Expectant Hope

hopeEveryone needs hope. As a matter of fact, hope is essential for the human condition. It is as much needed for the soul as air is for the body.

There’s hope, though, and then there is expectant hope. You may be asking, “What’s the difference? Isn’t hope, hope?” When you have a sense of hope, you’re holding out that something could happen, but it may not. It reminds of the scene from “Dumb and Dumber,” where Lloyd asks Mary, “What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?” Mary’s answer is “one in a million.” To which Lloyd responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” That’s hope.

But for those who truly put their faith in God, there is expectant hope which means that it is without a doubt, one-hundred percent, absolutely certain to be fulfilled. We can expect that the hope we have in God will never disappoint.

Read what King David said in Psalm 40:1-3: “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” There is a sense of expectant hope from David and an unwavering trust in the One in whom his hope rests. David waited patiently for the Lord, which implies that he knew that God would show up and rescue him from his place of deep need.

He is the God who bends His knee to listen with understanding the cries of His children. These aren’t selfish cries of “why me!?!,” but cries of humble dependence upon the only One who can save us from that which surrounds us on all sides. For David, it was the pit of destruction and miry bog.

While in this circumstance of life that felt like a deep pit that offered no hope of life; a place where David felt as though he was stuck with no hope of getting out; he cried and he waited because he was certain of two things: God hears and God rescues. So David cried, and God listened. David waited, and God rescued.

I’ve found that my tendency is to cry out to things that cannot hear, and wait for a rescuer who never comes. It’s as though the deep cries of my heart echo off the walls of the pit I’ve often dug, resonating with hopelessness. I become exhausted at the futile attempts to free myself from the miry bog that holds me captive. Instead of crying out to God and waiting patiently for Him to bend His knee, I just cry. Or complain. Or call out to those who have good intentions but are not God. Or I just try to figure it out myself and end up exhausted and deeper in a miry pit … Stuck.  Maybe you can relate.

What this Psalm speaks is the truth that our hope in God never disappoints. When David puts pen to papyrus he is often unfiltered and raw. But as he process his pain through the unwavering truth of who God is, he always comes to the hopeful resolve that God is a good God who hears, rescues, and if that weren’t enough, He restores.

“(God) set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:2b-3

Here is the deep grace of God that we may never fully understand this side of heaven, but with great joy can receive in humility: the God who upholds the universe by the word of His power; who has shaped us in His image and breathed His life into us; who has loved us so much that He would hear our cry and rescue us from the pit; He displays His grace by giving us security. He puts a song worth singing in our hearts that resounds His glory, and He gives us a captivating story that makes His Son, our rescuer, the focus.

This is the expectant hope for all who place their hope in Christ.

The Week of All Weeks

crossofJesusIt was a Sunday night, and I knew what awaited me on Monday.  The week ahead would be difficult to say the least.   Early on in my ministry, the church where I served faced a crossroads regarding a staff member.  There would be conversations to be had with individuals who I knew would be less than receptive, and decisions to be made that would not be popular.  To say that I wanted to walk away and not deal with the issues at hand would have been a gross understatement.  But it had to be done.  And so it was.  By the end of the week verbal spears had been thrown in my direction, private meetings were held, threats were made, and even physical intimidation was used.  I was left wounded and emotionally bruised.  It was a dark time, but never had I sensed God’s presence more, or experienced His faithfulness as I did in those days.

You’ve probably had moments like that.  The details may have been different, but the wounds weren’t.   And if you haven’t had moments like that yet, you will.  They aren’t easy to walk through, but necessary.

Jesus had a week that, without a doubt, was the week of all weeks when it comes to facing dark moments.  It would involve the joy of a last supper, the pain of betrayal, the rejection of denial, the brutality of scourging, and the suffering of crucifixion.  It would leave Him wounded and bruised.  Ultimately, He would taste the sting of death.  From eternity past He knew what He would face, yet He knew what had to be done.

