Archives For Hope

Sweet Sorrow

February 26, 2015 — Leave a comment

It was William Shakespeare in his play “Romeo and Juliet” that popularized the idea that parting could be “such sweet sorrow.” The phrase, uttered between two lovers as they prepare to bid adieu to each other for the night, reminded us that while good-byes are necessary, they hold within them the hope of when we will see our loved ones again. The anticipation of being reunited can mingle with the despair of separation, and something that is at its essence sad, can be marked by promise.

The last few weeks have brought this phrase to mind repeatedly because, as God ordained it, three people that we know have passed away. Two of them were young men in their thirties who left behind young sons. Another was a mom, seemingly in good health up to the moment of her death. These were good-byes that you did not anticipate. These were deaths in which no “plausible” explanation can be given. Medical opinions aside, it has been hard to grasp the reasons that these individuals are no longer with us. From a human perspective, it just doesn’t make sense.

However,  despite the lack of clarity, one thing that has been made evident – all grief is not the same. There is a different kind of grief when a Christian passes away. The pain is no less real; the gaping hole is just as wide. Yet, despite this, there is an assurance, a confidence that this good-bye is one that can, on the perimeter, be characterized as “sweet.” The farewell is not permanent; the separation is not forever. In anticipation of when we will see our brothers or sisters again, we grieve, but not without hope (I Thess. 4:13). We know that our Redeemer lives (Job 19:25), and we can boldly look froward to that time where we will be united with Him and reunited with those in faith who have gone before. Every day that passes is a day that brings us closer to that Day. There is sadness, and it is deep, but the grace and love of our Father can fill it with peace.

It is hard to say goodbye to those that we love. It is difficult to imagine a “new normal” – a life where they aren’t in it. But the Christian knows that life on this Earth is merely a vapor; hope is not to be found in it but in the One who conquered death to bring us true life with Him. And when He calls us Home, the pain of sorrow will dissipate as we experience the sweetness of being reunited with our brothers and sisters in Christ as we rejoice together in the presence of our Lord.

 

Hope-is-not-to-be-found

Do As I Say

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do.” Those words have drawn contention from many a teenager’s heart. After all, if someone is telling you to do something it seems that the very least they could do is be adherents to their own advice. It’s understandable to question the wisdom that they are espousing when they aren’t even willing to follow it.

Although it is easy to make sense of the ire that the phrase engenders, it is also easy to comprehend what causes someone to say it. When we are giving advice to another, we tend to offer dispassionate, sensible insight. When we are looking at our own circumstance, we tend to make things harder. We may know what the proper course of action is, but we take in a variety of emotional and personal factors that aren’t part of our consideration when issuing instructions to another. Often times, these additional considerations cause us to do ourselves a disservice. We don’t do what we know we should because we are more inclined to do what we want.

I’ve found that this tendency can be routinely observed in my own life when I am exhorting someone else to trust in God. When speaking into another’s life it is easy to focus on God’s sovereignty and goodness (Rom. 8:28)  and to point out the need to trust God in all circumstances (Prov. 3:5-6), relying on the fact that He will orchestrate the situation for His glory and our good. However, too often I fail to instruct myself to do the same. Instead, I fall into the temptation of thinking that my worry will somehow alleviate the stress of the unknown. I act as if I have the ability to dictate the outcome and that I can craft a plan that will ensure the best result. The fallacy of this is easy to observe when I’m looking at another; I’m less inclined to point it out in myself.

However, just because it is not easy to point out my own lack of trust and the sin of my own worry, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it. Instead, when I find myself focused on the situation instead of my Savior, I need to tell myself what I would tell a friend “Get your eyes back on God.”  I need to recognize that this is good advice – for both of us, and I would be wise to follow it. I should do as I would say and trust that just like God will work for good in their lives, that He will accomplish the same in mine.

Anticipated Future

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Like many people, I have a penchant for planning. I work hard to consider what needs to be done, who I need to catch up with, and allocate the time needed to do those things. If I had to choose between a spur-of-the-moment activity, and a planned event, I would most likely choose the latter. Spontaneity and I are on friendly terms, but we are not close. I would much rather have an appointment on my calendar than try to “squeeze something in.”

