Monday, October 16, 2017

Where Hope Can Be Found

I don't think it's important for Christians to feel hopeful all the time. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that the most hopeful believer in Scripture is actually - Job.

You might want to read that again, because the prevailing sentiment in Christian teaching is often some version of "Christians should be the most hopeful people ever." I'm lovingly challenging the way that comment is often presented.

Such a theology has some truth in it, of course. But when you hit a stormy season - when you face a Job-type situation - that comment can quickly become overwhelming. It can feel like one more thing to add to a long to-do list.

I'm not saying that hope isn't important for Christians. What I'm saying is that hope isn't something we have to pursue. It's something we have, because of Jesus.

In a season of being wrecked, this shift in thinking can be profoundly freeing. It can move "hope" from a legalistic verb to a refreshing noun. Instead of being something we try to feel, it becomes the ground under our feet, the air we breathe, the water that fills every cell of our being. "Hope" in the Bible isn't a feeling - it is a confident expectation based on truth. Hope isn't something we do - it's something produced in us through the crucible of suffering (Romans 5:1-5). We are purified as we learn to hope in Jesus (1 John 3:3).

Perhaps surprisingly, the book of Job uses this word more than any other book in Scripture except for Psalms. I think that is likely because Job knew one of the deepest truths about hope: God Himself is a God of Hope (Romans 15:13). We never find hope by looking to a certain outcome, or by stirring up a certain emotion. Job teaches me that we can be totally grieved over our circumstances and still find hope in the truth of who God is. Job spends a lot of time talking about his frustrations and pain. He is authentically working out his suffering in the context of relationship with his Creator. But underneath it all, he knows that his Creator is the God of hope. He doesn't see it (because hope by definition is not seen - Romans 8:24), but he knows where to find it.

That's why I've come to love this song by Lauren Daigle so much. It reminds me that the kind of hope that is an anchor for my soul comes when I know where that hope is found - more specifically, when I know the One in WHOM that hope is found. True hope is Jesus. He alone is my hope. As the old song says, "My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." Not just the eternal hope of salvation, but the hope for today. The hope that gets me out of bed in the morning.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough season, avoid the legalism of "feeling hopeful". Embrace hope as the Bible presents it - the person of Jesus. When we are in His presence, we are in the environment where hope can be found - whether we feel particularly hopeful or not.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

When You're Being Wrecked

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. "Where have you come from?" the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, "I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the LORD asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan replied to the LORD, "Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, you may test him," the LORD said to Satan. "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Satan left the LORD's presence. (Job 1:6-12 NLT)

In general I think we Christians overdo the Job analogies. We get a hangnail, sore elbow, and a cold in the same week and suddenly we are having a "Job week". No condemnation - I'm including myself here!


There are seasons.

Seasons when we are being wrecked. Not in the "that song wrecked me" sense, but in the "I don't know how I'm going to look when I pick up the pieces after this season" sense.

Maybe we feel left out on a limb to figure out alone what to do.

Maybe we feel like we're losing everything that is left of ourselves. We've died to self over and over and wonder how much more there is to surrender.

Maybe we've never struggled with the goodness of God before but find ourselves in a season of fighting cynicism all the time.

Maybe it's all those things at once. We know we are trusting God, we know we are walking in faith and not fear. That we are leaning on Him. We're doing everything we know to do, everything that has worked in previous tough seasons, but suddenly, it's not working.

We don't know what else to do, and even if we did we don't have the energy to do it.

If you are in such a season, let me encourage you, as one fellow "wrecking season" traveler to another, with a simple truth that God is teaching me. Simple, but not at all easy to walk out.

Walking with Jesus as a New Testament believer means staying in relationship with Him when nothing makes sense.

I know, "Duh," right? You may be thinking "Of course we don't leave Him when it gets tough."

But if you are in a wrecking season, you know the truth I've experienced a lot lately: Some days are John 6:68 days. Faced with the reality of many disciples deserting Him, Jesus asks the Twelve a crucial question: "Are you also going to leave?" Peter's response is important here: "Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life."

Peter doesn't say that they'll stay with Jesus because things are so great. He doesn't give religious words or platitudes. He just basically says, "Where else would we turn?" He is certain of the truth, and knows that it's either Jesus or nothing.

In my season of wrecking, that is the most important truth I am holding on to.
Some days, other truths are just words on the page to me. God's goodness? Yes, I believe it, but don't feel it at times. His sovereignty? Sometimes like Job I can feel unsettled by that one. Purpose in the trial? I just want to skip the trial and get to the fruitfulness. Sometimes I don't even care if there is any. I just want it to be over.

But the words of eternal life? The heart of my faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected, saving me forever? That one keeps me coming back to the throne room day after day, sometimes crawling in tears, other times celebrating, still other days just gritting my teeth and doing it because it's on my list.

