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Hope

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Maintaining Hope

This is number two in our “Bouncing Back” series, where we’re dealing with being spiritually anchored so that we can weather any storm. Last time we talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. Today we’re talking about maintaining hope.

Hope is a funny thing. We’re willing to pay good money for hope. We probably don’t think of it like that, but we do. That’s the power behind the infomercial. These infomercials blast us day in and day out (and in the wee hours of the morning when there’s no regular programming on t.v.). These “as seen on tv” products are trying to sell hope – hope that buying a particular product will be the miracle to cure whatever troubles us. Like the Snuggie.

C’mon, people!

It’s. A. Backwards. Robe.

But it calls out to us and gives us hope that life would be better if we just had…. This is the power of the infomercial – it plays off of hope. My wife and I used to be in the habit of having cable news playing in the background during the day. I realized that we needed to stop when my then-5 year old got to me after work one day and said, “Daddy, we need to get a sunsetter!”

No, baby girl, we don’t NEED one. Not at all.

But humanity believes that these little doses of hope will make life better. But the emotion of hope is something that comes and goes. These temporary things cannot be enough to sustain long-term hope. Lasting hope has to be rooted in something much deeper. Lasting hope must be rooted in something bigger than ourselves or the stuff we fill our lives with.

Lasting hope is spiritually anchored.

The Bible talks a lot about hope, and the people who need it.

For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:24-25)

You see, when we talk about bouncing back from life’s troubles, it is hope that gives us the bounce! And while we sometimes think that troubles kill hope, hope and affliction can co-exist.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)

The Apostle tells us to rejoice in hope WHILE TELLING US TO BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION! They’re happening simultaneously. In a nutshell, then, hope is about holding on to that better tomorrow in spite of the difficulties of today. But how do we develop hope?

  • Build a future focus.

We get so caught up in today’s troubles we lose sight of tomorrow. But we know that everything in this life is temporary. Life itself is temporary! We’re all headed towards that same destination – the grave. But the Christian has hope beyond the grave, for we know the day is coming when we stand in the presence and perfection of God. This hope has sustained Christians through the worst time and persecutions imaginable.

Don’t be so caught in the “here & now” that you lose hold of the “there & then.”

  • Work on a path to tomorrow.

We know that life will get tough. Obstacles are going to hit. Instead of letting them stop us, we need to plan our path towards tomorrow. Asses your life like it’s a number line.

numberline_0-30

If the obstacle has your life stuck at 5, don’t try to jump to 30. Ask what it’s going to take to get to 6. Then, when you find your life is at 6, ask what you can do to move up to a 7. The point is you keep at it little by little.

I have a friend who was convinced that God had a certain destination for his life. The problem was that obstacle after obstacle kept being thrown at him. It was discouraging. A mutual mentor of ours told him, “If you believe this is where God wants you to be, you CANNOT stop trying. Do EVERYTHING to keep moving in that direction.” It took years but it finally happened!

  • Finally, recognize God’s plan in your life regardless of personal circumstances.

Sorrow doesn’t have to diminish hope. God can work through your suffering. God and work in spite of your suffering. Hope remains, because it’s grounded in God’s activity, not our changing circumstances. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who prayed earnestly that God would remove a personal obstacle, his “thorn in his flesh.”

Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Your obstacle may never be resolved the way you want it. It doesn’t stop God’s grace from being present in your life. Hope stays, no matter what happens today.

Let’s hold on to a better tomorrow.

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

hope-hero

Bouncing Back From Unbeatable Obstacles

Sometimes life throws some horrible stuff our way and we face all sorts of obstacles. Too often those obstacles, those life crises, have a way of driving us to our breaking point. When we break we reach a point where ending our lives seems like most viable option. As of a couple years ago, the suicide rate in America is about 13 per 100,000. So how do we avoid getting to the point where we break? Since we can’t avoid crises for an entire lifetime, the issue is not about getting away from obstacles but rather learning how to bounce rather than break.

glassThink about a glass that’s slammed on the floor. It’s going to shatter. But replace the glass with a super-ball, one of those rubber balls that kids love to play with (no matter how many times you say, “DON’T BOUNCE THAT IN THE HOUSE!). No matter how hard you slam that ball down, it won’t break.

