Tag: Hope

Silent Night 2016

How would you describe 2016? If you Google “2016”, you’ll see one of the top searches was “2016 the worst year ever.” Some of these articles go back to this July, not just the recent days of December. This year has been mired in social media arguments, political unrest, and a lack of empathy to say the least.

All of 2016 has led us to the December Christmas season. In a time of thoughtful and spiritual reflection, our minds can race through the anxiety and at times even anger from the last eleven months. The idea of Advent, Christ’s coming, seems so distant from the chaos of the world around us.

Recently, I sang “Silent Night.” Two lines of the song stopped me:

All is calm
All is bright

Questions emerged in my mind. Was it really all calm? Was it really bright? These questions seem fodder for theologians to debate late into the night. Part of the cynic in all of us asks these questions, because our current reality may not match the lyrics.

The Christmas story disarrays the characters. Mary has to explain the meeting with an angel and an unforeseen pregnancy. Joseph has the same problem. This couple then gets displaced from their current residence to Bethlehem. They find lodging in a stable as opposed to a room. They would later escape to Egypt because of an evil ruler. We could include the shepherds and the kings who got re-routed to see Jesus.

“Silent Night” offers us the radical message of hope. A hope based on Jesus, the Messiah, entering the world of chaos. Rather than elevating His heavenly power to become an earthly king, He steps into the disarray of the world as a powerless baby. That’s Good News because He has walked where we walked, especially in 2016.

What Mary and Joseph experienced and what 2016 has brought us is the Savior stepping into the darkness with us.

Celebrating Christmas in 2016 is much more than the presents, tinsel, holly, and feel good notions. It’s hope for people stuck in this year’s reality. Looking for the bright and the calm has less to do with the present circumstances, and more to do with the deeper significance and meaning of “God with us.”

Whatever 2016 has brought, let the Christmas season move you beyond the current chaos to the reality seen in the Gospel. The Savior born in an unexpected context brings us hope in His death and resurrection.

Photo credit by Ben White.

A Lament for Today

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I lament for us today,
because fear motivated us more than love;
because we stopped seeing our brothers and sisters created in the image of God;
because the Golden Rule did not apply to our opponents.

Now, the greatest call of followers of Jesus is to become agents of reconciliation.
Our Savior brought us who were far from Him near, so that we might do the same for our neighbors.

The Good News of the Gospel motivates us
to give a voice to the voiceless;
love our enemies;
forgive those who hurt us;
extend grace to each other;
because Jesus has done this for us.

Let our laments turn to confession and listening.
May our hearts soften in compassion for each other.

Amen

Photo credit by Matthew Henry.

Acts of Hope

Hope has become commercialized. Politicians peddle it during the election cycles. The endless amount of advertisers sells us on it. Sport’s franchises have asked fans to buy into the rebuilding process. Commercialized hope can lead us to cynicism and disappointment, making promises for today without any accountability for tomorrow.

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Genuine hope moves us from passivity to action. Hope harmonizes the present with the future. What we believe about tomorrow leads us to how we respond today.

Eugene Peterson speaks of hope in Run with the Horses:

All acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule because they seem impractical, failing to conform to visible reality. But in fact, they are the reality that is being constructed but is not yet visible. Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises (pg. 174)

How do we live with hope? Later on, Peterson talks about it becoming “Really Practical.” A coworker once coined the term, the nauseating details. I think this fits for hope because we get to the nitty-gritty of today by God’s promises for the future rather than a mere pie in the sky view.

Practical acts of hope look like this…
Planting because Christ causes growth.
Working with our best effort today at our tasks because Christ sees.
Praying for our enemies and those who hurt us because Christ heals.
Seeking reconciliation and forgiveness because Christ restores.
Showing up, because Christ is already present.
Engaging Scripture because Christ speaks.

The list could go on, but most often acts of hope seem extremely ordinary. Those practices that we can dismiss, but they come back to our minds. They reflect a belief in God’s promises. When we live with genuine hope, we ultimately experience God’s grace today.

What acts of hope has God called you to fulfill today?

Photo credit by Clack Street Mercantile.

Jesus’ Prayer in Pain

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There’s no easy answer to the question of pain. Logically, we try to rationalize coming out better on the other side. Our feelings can make us only focus on the present and how much the current season hurts. Each of us walks with a degree of pain looking for hope.

Grief can hit us in waves of what once was.
Disappointment arrives daily in minuscule and enormous ways.
Rejection appears in the least expected moments and from those closest to us.
We feel the criticism, betrayals, and the daily exhaustion of life.

Pain leads us to ask, Where is God in all of this?  Seth Haines in Coming Clean reflects on Jesus’s prayer in the midst of pain.

I consider Jesus in Gethsemane. Lord if it be your will, let this cup pass. It is the most human prayer of Jesus, I think. It is the bend-low before God, the stinging sweat prayer where Jesus says, “If you could spare me a favor, I’d rather not endure this.” I consider his prayer of self-preservation; if his request had been granted, what of this groaning creation? Would we still have been united with God, rescued from the slavery and corruption of the world? Or would we have groaned and groaned and groaned into and throughout eternity?