While there are many benefits to this proclivity, one of the downsides is that I tend to think that if I work hard enough, I will be able to plan for everything. The foolishness of this, however, is obvious as soon as the sentence is stated. As you and I both know, you can’t plan for everything. Life is full of surprises – some of them good and some of them not. Regardless of what category they fall into, we have all experienced some things that simply could not have been anticipated. At least not by us.

There is Someone, however, who does know what will happen in our lives. Our great God and King is not caught off guard by what crosses our path. While we may not be able to predict what will happen next, He is well aware of it. And just like He is knows what will come, He knows what we will need in order to glorify Him through it. If we don’t have it now, He will provide it. Or He may choose to change the circumstance so that what we currently have can be used to put His majesty on display. Either way, He does not let us encounter the future without a plan and provision for using it for His glory.  We may not know what we need for our unknown future, but He does, and He can prepare us for what we will encounter next.

Worrying about the future, then, is senseless, not only because as Scripture tells us, our worry doesn’t produce any fruitful results (Mt. 6:27), but because worry presumes that our confidence is in what we can do, and not in what God is doing for us. Instead of trying to scheme on how we might conquer what we think may happen, we would be better served by trusting in the God Who knows what will occur. Our future may be unanticipated by us, but He has already planned and prepared for it.

©iStockphoto.com/funkd

©iStockphoto.com/funkd

As any parent can tell you, there are a lot of unanticipated challenges when it comes to raising kids. Just as soon as you think you have a routine down and you are beginning to understand your child, they throw you for a loop. This doesn’t even take into account the host of difficulties that are introduced when your child begins interacting with other people. As they start establishing relationships it means that they will deal with their own expectations and their own disappointments, and as their parent you have to try to help them navigate the difficult road.

Raising children isn’t the only arena of life that comes with its surprises though. We might think things are going along fine when we are blindsided by a challenge we never even dreamed of. With all the time we spend fretting about what might happen, it’s the things we never consider that often knock us to our knees. We do a poor job of forecasting what the future may hold. When faced with a problem, we are often at a lost of what to do.

However, as I tend to remind myself, even if I am surprised by what I’ve encountered, God is not. He knows the good and the bad that will come into my life, and just like I should turn to Him in thanksgiving when I am blessed, I should turn to Him in trust when I am challenged. He is not unaware of the difficulties that I face. Even more so, before I was even aware that a problem existed, He has already provided what I need to glorify Him through it (See 2 Peter 1:3). He has a plan to meet my needs before I knew that I had them. The Great Shepherd leads His sheep by still waters and in the valleys of shadows and death (Ps. 23); He prepares the path that they will tread. Although I may be walking it for the first time, He has already gone ahead, ensuring I am equipped to do His will in the midst of the pain.

Knowing this should change my perspective when I am challenged by what life holds. When difficulties unbound and the way forward seems uncertain, I can trust that He knows where the path leads. I may not know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future, and He has graciously promised that He will give His children what they need. I can trust that He will provide even if I don’t yet know how. As I do so, my focus ceases to be on the problem that is in front of me and is instead on the One Who has already solved it.

Finding Our Strength

May 14, 2013 — 2 Comments
And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. – I Samuel 30:6

 

We’ve all had days where we are tired and weary.

Our endurance is gone. Our heart is drained.

The physical exhaustion doesn’t compare to the spiritual taxation. If we were simply worn out, we could sleep and be restored. But there’s a heaviness that’s greater than mere fatigue. We are burned out – in every sense of the word.

Yet on days like this, God is still on His throne, just like He was on the days where it felt like we were on the proverbial mountaintop ready to soar above the clouds. His eyes have not lost sight of us; His children are still firmly in His grasp. Even while we may think we are too tired to take another step, He is busy working out all things for the good of those who love Him according to His good purpose and plan (Rom. 8:28). While we falter, He is still faultless. We change with the seasons, the days and the months; He remains the same (Jam. 1:17) – faithful and true to the end.

It is because of this steadfastness that even we are weak, we can find our strength. Like David, who had to contend with far worse circumstances than we are likely dealing with (people wanted to stone him), our endurance is not found in our own abilities or talents. We can’t continue on simply by willing ourselves to do so – at least not in perpetuity. No – instead we must find our strength where David found his – in the Lord. And we shouldn’t just simply turn to Him and acknowledge His fortitude and power (although that’s a good start). We must strengthen ourselves in His might. Because He is strong, we shall not stumble. Because He is faithful, we shall not fear. Our hear is encouraged not only because He is strong, but because He is, so we may be too.