And what I am learning is that even on the days that the basics of the Gospel are all I can hold on to, when I just go to Jesus because it's either Him or nothing - that is still victory. Don't take my word for it. Listen to the Apostle John:

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." - 1 John 5:4 ESV

In the Job passage we started with, Satan wanted one thing - Job's faith. He wasn't satisfied with personal and later physical attacks. He wanted to get Job to give up on God. Job wasn't having any of it. When we are in a wrecking season, we can be sure that is what Satan wants us to do as well.

In "The Insanity of Obedience" author Nik Ripken says that Job is a New Testament voice in an Old Testament world, and his friends are Old Testament voices. That is why they couldn't grasp how Job processed what he didn't understand. While Job certainly didn't have a full understanding of the Gospel, we see clear evidences of a personal relationship with God:

Job 19:25-27 NLT 25 "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! 27 I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!"

Job 38:1 NLT Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind 
[God's words were directed at Job, personally]

If you are in a wrecking season, I highly recommend reading Job in the New Living Translation, and keep in mind Ripken's teaching on the Old Testament vs. New Testament perspectives. As I completed this over the past few weeks myself, I was able to understand much better the false arguments of Job's friends and the depth of Job's relationship with God. I saw in Job a John 6:68 type of faith - he didn't know what was happening, he didn't understand it all, but he had an unshakeable faith that there was nowhere else to turn. So he processed his pain, his anger, his resentment - every feeling imaginable - within the context of that relationship. His religious friends who lacked that relationship watched on in confusion, but Job held firm.

Remember my mention earlier of purpose? We see a glimpse of a beautiful truth in Job 1:6-12. Besides God Himself, the only ones who knew the whole story were the members of the heavenly court. God was showing off Job's faith to the whole spiritual realm. Job didn't know this, of course, but we have the full truth of God's word that gives us a similar concept:

Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Do you see it? The visible faith of the diverse people that make up the church shows God's wisdom to the spiritual realm! Just like Job, God can point us out and say "See her, she's holding on to the truth of the Gospel." "Look at him, not giving up his faith." Sometimes that might mean letting Satan try his hardest to attack us - always within God's sovereign limits. Some days, we may only hold on to that faith by crying out "Help my unbelief", remembering that faith itself is a gift.

When you're being wrecked, that might not always comfort you. But if you keep holding on to the John 6:68 faith, then I guarantee there will be a day when you can look up at Jesus and smile, knowing that you were a display of God's wisdom. 

Until then, it's perfectly all right to just feel like you are just barely getting through the day. As long as you do it with Jesus, that counts as a victory.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Patience and Suffering

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. - James 5:10-11 (NLT)

Meet my daddy, the most patient man I know.

From the photo you can see some obvious things: He is getting on in years, was a little tired this day, defers the driving to my mom.

What you don't see is the lifetime of suffering behind that crooked smile. Born in a home birth as most were in 1939, he literally suffered trauma from the day he was born - the forceps the doctor used caused cerebral palsy, a disorder of the central nervous system. The doctor didn't expect him to live through the night. He's still here almost 78 years later.

Some people with CP cannot speak, walk, or get out of a chair. My daddy is blessed that he can do all of those things. His CP has caused him a lot of pain, but it doesn't define him. He's also sharp as a tack, has a memory like you wouldn't believe (like remembering weather details of specific dates), has a corny sense of humor, and is blessedly and frustratingly stubborn.

But the reality is that he has suffered. His CP causes him to drag his right foot and makes his right arm very limited in usefulness. He is a "forced lefty" because of the limitations on his right side, and all those years of walking awkwardly have resulted in arthritis in almost every joint of his body, and severe sciatica. Most recently, a fall resulted in an elbow injury that is likely a fracture at the elbow joint (we are waiting on MRI results now). Beyond all of that, he suffered the ridicule of classmates and the limitations of a pre-ADA society. Undeterred, he graduated college, moved across the country to work two years, moved back, met my mom, married, and became my ever-patient daddy :).

Back in May, I was visiting my parents for a few days and I was hit with an insight: My daddy's patience is connected to his suffering. He simply has never been able to do anything quickly, due to his mobility issues, and so he presses on, slowly but surely, the tortoise that wins the race due to sheer persistence.

As I have reflected on it in the weeks since, I realize what a wonderful example my daddy is of the truth James is presenting in his example of Job. Patience comes as we press on in our suffering, remaining persistent and enduring, not stoically or passively, but actively, in faith, continuing to walk the walk, even if every step is painfully slow, like it is for my daddy.

Perseverance means we keep going. One of the fruits we will see from the effort is an increased patience. We will experience God's tenderness and mercy in new ways.

Keep pressing on today. It's worth it - and not without purpose.