It simply bounces.

This is the perspective we need to get to when we think about the crises and difficulties in our lives. And the first step in becoming people who bounce instead of break is this:

Stop seeing obstacles as unbeatable problems.

Little EngineThink about The Little Engine That Could. This poor little engine was tasked with trying to get all the toys to the remote town. His only problem was that there was a great big mountain standing in the way. But he doesn’t let the obstacle sit in his mind as an unbeatable problem. Instead, he begins attacking the mountain and tells himself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually he does!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. That’s a kid’s story! Fair enough. How about an adult example from the Bible? I’m talking about the 12 Spies of Israel? As God was bringing the Israelite nation out of slavery and to the land of promise, Moses sent scouts ahead to check out the land and look for potential pitfalls. While the land was perfect for the people and produced excellent crops, the scouts encountered a crisis.

They reported to Moses: “We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit. However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” 

So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.” (Numbers 13)

Only 2 of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, thought it could be done. Everyone else thought the obstacle was unbeatable – and that was with the promise of God on their side! Because of their lack of faith and trust, only Caleb and Joshua ended up getting into the promised land. The rest never made it out of the wilderness. While we’re not dealing with God’s promised land, there’s a principle that rings true about the crises that we face:

Believing something to be unbeatable defeats you before you even get started.

Can you imagine a boxer who gets into the ring thinking, “There’s no way I can beat this guy.” He won’t. Likewise, when we face crises we must start with an understanding that nothing is insurmountable.

Just because an obstacle is in your way doesn’t mean you stop moving! – when there’s a mountain in your way you figure out a way past it. You go around it. You climb over it. You dig under it. If you have to, build a fricking airplane. My point is that you have to exhaust EVERY avenue – every option – to overcoming the problem. You never.stop.moving!

The Bible talks a whole bunch about overcoming trials and/or troubles. Just a couple, for example:

  • Jeremiah 1:19 ~ They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

  • John 16:32-33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 I recognize that we don’t get to claim someone else’s promise for ourselves. I’m not an ancient Israelite worried about invading armies, so God’s promise to deliver from people fighting against is not aimed at me. There is a general principle in the Bible, though, that affirms that God IS present with the faithful and will aid in helping us persevere and overcome difficulties and trials in life.

Heck, Jesus PROMISES that we’ll have troubles in life. Anyone who tells you life will be a piece of cake is either lying to you or trying to sell you something. But in spite of the troubles, we have the promise of a present God to be with us.

So in a nutshell, how do we work on getting over the insurmountable?

  • Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope is what allows us to bounce instead of break. Rather than fixating on the problem of today, maintain a future-oriented outlook. You are a person who has value and worth – this world is impacted JUST because of your presence in it. So anticipate a better tomorrow.
  • Memorialize your problems and your victories. When God was leading Israel under Joshua, they came to the Jordan river and didn’t have a great outlook for crossing. But God stopped the waters so the people could cross. Afterward, they decided to memorialize God’s work:

So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, “Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4)

Remembering what God did in the past helps us as we go through crises today. We know that God HAS acted and we have reasonable hope that He WILL act again!

  • Take it in bite-sized chunks. It’s like that age-old joke: How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME! Lame joke, I know, but you get the idea. Overcoming your crises may not be an instant thing. It could take time. Some days you’ll feel like you have the strength and speed of a gazelle. Other days it will be all you can do to take baby steps. Just.Keep.Moving.
  • Finally, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up. Motivate yourself. When I face difficult things I actually talk out loud (when no one else is around!). I say things like: I got this! I can do this! This, too, shall pass!

There are numerous examples of people who faced difficulties before finally overcoming and succeeding.

  • Thomas Edison was told as a kid, “You’re too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers for his first book because they thought it was no good.
  • The story goes that Elvis was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to driving a truck.

No obstacle is worth breaking over. We don’t have to break.