It is one thing to rely on someone else’s strength. We have all done this from time to time – whether it’s because we needed a jar open or because a heavy box needed to be carried. It is another thing to be strengthened in God – to find our perseverance in His power. When we are weak, we shouldn’t just acknowledge that God is strong and able to do all that He desires and give us all that we need. But we, like David, should be strengthened in Him, knowing that because all these things are true, we can endure.

Anytime

April 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

I will cast all my cares upon You.

I will lay all of my burdens down at Your feet. 

And anytime I don’t know what to do – 

I will cast all my cares upon You. 

The above words are lyrics to a song that I learned when I was a child. Although the song used to be part of a regular rotation in my church experience, I haven’t sung it with a congregation in years. Regardless of that fact, it has been on repeat in my head over the past week. Late at night, early in the morning, and at all times in between, the words reverberate inside my head.

As I sing these familiar lyrics again, I have been concentrating on the third line. When your a child it seems so easy to sing that anytime I don’t know what to do, I will turn to Jesus. Yet as we grow up, we are quick to think we have things under control. “Anytime” becomes “whenever I think I need Your help.” Instead of turning to Him the moment I don’t know what to do, I’m quick to try to figure it out on my own. I consider the possibilities, I weigh the options, and I try to discern what I think the best thing to do is. Of course, somewhere in there, usually when I’m stuck and can’t figure out the right alternative, then I turn to Jesus. My commitment to turn to Him when I’m unsure of what to do is pushed aside by my pride and self-determination. He becomes my last resort, instead of my first recourse.

Yet this is not what Christ desires. He is eager to hear our prayers and is in fact advocating on our behalf to the Heavenly Father (see I John 2:1). As the incarnate God He not only knows what it is like to deal with the struggles of this life, He has the perspective of Heaven to guide and direct us in our way. Despite this, I often choose to duke it out on my own instead of turning to Him at the first hint of uncertainty. I imagine He shakes His head in disappointment with my tendencies. He is eager to help, yet I vainly try to do it by myself.

As God has brought these words to my mind time and time again in recent days, I’m been concentrating on fighting my prideful inclinations. When I start to be concerned with some piece of my uncertain future, I am trying to train myself to go to Him first – to tell Him of my concerns instead of dissecting them in my head. I remind myself that while I don’t know what to do, He does, and I trust that whatever He provides will be far better than what I would have conjured up on my own. I give Him the situation – and ask Him to work in it  – to reveal the solution He desires rather than asking Him what He thinks of my plans. As I do so – as I turn to Him first and early – I find the weight of whatever burden I’m bearing is quickly lifted. I have given it to the One who can carry it further and better than I. And because I have placed it in His hands, I can have confidence that He will work within the circumstance to bring Himself glory.

Anytime. It is such a simple yet profound word. And as I trust God with each moments of the day – both the present ones and the ones that are to come – I find that He is there to handle them, at any time.

Glorious Weight

April 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Overwhelmed.

Burdened.

Weighed Down.

As we face the hustle and bustle of our get-it-done lives it can be easy to humbled by our inability to do all that we want.

Our lists grow longer, our concerns become heavier, and we wonder how we are going to face a new day.

Yet as Scripture often reminds us, this life isn’t what we are striving for. Our eyes shouldn’t be primarily focused on the next day, but on that Day. We’re not waiting merely for temporary relief from our problems; we are anticipating the place where there will no more tears and no more pain. Our focus shouldn’t be on the here and now but on the then and there.

This doesn’t mean that the problems we face today aren’t real; Scripture makes it clear that the Christian will face difficulties. Instead, as 2 Corinthians 4:17 states, they are “light and momentary” compared to what is in store for the believer. Not only that, but the burdens we bear here are preparing us for the “weight of glory” that we will encounter there. As any body builder can tell you the way that you prepare to carry a greater weight is by slowly adding to the light amount you are currently able to bear. The loads of pain and sorrow that we shoulder on Earth are making us ready for the capacity of glory that we will sustain in Heaven. The disappointments and difficulties of today are not superfluous to what we will encounter in the next life; they are preparing us for it  – strengthening our faith, building the Fruit of the Spirit into us and yielding the commendation “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21). The weight there will be glorious; God uses the sorrows here to prepare and strengthen us for it.

