Hope


I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

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And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4: 39

The depth and breadth of God’s Word is truly amazing to me, for the Lord never seems to stop revealing new thoughts and applications of it. Thus, I admit that I had never thought of this well-known verse from Mark’s account of Jesus’ time with us on earth in human form in the following manner. In this moment in the gospel narrative we know that Jesus is demonstrating His Godness in that He possesses power over nature, and He also provides a tangible example of the way that He did then and continues to care about and for people in this world. Additionally, there is a strong suggestion of the fact that followers of His will encounter opposition and that He will engage with those forces for our sakes. These are all good things, and they do reflect God’s character and His nature. Yet, it comes to me, even the Holy Spirit seems to be an early riser, that there is something additional on display in the words and the actions in which Jesus engages here.

For a brief moment, short and transitory as it is, Jesus commands nature to return to God’s creation design intent. The natural world was constructed as a peaceful place where everything functioned perfectly and wherein the elements such as wind, water, fire, and rain were to be productive and supportive of the thriving of all of life. All of this, every aspect of nature, has been damaged and disturbed by the effects of sin. Those disobedient and rebellious acts that the first people chose to do have had a profound impact on the way that this world operates, and none of that is for the good. So, on that day and in that boat upon the sea, Jesus took back a piece of this world from Satan’s evil grip, and He set it right for the benefit of a few people and as an example of something much bigger by way of future promise and also in the form of setting out a part of His call and commission for His followers.

There is no question that God has promised that there will come a time when Jesus will again walk upon this earth. This will be a point in history when all of creation will be restored to the glory of God’s design. There will no longer be any grief and death, and all of the universe will exist in a form of harmonious peace. This is God’s promise, and it establishes a form of hope for all of us as we follow Christ in this troubled world. Yet, Jesus seldom left things with future hope as His only teaching point. It seems to me that He also wants us to actively engage with the created world with redemption and restoration in mind. People continue to do real harm to the place where we dwell, and we do this with little regard for the gifts that God has given to us by way of the resources in the earth and seas or that are contained in the atmosphere that envelopes us. I believe that Christ desires for us to join Him in rebuking the corruption that sin has produced on and in nature. He also wants us to care for what He has given to us for the sake of our thriving. Until Jesus returns, we are, in fact, His hands and His voice to be used for promoting peace upon this earth, even peace in the natural world.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2: 11 

There was this rather simple thought that seemed to be just stuck in my mind when I got up this morning; It is one of those ideas that comes out of the fog of sleep and that begins to take on shape as the brain cells slowly start to warm up to their tasks. It is this, I try too hard to make what is designed to be simple and easily understood really complicated and obscure, and I am not even slightly alone in doing this. Now, I admit that this is something that I do in a lot of areas of my life; I do have an analytical personality, you know; thus, thinking through, over, and all around something is normal. This is different; this gets in the way of something much more important. 

My waking thought for today was this; God makes relationship with Him very simple, I tend to make it truly difficult. The Lord gives me an easily understood message to share with others; I turn it into a graduate-level seminary coarse. God opens His arms to everyone without reservation or hesitation; I create a list of qualifications and set up a screening system for access to Him. God loves all with the absolute love of that elusively perfect Father; I don’t even love myself all that well; even more so, I struggle with loving others. 

Thus, what is it that God has saved me from? He has saved me from the isolation that I would naturally create as my world; He has given me Himself as a gift beyond imagining, and He continually shows me how to live in the completeness of His overwhelming love. All of the thought and the consideration about who God is and of how He works and relates is fine; He created and empowers my mind; yet, the Lord still wants me to stay focused on the simplicity of His truth and on the accessibility of His saving grace. 

There is nothing that I can speak or write; no ritual, rite, or sacrament that I can perform; and none of my actions or works of my hands do anything to bring me or anyone else closer to God if they are not done out of love for Him and if they are not filled with His love for people. The singular thought on my mind this morning is that God graciously loves me, and He wants me to share that love with others without reservation, condition, or hesitation. Christ is much more interested in the relationship, and we can let Him worry about the details later.

Let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Endurance is a word that brings out images of things that aren’t always so pleasant. These include copious amounts of sweat, long hours devoted to self torture, studying through the night in order to stuff data that is too big for my brain into its corners, and collapsing to the ground in a painful face plant when the legs are long past nonfunctional. Endurance is just not something that most humans find all that attractive. Most of us just don’t do it very well. We do not endure to the very end.

Yet, endure is what God has done with us, and endurance is what Christ needed to make it to the end in order to secure my place in God’s kingdom. Despite the insults, the indifference, and the failure that we people bring to the relationship, God continues to love everyone, to care about all of our needs, and He will stick with us until the very end of all that we are dealing with. God entered into a promise, a covenant, with us, and He does finish the course to its completion. In the process, He invites us to decide to join in and rely on His strength, wisdom, and encouragement to finish well ourselves. 

Regardless of what this day holds, the Lord has a plan for it. He does ask us to trust Him that this is true, and He does want us to keep going even when the weight of our concerns and cares seems beyond our capacity to hold up. There is victory to be found in those final, painful steps. There is glory to be gained by crossing the finish line as we realize that the strength to get there actually belongs to the Lord and is also supplied by and through His Spirit. It is then, when the only strength that I have belongs to the Lord, that I understand that each step I take in trust is a step deeper into the will of my Savior.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

   to the soul who seeks him.

