While it seems small and insignificant, it meant everything to me.

You see, that was one of the darkest times in my life, and I couldn’t shake my feelings of depression, hopelessness, and despair. At times, I would sit on the floor, in the dark in my room, sobbing and praying and literally holding a paring knife—poised to end it all. But then I would wait. I would wait because, when all else seemed lost, there was the hope that tomorrow, there might be orange Jell-O for dessert. And whenever there was, I would breathe a sigh of relief, however brief, and would be reminded that there WAS hope, that this too would pass. And one day at a time, I made it through—thanks to Jesus and orange Jell-O.

Dessert today was much different. It wasn’t the one bright spot in a dark vacuum. Instead, it was just another little blessing, accompanied by so many more that I experience each day. Today, I can celebrate healing, redemption, purpose, passion, and vision…and on and on.

I couldn’t have imagined way back when where I would be today, back when the only thing I could find to be thankful for was a processed gelatinous mass of sugar. But God could—He knew all along the plans He had for me, plans to prosper and not to harm me, plans to give me a future and a hope—and a future full of hope.

All that is to say, if you’re feeling hopeless, hang in there. This too shall pass. And meanwhile, treat yourself to some orange Jell-O!