This may seem like a disappointment, as we tend to think of Heaven as relief. Hearing about bearing any type of weight sounds like further difficulty and discomfort. This is why the word “glorious” is so important. In Heaven we will be doing what we were created to do – bringing glory to our Heavenly Father. Just like a glass carrying water bears a weight, it doesn’t seem like it to the glass as it is doing what it created for. So it will be in Heaven. Our lives will be fully oriented to pursue the purpose for which God created us and as we do so, we will rejoice and celebrate that we have been counted worthy of such pursuits.

So as we encounter pain and burdens on Earth, let us remember that they are preparing us for our future “occupation.” Let us be glad that we are being strengthened for the “weight” that is to come. And let us remember that the light and momentary afflictions of this life are nothing compared to the glory of Heaven.

 

 

Present Help

April 2, 2013 — Leave a comment
©iStockphoto.com/FOTOGRAF-77

©iStockphoto.com/FOTOGRAF-77

When I was considering what colleges to apply to, I had one criteria that was probably a little different than most. I cared about the school’s academics, extracurricular activities and residential living areas, but what I found myself repeating most often was that I wanted to go to a college that was far enough away that I wouldn’t be home every weekend but close enough that if my car broke down my dad could come and fix it. It was the last part of that equation that was especially important. If I encountered a mechanical problem I wanted to make sure that my dad could physically be there to give me the help that I knew I would need.

It may seem like an odd condition. After all, mechanics abound and I’m sure that if I chose a college that wasn’t within the designated proximity I could find someone who would be willing to fix my car. And my dad could have always discussed the problem over the phone and try to do some long-distance diagnostics. But what I knew then, even if I didn’t articulate it, is that nothing compares to having the physical presence of the one you trust to help you. My dad could have been my advisor and coach from afar, but he couldn’t actually open the hood of the car, take a look at the engine and get to work. I wanted to know that he would be there providing the assistance, not delegating it to another or providing advice so that I could do it on my home.

Unfortunately, I fear that many times I think God’s help is more like the long-distance dad than like the father who is physically there. I intellectually know that God is able to fix my problems, but instead of expecting Him to figuratively open the hood and get to work, I think that He will provide some appropriate advice that will allow me to dig in and do it myself. Yet Psalm 46:1 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  He is not merely providing assistance remotely, hoping that we can figure out what we need to do. He is present, providing us real help in our time of need.

This distinction is important for at least two reasons. First, when I ask God for help I need to have the expectation that He may choose to directly intervene in the situation. I shouldn’t merely anticipate that He will tell me what I should do; instead, He may rectify the problem Himself. This should change not only what I look for when I await solutions; it should also change how I pray when I’m faced with difficulties and concerns.

Secondly, the fact that God is a present help should change my attitude to problems to begin with. It would have been one thing for my car to break down and for me to be able to call my dad and know he’d be there. It would have been an entirely different thing if my dad was in the car with me when the problem occurred. I would have no need for panic or worry; the one who could rectify the situation was right there. He would know exactly what happened and what needed to be done to fix it. He could also provide assurance that everything would be alright, So it is with God when we face breakdowns on our own journey.

Just because God is a “present help” doesn’t mean that we should stop seeking His assistance, assuming that He will know if we need it. If my dad was in the car and it started having problems, I would still ask him to intervene, even if my need for his assistance seemed obvious. Instead, the fact that God is not providing His help from afar should make us seek Him even more diligently, knowing as we do so that He usable to immediately and directly intervene.

 

Good

March 29, 2013 — 2 Comments

It had to be a strange scene. A man approaches Jesus to ask him what he must do in order to obtain eternal life. Instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus’ immediate response asks why the man called Him good. The crowd had to wonder at the query. Jesus was known as a healer – He had cured leprosy (Lk. 17:11-19) and raised a girl from the dead (Lk 8:4-56). If that wasn’t enough, He had miraculously provided a hungry crowd with food (Lk 9:10-17).  And yet He questioned why this man would call Him good. It must have seemed obvious to the crowd. They had to wonder why Jesus would even ask (Lk 18:18-30).

Yet He did ask. And He did so to help the man realize that not only was He good compared to other teachers, He was the standard of good. And if the man truly believed that than it necessitated that he orient his life in obedience to His Word. It meant be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of Him and His Kingdom. The man’s unwillingness to do this, his refusal to give up his wealth in order to follow Christ revealed what Jesus knew all along – that the man did not really believe that He was Good. Instead, for the rich young ruler, his wealth was of more value than Christ Himself.