To joyous applause and shouts of acclamation, the Messiah entered Jerusalem.  But by the end of the week, adulation turned to fist-pumping angst exhibited by a mob of self-seeking, “what have you done for me lately”, “you aren’t who we thought you’d be” executioners.

Nonetheless, He persevered.  Passivity didn’t flow through the veins of the second Adam as it did in the first.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam essentially said to God, “My will be done.”  In the Garden of Gethsemane, the second Adam, Jesus, said to His Father, “Your will be done.”    

He could’ve walked away when the darkness of evil began to press in, but He didn’t.  He could’ve called 10,000 angels to rescue Him from what He would experience, but He didn’t.  Scripture tells us that Jesus resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem.  He knew what awaited Him, yet He would endure for the joy set before Him.

On the night that Jesus would be arrested, knowing what was ahead, He was determined to show the full extent of His love by loving His disciples to the end.  Read how the apostle John records it, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”  John 13:1

Enduring the week of all weeks, and facing a cross that would be the instrument of His death, Jesus was committed to loving us to the end.

If there is anything you can be certain of, it is this:  Jesus has loved you to the end that you might know a love that never ends, even in your darkest moments.  That kind of love gives hope, and hope is what we all desperately need.

(An excerpt from my new book to be released Fall 2018, Final Week, Final Words:  Finding Hope in Life’s Darkest Moments)

Enough

enoughThe cultural speak of today is always about being enough. I have to be powerful enough, rich enough, athletic enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, smart enough, important enough, talented enough, popular enough, and I could go on.

Nowhere is that more evident than on social media. Without a doubt social media envy is a real thing. We see the status updates or photos that our friends post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, and at times it stirs within us a feeling of inferiority. It pushes the buttons of our insecurities. “Why can’t my vacations be as awesome as theirs?” “I wish I could have a car like that.” “I wish I could have a life like that.” “Do they ever have a bad day?” Just remember, anyone can make life look great in a captured moment.

Because that is the societal mantra of the day, it leaves us asking the question, “Am I Enough?” Undoubtedly, to a person, at the core of our being we are always reluctantly admitting that we are not. That’s why we push harder. That’s why we find ourselves competing and comparing ourselves to others. That’s why some become workaholics, alcoholics, addicted to drugs of all kinds (prescription and illegal); it’s why some are always seeking the approval of those they know and even don’t know; it’s why some wear masks and masquerade as someone they are not; it’s why some are driven to depression because they feel like they can never measure up.

When we let culture set the standard for what defines “being enough,” we (and by “we,” I mean everyone) always fall short. Always.

But God is God enough. Which means He is more than enough.
• He’s more than enough when your emotional tank is on empty and have nothing left to give.
• He’s more than enough when you are physically exhausted and in need of rest.
• He’s more than enough when your children are sick and you feel helpless.
• He’s more than enough when there is no margin in your life.
• He’s more than enough when you feel like you’re not enough.

We see that He is more than enough all throughout Scripture. God was more than enough when Moses felt incapable of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. God was more than enough when they faced the Red Sea. God was more than enough when David faced Goliath. He was more than enough when David had failed. God was more than enough for Elijah on Mount Carmel. God was more than enough when Nehemiah had to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He was more than enough when Gideon faced improbable odds. God has always been, and always will be, more than enough.

What He requires of you and me is to submit to Him all we are, and all we have, and He will turn our not enough into more than enough.

March Madness and the Gospel

MarchMadness-mainIt’s March, and you know what that means. March Madness. For fans of college basketball it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of games that is nothing less than madness. We cheer on our team if they are selected to go to the big dance, (sorry, not sorry LSU fans), and in other games we pull for the David’s to beat the Goliaths. But there is another type of March Madness that we get excited about as well: Girl Scout Cookies. Nothing like dunking a TagAlong in some milk while you watch Daniel Gafford windmill dunk on someone.