Lamentations 3: 25

What is so hard about waiting? Patience in times of stress or distress is just not the sort of thing that most of us a wired to engage in, and waiting is hard to do even under ideal conditions. We want answers or we desire relief from the pain, and taking a long view on the presence of these virtues is not something that most of us do not enjoy. Yet, the Lord sees all of human history. He knows its beginning moment, and He is fully in touch with the hour that it all will be transformed back into its created perfection. There is no instant in between that catches Him by surprise. This can be hard to grasp for us, and it can also be difficult to comprehend how the God of grace, mercy, and love can still allow so much hardship, pain, and suffering to exist in an environment that He sees so fully.

For I am convinced that the Lord has the capability, capacity, and power to engage with and to handle any situation or circumstance that He might so choose to do. So, the presence of brokenness in our world is not the result of God’s weakness or of His disengagement or distance from us and from our reality. Instead, the Lord does allow the natural course of life on earth to follow where we have chosen to take it. It was our ancestors that brought about the rejection of God’s perfection, and we are equally involved in perpetuating this process of living outside of God’s will. Still, He seeks after each of us, and He pours out grace and provides the means of redemption for any of us that accept God’s gift of His Son. Even Jesus and the presence of His Spirit with us does not grant immunity to the broken nature of our world, but He does show us the truth of eternity and provide its hope to us even in the midst of our hardest days and darkest hours.

So, the Lord asks us to wait on Him. We can trust in the salvation for our souls that Christ provides, and we can have faith in the reality of a glory that exceeds anything that can be experienced upon this earth. Thus, these moments spent in turmoil and anguished anticipation are nothing more than a brief pause in the journey that this faith in Christ takes us upon. When the place where we are residing in life turns hard and our heart is made heavy by the burden that is placed upon us by the cares of the day, we can turn to the Lord with whatever strength and attention that we can muster up in that time, and we can rest assured that our prayers are heard, that God’s Word will provide wisdom and guidance for that time and place, and that the body of faith will be a refuge of care and companionship through the hours that creep along before the dawn of a new day. Thus, this form of waiting can, in fact, be some of the richest time with the Lord that we will ever experience in this life.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2: 1-3

There is wealth to be had in our world. Its availability is something that is spoken about regularly by various voices that are inspired and influenced by divergent sources. If any one of us is lacking, then there must be something amiss with the way that we are going about life, for there is abundance to be gathered up from the pavement of our streets. Depending upon the speaker, this bounty may be financial, positional, be defined by power, or be counted out in various types of spiritual currency. It is said that all that is really required of people in order to be wealthy is to follow the right leaders and to ascribe to proper teaching. Then, our accounts will be gorged upon the world’s abundance, and our lives will be lived out in the luxury and the comfort of plenty. However, this idea of easy riches and of universal wealth is mistaken, and it can lead people far away from the only enduring riches that exists in the universe.

This essential difference in what it means to be wealthy is one of the great mysteries of faith in Christ. God views wealth from a different perspective than do most of us that are looking outward from the earth. For we see only what is right before our eyes, and our depth of vision is restricted and cut off by the haze that is in the air around us and by the curvature of the earth itself. No matter how hard we may try to see or what aids or devices we might employ, we will never view the entirety of what is out there in our world or in the air above us. Additionally, when we consider wealth, we tend to think in terms of things that we can hold in our hands and that give us that desired position or power in our world. God contemplates what is means to be wealthy in far less tangible terms as His treasury is filled beyond imagining with all that has real meaning and that carries with it eternal significance.

In Christ we posses all that endures beyond the grave, and at the same time, we are blessed by and through Christ with the full extent of what is needful to live fully and joyously during our allotted days of life on earth. The luster and shine and the absolute beauty that radiates off of God’s knowledge and wisdom exceeds the glitter and the glow that is given off from this world’s brightest diamonds or its storehouses of gold. Nothing that we can acquire by way of earthly authority or by means of human wisdom can begin to replace the wonder and the blessings that are to be found in exploring the depths of a relationship with God. Thus, the great mystery that Christ reveals for us is the one in which all people can be equally wealthy as we stand on common ground at the foot of Christ’s cross and are filled by His Spirit with the love, grace, truth, and wisdom that define what it means to be blessed with riches beyond all comparison. 

Those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Galatians 3: 9

Abraham was blessed by God in many ways, for he had a long, close, and very active relationship with God in which the Lord led Abraham to a land of promise, provided him with position and prominence in that new home, and gave him the greatest desire of his heart in the form of a family. Yet, greater than all of these blessings was the promise that God made to Abraham that he would be the starting point of a long line of people that held fast in their faith in God.

Although Abraham was a dynamic leader who exhibited courage and wisdom, for he was an astute manager of his business interests, and he was able to negotiate treaties and contracts to his advantage, the thing that he is remembered for is still his faith. Abraham trusted God, and he allowed that trust to grow under the continual influence of the Lord, too. He was also willing to accept the grace of God as a vital part of the blessings that he was receiving, for Abraham frequently put himself into situations where God needed to save him from himself.

Ultimately, the story of Abraham gets down to a very simple reality. It is one of continuing day after day to just put one foot in front of the other with the confidence that trust brings in the assurance that God will provide a solid place for that foot to land. Even on the days when the swirling winds of uncertainty and fear are trying to obscure the path, I know, as did Abraham, that the Lord will take my hand and that the light of His glory will penetrate any darkness. In Christ we can have faith that we will come through the moment whole, with no real injury, and stronger from the experience. As we journey through this often foreign land that is life in the world, we can join with Abraham in enjoying the blessing of God that comes through faith in His perfect will as we are sustained by the Lord’s infinite grace and love.  

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