Later, however, Jesus would demonstratively prove why He alone deserved to be called good. The perfect One not only gave up the riches of Heaven for the sake of those He loved, but He took on the punishment that was rightly theirs so that they could be saved. He abdicated His Heavenly throne to unjustly suffer and die so that His followers could stand justified before a holy God. That Friday didn’t seem good to those who were with Him at the time, but it was on that day that His goodness was on full display. Not only did He die for those who were His enemies, but it was only because He is Good, the ultimate Good, that His sacrifice could pay the penalty for our sins and restore our relationship with God. Three days later He would rise from the dead and demonstrate what He had already conveyed to the rich young ruler – God was good and He was God. May we honor His sacrifice and may we remember why that Friday is called good.

Promises in Sight

March 27, 2013 — Leave a comment
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©iStockphoto.com/sasasasa

Reading the Psalms can often feel like you are viewing pages ripped from David’s diary. You get the “inside story” as you eavesdrop on his prayers. Instead of simply reading about what happened, you get glimpses into the heart of the man that endured it.

Several of the Psalms of David are written as he is running from King Saul. In this time between his ordination and his coronation, as my pastor likes to call it, David knew that he was rightfully the king. However, his predecessor wasn’t eager to hand him the keys to the kingdom. In fact, King Saul was intent on hunting down and killing David ensuring that Saul’s son, and not David, would be the successor. Having once obtained a position of honor in the king’s house, David was now on the run. His comrades were the ragamuffins and outcasts, people who, like him, were not acceptable in “polite” society (I Sam. 22:2).

As David evades captures and waits for the time when he will wear the crown that is rightfully his, it must have been tempting to wonder if the prophecy about his rule would ever come to past.  After all, hiding in caves and camping out with the enemy weren’t exactly kingly activities. I wonder if David worried about his reputation or whether he was too busy simply trying to stay alive. If he were to be king one day, as Samuel had pronounced and God had promised (I Samuel 16:1-13), would anyone take him seriously – this misfit and loser?

While we might suspect that these questions would permeate David’s mind, the Psalms give us a much different perspective. As we peer into his heart, we see that David was not fretting over whether God’s promises would come to past. Instead, despite the many potential reasons for despair, David remained confident in what was to come. We see a prime example of this in Psalm 59:10 when David writes:

My God in his steadfast love will meet me;

God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

Earlier, in Psalm 57:2-3, David additionally proclaims:

I cry out to God Most High,

to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah

God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

Read these carefully and what you’ll see is that David is sure of what is to come. He knows what God has promised him and he believes that those promises will come to past. He is not concerned that his enemies will triumph; he knows his eventual victory is secured in the Lord. Because God has vowed to him that he would be king, he knows that one day he will be so.

While it may seem easy to look at the situation retrospectively and say “Well of course David would be confident; he became king!” what we must remember is that David was not given a timeline or an itinerary of when these events would take place. As far as we know, he was unaware of whether his time in the wilderness would be short or long. His temporary conditions didn’t shake his permanent confidence in God. He lived with the promises that God had made him firmly in his sight. He focused on what was sure, even in the midst of a lot of uncertainty.

David was given specific promises and eagerly waited for their fulfillment. In a similar way, Scripture is replete with promises for the children of God. We would do well to live with these promises firmly in our sight. We should constantly refer back to them, reminding ourselves of the good that God has in store. We should be encouraged that no temptation will face us for which God has not provided a way of escape (I Cor. 10:13). We should be emboldened to share what God has given us, knowing that He has promised to provide all our needs (Phil. 4:19). We should be passionate about doing the work that God has called us to, persevering through trials and difficulties, knowing that one day He will reward us with eternal commendations (Jam. 1:12). In other words, just like David lived his life with the constant awareness that God had a future plan for him, we should live our lives with a similar mindset. God is molding the lives of His children to bring about our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). Even on the days when it feels like we’ve been abandoned to a cave, that the enemy surrounds us and there is no feasible way to escape, we should be encouraged that nothing will thwart God’s purposes (Job 42:2). We can live with the surety of His promises being fulfilled. We can have confidence that on the near or far horizon what He has vowed to us will come to fruition.