Tag Archives: hope

Honesty about struggling with principles

No pic. No silly title. Just some up-front honesty.

After a couple of weeks of writing about principles and doing the right thing, I feel like those convictions are being tested. Over the last week, significant situations have arisen that have challenged my conviction to do what is right; not as a clear choice between right and wrong but in the difficulty between discerning what is right and wrong.

It isn’t always clear for us what right and wrong is. We are flawed people dealing with flawed people. We have imperfect perceptions and memories. We are filled with anger, frustration, jealousy, selfishness, and pride; motivations that often drive us and influence us even if they don’t rear their ugly heads in front of everyone. These things sit just below the surface, waiting to muck things up when we get serious about doing what God wants. They often present as little sins that we can justify away (I hate the phrase “lesser of two evils” for this reason) and these little sins give birth to greater sins (death: James 1:15).

This is part of why prayer is so important. Prayer isn’t about us getting God on our side, it’s us getting on the same page as God. It’s us saying, “God, may Your kingdom come, not mine. May Your will be done, not mine. Give me what I need, protect me from evil, and in everything I do, may you be glorified.” (see Matthew 5:5-13) We pray like that in faith, trusting that when we run into difficult situations where our resolve to live by principle instead of by self interest, and when we run into situations where it isn’t easy to determine what it means to do the right thing, that He will ultimately lead us through those times in a way that is glorifying to Him. This does not mean we will not run into those difficult times, or that there will not be conflict or pain or struggles. It means that, despite whatever we are feeling or experiencing, God is in control: through all the turmoil, pain, heartache, and difficulties; when we feel alone, lost, and abandoned; and when we feel like we’ve failed, over and over again, we can know that God is in control. He loves us, He is there for us, and He will be with us.

I’m in the midst of what seems like a never ending series of conflicts and struggles, all seeming to escalate in emotion and impact even while many of the actual situations seem minor and petty. Sometimes life is like that: increasingly small things become increasingly bigger deals over time. In some of the darker moments its easy to lose hope, but in moments of reflection I remember that God is in control and I begin to renew my belief that He is in the process of doing some amazing things that I am extraordinarily excited to see. I pray that I can stay out of the way and let God do His thing.

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Gospel Outside – Go Teach Sunday School

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

“You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.” -Claude Chabrol

Often times, when we think of being highly successful, wealthy or famous, we think life gets easy. We picture business owners, entertainers and leaders as the people who get to kick back behind the scenes and be important while they have “their people” do the hands-on grunt work.

That’s not how it works (at least not most of the time).

I am often impressed by the work that people I often expect to be more hands-off get done. These people usually know that God has blessed their diligence and attention and has brought them a measure of success, and they are usually willing to dive in to accomplish a goal or task. I’ve spent countless hours doing hands-on grunt work next to world-famous musicians that haul and set up their own equipment, or businessmen willing to get dirty working on a construction project, or pastors and ministry leaders that aren’t content to stay behind a podium and speak but get out serve by driving a van, shoveling snow or cleaning a mess. These people recognize that they are not above these tasks-they are willing to do whatever they need to do in order to reach their goals.

Jesus was a different story. He wasn’t different in that he didn’t do those hands-on tasks, because in every story of the gospels you see Jesus mingling and interacting with people at their level; spending quality tie with the poor and needy, fishing with Peter, even spending time playing with little kids!

Jesus was willing to do whatever task needed to be done. The difference is that he was above these tasks. As Creator of the Universe, King of Kings, and Messiah, he would have been justified in saying, “Andrew, you are in charge of children’s ministry. You play with them, I’ll sit here and teach the adults.” Instead he said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:14, ESV) He even took time to wash his disciples’ stinky, dirty, nasty feet to display what it means to be a servant.

But these are from the gospels, and this is supposed to be Gospel Outside, so lets get outside the gospels.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Philippians 2:4-11

When we are faced with an opportunity to do good, to minister and love on someone who needs another person to show they care, remember the example that the God of the Universe provided for us. He didn’t just humble himself to become the Supreme Ruler of the Earth, with each and every human being as his servant – because that truly would have been a humbling, descending from the glory of heaven and the constant worship of angels to a fallen and sinful planet he created. No, Jesus made himself nothing, a slave, the guy that does the things others aren’t willing to do. He even allowed the very creation that he not only brought into being, but whose existence he continued to sustain, to beat, torture and murder him.

And he did it for us, to provide an opportunity for you and I to have a restored relationship with God.

When you begin to think too highly of yourself, when you start to think that you are better than someone else or decide that some task is beneath you, remember that Christ came to spend time with “those types of people,” doing that stuff that you think someone else should be doing, and that someday each and every person who has ever lived will recognize the Lordship of Christ because of it.