These young ladies, some 1 million of them, sell these cookies with reckless abandon. Some 200 million boxes of cookies will be sold by these hard-working, strategic, and determined girls. They are at your local Walmart, grocery stores, ball games; you name it, and they are probably there. I read an article recently that one Girl Scout decided to pull a wagon full of Girl Scout cookies on a sidewalk in front of a marijuana dispensary in San Diego, California. Talk about being strategic in your marketing. Have the munchies, buy some cookies. She sold $1,500 worth of cookies in less than 6 hours. And although I’m certainly not a proponent of pot dispensaries, I do like Girl Scout cookies. And they take selling their cookies seriously.

TAKING WHAT MATTERS MOST, MOST SERIOUSLY . . .

I’d like for you to think with me for a moment what took place in the first century church that decided to take seriously the command of Jesus to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. To even consider doing such a thing, and going to great lengths to make this message known, these followers of Jesus had to have been deeply committed to this message of the gospel that had supernaturally transformed their lives. You don’t do what these disciples did for a message that was just a sales pitch that might benefit your life some, or help you become a morally good person. This message had so changed their lives and their eternal destiny, that they were willing to risk everything so that the world would know the hope and life that the gospel of Christ gives. That in and of itself had to mean that this gospel turned their selfish hearts into lives willing to be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. It meant that their focus was not on building their own materialistic kingdoms but rather pointing people to the true kingdom and the King of the kingdom, Jesus. It meant that their prejudices were cast aside because of the love of Christ displayed in a gospel that transcends obstacles and boundaries of every kind so that all could receive the gospel. And because the gospel had wrecked their lives in a good way, they were willing to lay it all on the line to proclaim the reckless love and extravagant grace of God to the nations.

What would happen if, as followers of Jesus, were that deeply committed to the message of the gospel? This gospel that breathes life into the dead soul of a sinner like me, and like you; that gives hope, and purpose; that forgives the darkest stain of sin; that gives birth to a love that is sacrificial and reckless, expressed without measure to a world starving for unconditional, God-sized love that is not capable of knowing or showing without the Spirit awakening us to the love of Christ.

That is the gospel that saves us, and such a gospel would be worth sharing. Not only would it be worth sharing, but it would be like fire burning within us that we could not contain or keep to ourselves. We would have to share this.

What if we stopped asking, “How can I get a better job, or how can I make more money, or how can I live more comfortably, or how can I afford that new car, or how can I become more popular, or how can I get through another day, or how can I avoid rejection, or how can I   (you fill in the blank)  , but rather each day God awakens us to His new mercies by His grace we would ask, “how will I advance the gospel today? Who will I share the hope of this gospel with? How will I love people the way Jesus has loved me? How will I practically make much of Jesus and less of me? How will I be less ego-centric and more gospel-centric with my life? And for those places I can’t go, or the people that I don’t see, how fervently will I pray for God to make His gospel known?

We are serious about a few things, like the March Madness of basketball and Girl Scout cookies. But I wonder how serious we are about what matters most in this life, and the life to come?

And Then I Said . . .

rumoursI’ll just cut to the chase: Another person’s story is not yours or mine to tell. That’s gossip, and it is sin. Truth be told, we’ve all been both offended and offenders when it comes to gossiping. Although it may not be the character of some, there are those who just can’t seem to resist the temptation to share the latest “prayer request” they’ve heard, or an juicy story that may or may not be true. Regardless, gossip dishonors, defames, and hurts the character of the one gossiped about. Ironically, those who sow the seeds of gossip reap a character and reputation that exposes the woundedness and brokenness they seek to mask by speaking hurtfully about others. Know this: your candle doesn’t burn brighter just because you blow someone else’s out.

Within the church, gossip becomes the demonic weed that chokes out unity within the body of Christ. As believers in Christ, we should seek to pull the weeds in our own garden rather than pointing out the weeds in someone else’s garden.