In his humanity, though, Jesus learned to bend his will to God’s so that he could be the ultimate agent of reconciliation. He surrendered to the mystery of God’s will, that he would be crucified, murdered, and that his murder would somehow bring a better way.

We celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. Jesus’ prayer in the garden seems separated far more than a few days. He would endure the betrayals and scrutiny from people. Then He suffered the physical pain and exhaustion in the crucifixion.

The days leading up to Easter bring us back to the humanness of Jesus. He has walked where we have. We can imagine ourselves in the garden praying. It’s not about the tidy answers or logical conclusion; rather a Savior becomes present with us.

One of the most powerful expressions of God’s grace comes from His identification and presence in the most excruciating moments of pain. He finds us in the midst of prayer. He brings people who offer their presence.

How does Jesus’ prayer in pain offer hope to you? What did Jesus experience in His humanness that brings clarity to your pain?

Photo credit by Hannah Morgan.

Hope and the Banjo Song

I have a confession. When I like a song, I will listen to it again and again. Something happens when you make a connection with a songwriter’s lyrics coupled with the sound of the instruments. This happens as I listen to the “The Banjo Song (Hope)” by Pompton Lakes. 

Two lines of the chorus say, “And I remember all Your hope, And I remember we are not yet home…” Perspective allows us to see hope in the realm with the past and the future. In this journey of following Christ, we can become entangled in the mess we call life. A song like this reminds us the simple truths; we are not home and we have not arrived. Where we are today is not where we will be tomorrow or even where we were yesterday.

Our journey of following Christ opens us to see the little graces of today. Hope at times can seem out of reach. We see hope emerge each day the sun rises. Winter turning to spring testifies to seasons of growth. A song like this captures the reality of hope in Christ. This is not the end, but this is where we begin. 

I hope you have your own “Banjo Song.” What songs do you place on repeat because their significance in your life?1899890_706871152668891_1967705568_n

Photo credit Olya Myers.

Misquoting Philippians 4:13

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A few major athletes have adopted this verse as motivation. You may also hear this verse in passing when a person starts a major endeavor. 22110I still remember memorizing this verse as a child. Thoughts of accomplishments for the future resonated in my dreams. We love nothing more than watching the underdog conquer Goliath. When I look back at this early interpretation,  I missed the key to grasping 4:13; the verses surrounding it.

The book of Philippians reads like a letter to a friend. Paul, the Apostle, writes this while in prison. A far cry from holding a trophy at the end of a match. Not even the snapshot of a keynote speaker in front of thousands of people. The verses leading up to 4:13 (vs. 10-12) communicate Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians’ concern and a the vital key of contentment.

Notes from one of my professors Dr. Ron Hall for his class on Philippians says, “Paul’s sufficiency is in Christ. Christ has strengthened Paul to get through everything, and he is confident in that provision, no matter what the circumstances! We must be sure to place verse 13 in its context of contentment or we will misappropriate the verse.”

What does this verse mean to us in 2014? Christ gives us more than merely accomplishing our goals, dreams or championships – but He gives His strength to persevere in our current context. 

We can become enamored with the life we wish for the future or even a future version of ourselves. Attempting circumvent the difficulties in front of us. Yet, the words of Paul invite us to contentment in the present. The strength Christ gives does not depend on the circumstances around us, but the sufficiency of His grace.

Misquoting Philippians 4:13 can rob us of the present realities of this verses. This verse applies to us today. We have the strength in Christ to make it through.

How does understanding the meaning this verse change the way you live today?

 

Faith Grows in the Winter

A friend handed me a comic. The picture included a biblical character tip toeing across a sheet of ice. As I came to the caption, I saw the words, “Peter’s faith grows in the winter.” Those words alluded to the Apostle Peter walking across the water, but I could not help to hear those words for myself.

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Over the past weekend, the snow started falling across Upstate New York. Meaning this area will experience a white Christmas and Thanksgiving. Autumn portrays beautiful colors of red, orange, and yellow across the landscape. Yet, within a short few weeks the ground freezes over with a coat of white and no visible sight of leaves.

Faith growing in the winter rarely looks like a tentative walk across the ice. Most often, this growth takes place in the midst of storms and the cold. The winter seasons of our lives may include pain, disappointment, and disillusionment. Seemingly though, the mature saints you meet will point to these seasons as ones where God grew their faith.

Charles Spurgeon comments on 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Strong faith does not drop from heaven in a gentle dew; generally it comes in the whirlwind of the storm.” Why? At least in my life, it seems that God has to bring me back to a sense of dependence on His work and presence in my life. The winter reminds us to trust in the One who can bring the spring. He shapes and forms our live even in the freezing and the cold.

Have you faced a winter season? How did your faith grow?

 

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