Live your life by the mantra:

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

Be someone who can bounce.

Boiling Water

A Light Up Ahead: An Advent Devotion on Hope

Advent - HOPE

Our world really misunderstands hope. Often people see it as a desire for something to happen. One of my favorite examples of this kind of hope is in Antiques Roadshow. You know the show – people bring in old stuff and “hope” that their old item actually has high value. What they are really looking for is the promise of new life – clearly the old isn’t amounting to much – it’s junk, or of little value. They want to reinvigorate the item with new life and value!

Can you imagine the excitement of taking something old and being given new value?! Are we any different? In our own search for hope that’s what we really want – new life and value. That is what hope does – it instills life, value, and purpose into a person.

Conversely, hopelessness is when a person has no desire for what the future holds – he sees no possibilities. In the classic movie Showboat one character sings the famous song “Ole Man River” in which we find the lines: “I get weary and sick of tryin’. I’m tired of livin’ but scared of dyin’.” This is the epitome of hopelessness – I don’t wanna be here and I’ve got nothing coming down the road.

More of us feel that way than we care to admit. We have that same fleeting thought: I’m tired of livin’ but scared of dyin’. But so long as man has a future he has hope. The Bible declares:

Proverbs 23:17b-18 ~ …fear the Lord. For then you will have a future, and your hope will never fade.

Proverbs 24:14 ~ Realize that wisdom is [sweet like honey] for you. If you find it, you will have a future, and your hope will never fade.

Even in the secular world, when people stop having anything to look forward to they lose hope and the vigor of life. What happens when the things we look forward to are things of this world? Eventually they come and go. Then what happens to hope? The only future that leads to perpetual hope is that future when Christ returns and we spend all eternity in the presence of God. In a classic hymn we sing these words, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

But hope is not a mere pipe dream. Hope is a human response to God’s activity

Romans 4:18-20 ~ Against hope, with hope he believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be. He considered his own body to be already dead since he was about 100 years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, without weakening in the faith. He did not waiver in unbelief at God’s promise, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.

This, then, is the essence of hope. It is not mere desire for something to happen – hope is unshakable confidence, and expectation that God is actively present in my life and in this world and in the world to come! Because hope is about confidence and expectation of God’s activity, hope is strengthened, not weakened, in the face of adversity and difficulty. The world sees Christian hope as foolishness and something fleeting. In reality our hope, our understanding that God has a future and a plan, is the bedrock and foundation of our Christian confidence!

So what?

Hope is always a great place to start something new because hope is something that looks to the future with optimism. We have hope that one day Jesus will come back again and make everything right. We have hope that the way it is, is not how it is supposed to be. We have hope that no matter what life throws at us, we know the end result, we know who wins.

The holiday season is rough for many because the world throws out its version of hope. Warm fires, families that love each other, and stuff, stuff, stuff. The wonderful image of Christmas we see in ads fails to live up to reality. But no matter what our circumstances, no matter if it’s the holiday season or any other season, we can hold on to a hope that lasts. The Savior came once into the world and He’s coming again someday. No matter what we face now – God controls my destiny and my future. It is unshakable. No one can take it away.

Where human hope dies away – Godly hope perseveres to the end!

Adolf Hitler Takes On Joel Osteen…and Wins!

Hitler

In all honesty I’m friends with a lot more people on Social Media than I could ever REALLY keep up with. That being said, I see a lot of comments and quotations flit by the screen as I scroll merrily along. The other day I saw this:

Did you know that the only person keeping you from your best life is you?

I’ll be honest, it sounded a lot like a Joel Osteen quotation (the whole “best life” wording), but the person didn’t attribute it. I also don’t know the entire context of the quotation – I just got the snippet she decided to share with the world. Those caveats aside, let’s progress with the quotation at hand.

It’s ridiculous.

My initial reaction was to imagine Adolf Hitler standing before a boxcar of Jews about to ship out to a death camp telling his prisoners, “Zee only person keeping you from your best life eez you!” – yes you must always read Hitler quotes with a Schultz (from Hogan’s Heroes) accent.