I’ve heard it said, “gossip attacks the image of God in another person.” Whether they are believers in Christ or not, they are still created in the image of God. That kind of assault God does not take lightly. As a matter of fact, God’s word is not unclear about those who gossip, and the damaging words that often flow freely from their lips.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.” Psalm 101:5

“A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Proverbs 20:19

Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

And those are just a few verses, among many, where God’s word addresses how seriously He takes the damage caused by gossip. It reminds me of a story that speaks to the heart of the issue.

Once upon a time a man said something about his neighbor that was untrue. The word spread around town as one person told another. But soon the truth came out—what could the man do? He went to see his pastor and his pastor gave him some odd counsel. “Take a bag full of feathers and place one feather on the doorstep of each person who heard the untrue story you told. Then tomorrow, go and collect all the feathers you placed, and bring the bag back to me.” So the man did as the priest said. But when he went back to pick up the feathers nearly all of them were gone. When he went back to his pastor he said, “I did as you said, but when I went back the wind had blown the feathers away and I couldn’t get them back.” And the pastor replied, “So it is with careless words. Once they are spoken, they can’t be taken back. You may ask forgiveness for what you said, but you can’t take your words back. The damage has already been done.”

Because we know how God views gossip, as a follower of Christ our desire should be to not allow, initiate, or participate in gossiping. A couple of questions that we need to ask ourselves might be:
1. Am I the kind of person that people would feel comfortable gossiping to, or am I one with whom it is known that gossiping is not permitted?
2. Do I honor the one spoken about, regardless if I know them or not, by reminding those who gossip that it is not their story to tell? In other words, are you willing to have the courage to put a stop to it, or walk away from those who persist?

Let God’s word remind you of how you should speak: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

And finally, keep your feathers in your bag.

Waldo

ralph-waldo-emerson-editedjpg“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

I love Psalm 1. There’s no particular reason other than the fact that it is wise counsel for how to live life well, and a great reminder that how we live life, and who we do life with, shapes our character. You’ve probably heard the saying that is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson (who preferred to be called Waldo), “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” It brings to mind what Scripture says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 16:25

Ironically, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life, was one like many who have found themselves disillusioned by trials, and walked, stood, and sat with those whose counsel was unwise and ways were ungodly. I say ironically because Mr. Emerson was a pastor at the Old Second Church in his native city of Boston, until just after his 19-year-old wife’s death from tuberculosis. He had found it impossible to participate in and serve the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper following her passing. In 1831, at the young age of 28, he resigned. The following year he traveled to Europe and met Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish-born writer who attacked materialism, had a distrust of democracy, and a high view of the power of the individual. Carlyle had a significant impact on Emerson, and as a result shaped Emerson’s thinking as a transcendentalist to the point that his motto became, “Trust thyself.” As a matter of fact, his address “The Divinity School Address,” which he delivered before the graduates of the Harvard Divinity School, shocked Boston’s conservative clergymen, elevating man’s divinity, and the humanity of Jesus.

It doesn’t take much, or take long, for false doctrine to establish roots in the heart of a person who walks in the counsel of the ungodly. And from false doctrine, comes unwise decisions. What would have happened, I wonder, if Ralph Waldo Emerson had delighted in the Word of God in the midst of his sorrow and questioning? I wonder what would have happened if Waldo had surrounded himself with those who could care for his heart in a way that pointed him to Jesus? What if, during the most difficult moments of his life following his wife’s passing, he had walked with the godly through his valley of the shadow of death? What if he had followers of Jesus stand with him during his moments of struggle? And what if he had close, godly friends who took time to sit down with him to hear his doubts and point him to a Savior who is all-sufficient, and who offers gospel hope? It could very well be that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s story might have tracked in a different direction.

Where are you in the story of Psalm 1? Who are you walking with, and what is the counsel they are giving you? Who are you standing with, and do they stand on biblical truth? Who are you sitting down and doing life with? The truth is this: When you disregard God’s instruction and delight in the world’s ways and counsel, it wrongly influences how you think and feel about God, others, and life. But when you delight in God’s instruction, it rightly influences how you think and feel about God, others, and life.