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Gospel Outside – Don’t Lie To Yourself

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

Art by Scott Erickson. Visit www.scottericksonart.com

“Man Acquainted With Grief” by Scott Erickson

Have you ever had a problem but just wanted to pretend it wasn’t there? For the last two weeks I’ve been sick. I don’t think it has been one illness, I think I have had the luck to contract several illnesses in succession. Over those two weeks I did what I think many of us often do – I tried to pretend I wasn’t sick. I’m sure many of you have done the same thing; you show up someplace when you know you should be home resting and everyone looks at you with concern and asks, “Are you ok? You look horrible!” Despite the fact that I was obviously sick I went Christmas shopping, pretending I was fine right up until I was so exhausted by my illness that I couldn’t walk straight. I decided to go home before I face-dove into a store display.

We can be very good at pretending to avoid a reality we don’t like, and we will often carry that delusion right up until we are forced to face reality. Problems arise when we are able to avoid that reality for long periods of time and we continually perpetuate the lie we want to believe instead of facing the truth we don’t like.

We can often do this when it comes to our sin. Sometimes we like to pretend that our actions are fine when the reality is that we are really enjoying our sin. Sometimes we like to ignore some things we really should be doing and pretend that our avoidance of what God has called us to do is something other than sin. And sometimes we like to pretend that, when we ask for forgiveness from those sins after we finally own up to them, the sins simply evaporate from existence, “because Jesus.” We don’t like thinking about what that forgiveness cost.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Our forgiveness isn’t a pat on the tush and a redirection of our life, it came with a terrible cost. Sin, even the “little” sins, are a rejection and rebellion of the King of the Universe. In order for our rebellion to be forgiven and our sin to be paid for we needed someone to pay the penalty as our substitute. This was what Christ came into the world to do. The Eternal Word, the being that spoke creation into being, took our sin fully upon himself and died so that we could avoid the eternal death that is the penalty for sin.

Don’t look away from that fact. Remember what it was that the infant Christ came into the world to do – to be tortured and to die as the only human in history not to deserve what he got and the only one able to bring salvation for the rest of us. Praise God for His grace and mercy!

The art pictured here is called “Man Acquainted With Grief” by my friend Scott Erickson. Click here to go to his website and check out his other work – some very powerful and some that is just plain fun!

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Gospel Outside – Creation: Sex and Death

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

GrossNearly every culture from around the world has a creation myth. Each story is connected with that culture’s religious system and, while many are unique, there is some overlap in concepts and ideas. A couple of themes that often run through these creation myths are sex and death. Here is an example from a Babylonian creation myth featuring the chief Babylonian god Marduk;

Marduk armed himself with a bow and arrows, a club, and lightning, and he went in search of Tiamat’s monstrous army. Rolling his thunder and storms in front him, he attacked, and Kingu’s battle plan soon disintegrated. Tiamat was left alone to fight Marduk, and she howled as they closed for battle. They struggled as Marduk caught her in his nets. When she opened her mouth to devour him, he filled it with the evil wind that served him. She could not close her mouth with his gale blasting in it, and he shot an arrow down her throat. It split her heart, and she was slain.

After subduing the rest of her host, he took his club and split Tiamat’s water-laden body in half like a clam shell. Half he put in the sky and made the heavens, and he posted guards there to make sure that Tiamat’s salt waters could not escape. Across the heavens he made stations in the stars for the gods, and he made the moon and set it forth on its schedule across the heavens. From the other half of Tiamat’s body he made the land, which he placed over Apsu’s fresh waters, which now arise in wells and springs. From her eyes he made flow the Tigirs and Euphrates. Across this land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forests and the orchards.

Marduk set the vanquished gods who had supported Tiamat to a variety of tasks, including work in the fields and canals. Soon they complained of their work, however, and they rebeled by burning their spades and baskets. Marduk saw a solution to their labors, though, and proposed it to Ea. He had Kingu, Timat’s general, brought forward from the ranks of the defeated gods, and Kingu was slain. With Kingu’s blood, with clay from the earth, and with spittle from the other gods, Ea and the birth-goddess Nintu created humans. On them Ea imposed the labor previously assigned to the gods. Thus the humans were set to maintain the canals and boundary ditches, to hoe and to carry, to irrigate the land and to raise crops, to raise animals and fill the granaries, and to worship the gods at their regular festivals.

-“The Babylonian Genesis” (2nd edn.), Alexander Heidel, 1952: Chicago, University of Chicago Press, available here.

Creation myths are filled with similar ideas to this story: humanity came to be through unpleasant and unfortunate circumstances for the purpose of serving petty and power hungry gods.

Imagine being a child and hearing this story. How would you view the world if you believed your existence is based on the slaughter of some higher being, and your creation was to do the work that the lesser gods didn’t want to do? You’d grow up worried about how to please a petty god that would just as well squash you as let you live. You would know that, despite your abilities and efforts, anything you do could we wiped away at their whim. Life would have little meaning or value, so anything you do has even less value. And when life has little value, evil and selfishness run rampant, the strong prey on the weak, and hopelessness and despair reign.