Can you picture it? Ludicrous, right?

Can anyone deny that sometimes garbage happens to us because of other people? Recently having gone through (and still going through) a tough time I had someone say to me, “It blows my mind that you refuse to take any responsibility about…!”

And I still won’t take it.

Don’t misunderstand me – I believe we ought to own up to our choices and consequences. Still, sometimes things happen TO us that go beyond our own behavior. Sometimes bad stuff comes our way without being a consequence of our actions. This is one of the major themes in the story of Job.

When all the horrible things happened to Job (lost his livelihood, his children died, he became very ill…) his friends gathered around him to support him. Eventually they came to the point of telling Job, “Something you did brought this calamity upon you. What was it?”

Job’s answer time and again was: I HAVE DONE NOTHING TO BRING THIS UPON MYSELF!!!

Regardless of what cheery Osteen-ism you want to read and believe, sometimes life sucks no matter what you try to do. You can’t always control things to get a happy and delightful outcome. You don’t always get to have a “best life now.” Just ask the countless Christian martyrs who have died for their beliefs. Ask the countless Christians in developing nations who live in abject poverty. Ask the Christians in our own neighborhoods who struggle and suffer with gut-wrenching problems.

It’s not because they don’t believe. It’s not because they haven’t tried.

Sometimes life just sucks.

Jesus never promises it won’t suck. Sometimes our “best life now” means hanging on by a thread and praying for God to deliver us. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We know that our God CAN deliver us, but even if he doesn’t we will not worship another god.”

Sometimes you’ll go through stuff you didn’t cause or deserve. I feel your pain. Shoot me a message sometime and we’ll commiserate. Sometimes it’s all we can do just to get by. I pray I have the fortitude of men like “Rach, Shach, and Bennie – men like Job – who can hold fast to their faith and say:

“Even in this dark hour I KNOW that my God has not abandoned me.”

Living as an Underdog

underdogWhat do we call someone who is at a disadvantage and expected to lose? UNDERDOG! Underdogs are determined by outward appearances. Nothing about them says winner, and when you compare them to everyone else, it’s obvious that they don’t really stand a chance. One of the most famous underdog stories in the last few years was about a woman named Susan Boyle. Remember her?

She’s a little kooky. No one expects her to be a winner, and you can see it on their faces. Then she starts to sing, and the crowd goes wild! Well, there are spiritual underdogs, too. Sure, it’s easy to see the obvious spiritual winners: The Pope, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes. That’s what a spiritual winner looks like. God is obviously going to use and bless people like them. If we are really honest I think we all have areas and moments in life where we feel like underdogs. But Jesus comes along and, like he often does, shakes things up and offers up some shocking words about underdogs.

These verses come from a section of Jesus’ teaching commonly called “the beatitudes.” That’s an old-fashioned way for sayings how someone is “blessed” or “fortunate.” It’s hard to translate into modern English though. “Blessed” doesn’t quite cover it – it’s more like telling someone “congratulations” or “You are so fortunate!” When we understand this, a modern version of what Jesus is saying here could sound like this:

v.3 Congratulations when you’re at the end of your rope, when you’re a big fat zero and are on the verge of giving up hope! God welcomes you into His kingdom.

v. 4 Congratulations when you suffer loss and sorrow and there is no joy! God will comfort you.

v. 5 Congratulations when you are powerless with no chance of making anything of yourself! God is going to give you everything.

v. 6 Congratulations when the world is against you and there is no way to fight for what is right! God will give you justice in the end.

Do these seem like qualities of people we would envy? Is this person someone we would consider fortunate? When we see people like this we say, “Man, there’s just no chance. He’s toast – a loser. How could such a person be part of what God is doing?” But, Jesus radically changes our ideas of who and what is important in the kingdom of God. Let’s look at these a little more closely:

v.3 Congratulations when you’re at the end of your rope, when you’re a big fat zero and are on the verge of giving up hope! God welcomes you into His kingdom.

