Where Have You Buried Your Hopes?

Christians must learn again what Christians have always known – how to live without immediate hopes in the world. – T. R. Milford

Where is your hope…really?

I don’t think we ever know the answer to this sort of question until the rug has been thoroughly yanked out from under us. When we lose all of our self-support, those wires that have been holding us up for so long, when they come unhooked, that’s when we begin to face that question, where is my hope? What is it really built upon?

First of all, when you use the word HOPE, what do you mean?

I hope I make it to the end of the day, I’m so tired!

I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.

I hope that I’m going to be able to make all “A’s”.

That’s not the same kind of hope that God provides us with. That’s wishing. For the believer, hope is an unseen assurance that we cling to in order to sustain us while we travel through the good times and bad times. Hope is something certain.

Remember the classic hymn?

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.

When you use the word hope, from now on, use it as a spiritual truth not as a wishful thought. Think about the word hope as a noun. Build your life, each personal decision and interaction with others on the reality of your hope. Decide to let eternal truth drive your expectations.

Use it like a wedding ring of promise. Hang on to it like a banister on a dark staircase. Trust it like the look of your child asking for help.

So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Voice)

The next time your rug gets yanked, set your eyes on something certain. The hope that your God will never fail you, will never abandon you (Hebrews 13:5). It’s a promise that’s certain.

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Asking “What?” Instead of “Why?”

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” ― John Kenneth Galbraith

Sometimes we can get stuck in a very frustrating loop, trying to understand our situation. Usually because our life isn’t going the way we had hoped. What can make these experiences so much more frustrating is not knowing WHY everything has gone wrong. Our search for the answers to these kinds of questions can’t be found and in our frustration, anger and sorrow, we just keeping asking – like a broken record.

I’ve been asking a lot of why questions over the past five years…I sound like a broken record

I assigned one of my classes a TED Talk to watch this week. I wanted students to learn about their level of self-awareness. The psychologist giving the talk has done research on self-awareness and published a best selling book on the subject. She offered a remarkable strategy to raise self-awareness and success at solving many of own difficulties.

Her advice, based on careful research, is to stop asking WHY when we are faced with obstacles and set-backs. Instead, rephrase our frustrations and ask instead, WHAT questions.

  • Why did my career end like this…becomes
    What are the next steps I need to take to start over?
  • Why was my spouse unfaithful to me…becomes
    What can I do to rebuild my marriage, step by step?
  • Why do I feel so alone in the world…becomes
    What should I do each day to be a better friend to others?

Asking these kinds of WHAT questions starts us on a more constructive path. We stop blaming everyone and everything else for our particular situations and instead find ways to take responsibility (when we can) for our own life. I think it’s a very healthy strategy for changing direction and getting out of the rut that we sometimes get stuck in. I’m going to try it. In so doing, I stand a better chance of expanding my own self-awareness.

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”  ― Meister Eckhart

The reason I have my class working on this assignment is because I want them to think about their own spiritual selves. This can be tough for young people who are just now starting to try their wings as adults. Many are not very self-aware, yet. I think that’s a crucial first step to spiritual awakening.

As seasoned adults, we may not be that different from first year college students when it comes to being self-aware and ready to be spiritually awake. I make many of the same kinds of mistakes. I’m not always as wise and mature as I thought I’d be at this point in my journey.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  – James 3:17

When I spend more time and effort reflecting, I’m certain that this is NOT the consistent kind of wisdom that rules my life.  The first step to making a change is to start thinking about the way I’m thinking.

What sets us apart (older adults) is our experience – trips around the block. Once we learn our lesson, it’s typically easier to figure our way out because we have more resources (both people and wisdom) to work with. Despite these resources, even older adults (like me) need some prodding when it comes to self-awareness.

That’s why I offer this bit of wisdom to you today – something I’m trying to learn myself. Start thinking more clearly about the kinds of questions you are asking yourself when you find yourself stuck in a bad situation. It really is possible to ask your way out of misery.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

 

 

Why Do We Pray, Part 4

We pray out of persistence.

“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” – Luke 11:5-8

Because we have no where else to go…

Because we have absolute trust in God…

Because we have developed a habit of knocking on that door…

Because we know where the real answers lie…

Jesus uses this story to teach us all that when we pray, the one thing we must never do is give up. Faith will never grow in an environment of disbelief, always afraid to stick it’s neck out. Persistence works wonders, even on frustrated neighbors. How effective it must be with God who awaits our searching hearts.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  – Luke 11:9-10

The answers that we seek are to be found at the end of a very persistent journey. Giving up quickly communicates all sorts of messages to others, to me and to God.

  • I’m not really counting on this
  • I can probably take of this myself
  • Who knows what might happen, but I’ll give this a shot
  • Does God really care about what happens to me?