It was into this world that God sent a simple message:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

This is something that we often just fly past without thinking, but it has profound meaning. The creation of our world, leading up to and including our creation, wasn’t an accident or an unfortunate side effect, it was intentional and planned from the start. And that creation was made personally by God, and in a very personal form; through his voice. God spoke creation into being, giving creation His personal attention and care.

And He took special time to create humans:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV)

Humanity was not an afterthought, it was special above the rest of creation. Humanity was made in the very image of the Creator – we bear His likeness! We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not some afterthought serving a pantheon of petty gods. Our lives are not hopeless, they are valuable beyond our imagination because God intentionally created us for a purpose – to worship and serve Him. Not by doing tasks He is unwilling or unable to do, but because He is worthy to be worshiped and praised!

So, when you are feeling down and when life starts to get to you, remember that God has specially created you with care and purpose – you are highly valued and loved by the Creator of the Universe! You are who you are because God wants you that way, and He has put you where He has you for a reason. Rest knowing that He is there for you!

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Rewind: HOPEless

In 2011, my wife Charmaine and I spent over two weeks in Thailand, meeting with refugees and pastors, learning more about the Karen people group and about international missions work with our friend Joanna, a missionary that we support. We came back in the middle of July and, 4 days later, I took a group of teenagers to Colorado for a summer missions trip. We worked with a local church that does outreach to several local apartment complexes, including a couple of locations that are filled with very low-income residents. Then, about a week after we got back from that trip, I had the honor and privilege of officiating the wedding of a former student. It was an exciting and absolutely exhausting month.

Throughout my two trips, God kept bringing the idea of hope into my mind. The history of the Karen people is very interesting, and several times in my trip it was paralleled with the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The Karen people were evangelized early in the nineteenth century by Adoniram Judson – a small people group called by God surrounded by nations that served other Gods. The Karen people were tempted to stray from God. Eventually, as was described by Karen pastors in Thailand, they strayed from the path God had called them down and God judged them, exiling them from their homes. But, like Israel, God has not done this simply for the sake of punishment or out of anger; I believe he has done this out of love and a desire to have these people reconciled to Him. It is my prayer and my belief, sparked by the prayers of the Karen pastors and leaders that I met in Thailand, that the Karen will again one day be reestablished in their homes in Burma and that they will be a shining light for the one true God in a region where they are surrounded by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The biggest struggle for the Karen leaders, as well as the biggest difference between the Karen who are showing signs of life and those that have given up, is hope. Pastors like Henry, Weelapong, and Edward (I’m changing some names for their protection) show a great deal of excitement and anticipation for what God is going to do, and they desperately pray for His will to be done. Many others, however, have given up; and who can blame them. They have been driven from their homes (some several times) by a government that hates them because of their race. They have seen friends and family members killed. They trekked through jungles barefooted, avoiding poisonous snakes and spiders and dangerous animals. They live in terrible conditions in refugee camps in a foreign land, run by foreigners that are teaching them ideas that do not mesh with their heritage. Where could anyone find hope in the midst of that?

These are homes of refugees behind barb wire; there are tens of thousands of refugees living in Mae La, making it the largest camp in Thailand.

While working with the students in Colorado, there was one apartment complex in particular that we struggled with, a place called Green Gables. Not only was Green Gables the largest of the locations that our group worked at, it was the worst off. The kids that live here spend very little time at home during the day, and the parent (almost none of the families have 2 parents) is typically happy to not have to deal with the kids. Problems that we typically expect from inner-city teens, like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and extreme attitude problems, start here around ages 7 or 8. Few kids here reach the 8th grade. When the sun goes down, almost everyone makes their way indoors because they know it isn’t safe to be outside there in the dark. Where can you find hope in that?

…look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
-2 Cor 4:18 (ESV)

The truth is, an honest assessment of any life can lead us to struggle to find hope, apart from the one thing in the universe that can give us a future worth living for – Christ. Those pastors in Thailand look not at what is currently happening or what seems likely but at what God can and will do, and they have hope. They know what God has promised for those who follow Him. In Colorado, we were told of a group of girls from Green Gables that had found hope in the Lord. They were entering High School with great grades and with optimism for what was in store for their future. They were looking past the struggles in their lives, their families, and their community to see that God has a plan for them.

God is doing amazing things, and the future is only going to fill us even more with awe and wonder at God’s amazing power. God told His people through the prophet Habakkuk;

Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told. (1:5)

God said this leading into the judgment of Assyrian and the exile of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. God was showing His people that justice would come, even when it meant judgment against Israel. God’s plan is good and, in the end, works to bring Him the glory He deserves. He will fulfill all the promises He has made, and we can live knowing that He is in control, even when life seems out of control. Justice will come, and God is going to do absolutely astounding things right before our eyes. So, despite what we see in our culture, in our economic situation, in the political situations around the world, or in our own homes, we can have hope that God is in control and that He has a plan for each of us, ultimately ending in an eternal rest with Him in glory!

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