Has this been you? Is this you? Do you feel as though you’re at the end of your rope and on the verge of giving up? Do you need to be rescued from your life? When I was a college sophomore, I knew this really nice guy. Let’s just call him Joe. Joe was a quiet guy, intelligent, sense of humor, and seemed to have everything going for him.  You know that you might look like you have everything together but inside there is an area where you know that you are at the end of yourself. One afternoon after class I walked into his room and Joe is sitting on the bunk facing the door. As I stepped into the room he said, “I need to tell you something.” Then he pulls up his sleeves and I see dozens of cuts on his forearms, and he tells me that he cuts himself and that he needs help. He was at the end of his rope, feeling like a zero, and on the verge of giving up hope. But Jesus says, “You are important, you are invited to be in relationship with me!”

v. 4 Congratulations when you suffer loss and sorrow and there is no joy! God will comfort you.

Those who mourn are helpless to change their situation. We mourn because of a loss that has already happened and we can do nothing to alter it. Often times those who mourn are those who find no cause for joy. What we can do wait on God for comfort, and Jesus promises that comfort will come. Psalm 30 declares that sorrow may remain for a night but joy comes in the morning! Take comfort, for joy will come again. In God’s kingdom we find comfort because God is in control, God gets the last word! Life may be full of sorrow here, but the big picture belongs to Him. Then Jesus says:

v. 5 Congratulations when you are powerless with no chance of making anything of yourself! God is going to give you everything.

In the OT there are two major themes: the Exodus (when Moses led Israel out of Egypt) and the Exile (where Israel was conquered and carried off by other nations and waited to return to their homeland). Both themes are about slaves and captives receiving promised land where God brings about a reversal and gives life where there was only suffering and death. Jesus is talking about the same thing, people who are powerless on their own, at the mercy of the powerful people around them who control them. How often do we feel like we are at the mercy of others – we have little control or power into what is happening to us. In the game of chess, the front row of pieces are called pawns. They are the smallest, weakest pieces that have little value and are quickly sacrificed in order to save the bigger, more important pieces. Have you ever felt like a pawn in someone else’s game of chess? Yet Jesus says God does not see us that way. In His view, the powerless are now regarded as fortunate because they are going to receive what they have had coming to them all along. The main point is not that God is going to reward those who exhibit the virtue of meekness, but that when God rules, the weak and powerless will receive what God wants them to have. Similarly, Jesus finishes up these four beatitudes by saying:

v. 6 Congratulations when the world is against you and there is no way to fight for what is right! God will give you justice in the end.

Sometimes we are so powerless that we are not even able to stand up for justice. Injustice abounds in this world, in our lives and the lives of people around us. People need rescuing. A few years ago there was a story in the news about a Tampa mom whose husband was deployed in Afghanistan. She had been abusive to her teenagers for a while and finally something snapped and she shot and killed her two kids. Where is the justice for those children? They needed to be rescued. Too many of us need to be rescued from injustice.

Underdogs are determined by outward appearances. People who are have no hope. People who have no joy. People who have no power. People who fight against the world and never know justice. These are not the kind of people the world looks at and says, “Here’s a winner!” But the words of Jesus reflect Isaiah 61:1-8:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD, to glorify Him.

Underdogs to the world, but Jesus speaks of a reversal of circumstances for those who are unfortunate. These are undesirable conditions that God will one day make right. There is a song by the band Third Day that talks about people who are living an underdog kind of life – broken and hurting people. And the simple answer for the underdog is this – “Cry Out to Jesus.”

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing, He’ll meet you wherever you are Cry out to Jesus, cry out to Jesus

Is this you? Are you an underdog today? Are you at the end of your rope? Do you feel like a big fat zero, or on the verge of giving up hope! Do you suffer loss and sorrow and have no joy! Are you powerless and at the mercy of other rulers and masters? Is the world is against you and you just can’t find justice? You are not alone. To all of us underdogs, Jesus says, “I welcome you to be with Me!” To the rest of you who feel on top of the world – look around. Jesus calls you to take care of the underdog. How will you help people find the rescue they need? As God has blessed you, now be a blessing to others.

 

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