Jesus doesn’t seem to focus much on the answers in his lesson. Developing the habit of prayer. Sticking with it. All the spiritual character that gets built by this practice. This is what enables us to receive a gift larger than any we could ever pray to receive. Praying persistently transforms us.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”  – Luke 11:11-13

Notice the two big lessons here?  God loves us like a parent. How often do you think about God in this way? This was a new kind of idea to Jesus’ audience who had God all figured out as a distant and stern figure. Prayer isn’t about getting something. At its heart, it’s about a relationship. You can’t have a very meaningful relationship with anyone built only on tweets.

The second lesson is that in answer to your prayers He wants to give you a gift you didn’t even know you needed. A bigger gift than you could imagine. He wants to give you Himself. His very Spirit to reside within you to guide, comfort and empower you.

The path to God’s ear is not a difficult or hidden quest. He is awaiting the persistent children who will come knocking, but with certainty.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ― Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933, 30th President of the United States)

Why Do We Pray? Part 3

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:2-3

One of the best ways to know someone’s heart and mind is to spend time praying for them. Once you make that kind of commitment, to invest yourself into someone’s life, you begin to fulfill the law of Christ. Instead of just talking about love, praying for someone “puts your money where your mouth is.”

Why is intercessory prayer so important?

When someone asks me how they can pray for me it takes away a part of the burden. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a friendly exchange, like “what can I do to help?” or “we’re here if you ever need anything.” But other times I can see (by someone’s persistence) that they mean it, they want to pray and help share in the burden I’m hauling around. And it works.

When you tell someone you want to help by praying for them, take a hold of their arm, look him/her in the eye closely and say in a determined voice – I am going to pray for you, tell me how. Why not stop right then and there and just pray?

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.  -Ephesians 6:18

When others are praying for me, it’s a constant reminder that when I’m going through the storm I know I’m not alone. Maybe that’s most of the terror – the darkness of being alone while suffering. Practicing our faith means being faithful to pray for others AND to go public with this practice. Being faithful means being accountable. When I promise to pray, I’m also making a commitment to stand with someone through their storm.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.  – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

God involves more of his church in his will for our lives when we participate in intercessory prayer. When the church received the Holy Spirit the first report was that they were of one heart and one mind. The more they prayed for one another, the stronger their bonds of love grew. They began to sell their possessions and give to those in need. When we pray for others, when our bonds of love grow our actions become shaped by God’s will. It becomes more normal for us to love God and to love others.

When we pray for each other – we are making the work of God here on earth that much more real. We are participating in heaven on earth.

I don’t know how people survive some of the disasters that come in life. I have said so many times that having this cloud of witnesses all around who are praying for me and with me every step of the way have kept me alive through thick and thin.

For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. – Philippians 1:19

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

What should you do right now?

  1. Find people to pray for, tell them and make sure they know you mean it
  2. Check in regularly to find out how your prayers have been answered
  3. Be persistent in your praying – keep the burden in front of everyone’s eyes and in front of God
  4. Make praying an integral part of your daily routine – talk to God about all the people in your life – consider it a sacred duty.

“Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.” – E.M. Bounds

Why Do We Pray? Part 2

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. – Psalm 34:8

This one is for you Rosemary…

I’m sharing in the mourning of a sister in the faith who has had her mother suddenly taken away from her by the flu. A friend from the past has just posted that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer. Our own family lives every day wondering what will happen next in our own battle with cancer.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

I’m certain that one of the reasons we all pray is that we have been attacked by terrible enemies and we run to safety. We run to our Heavenly Father who promises us that He will always be near to us. Despite all of the fear, sorrow and uncertainty – what we really want, deep down is to know that God is not a stranger, He is not far away, He knows our pain, His desire is to bring comfort and hope.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. – Hebrews 10:23-24

One of the reasons we all pray is because of our need to experience the nearness of God. Praying puts us in the very presence of God. When we pray we can pour out not just our words, but our torn up feelings, burdens of the heart and deep dark questions. All of this can be done in the best place of all, right at the feet of God.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  – Hebrews 4:16

There are a hundred other places you see people run when difficulties arrive. Our friends can help, but only so far. Soon we come to the end of what they know and how much they can bear. We live in a world full of experts just a tap and a click away. But who can you really trust? A stranger in a book or online?

The world that we pass through each day is more and more filled with strangers. Our families are fragmenting. We change jobs too frequently to make lasting friendships. We compete with more people than we can be friends with. Our neighbors remain strangers behind closed doors. Where do we go to share our broken hearts?

When you carry around a broken heart all that ever happens is an ever deepening infection of the soul and bad country western lyrics.

Your church can be, should be, a place where there are people who unconditionally love and are eager to help bear your burdens. You need to go to church, there are all kinds of people there who need you. There are people there who you need.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

 

Why Do We Pray?

“When life caves in, you do not need reasons – you need comfort. You do not need some answers – you need someone. And Jesus does not come to us with an explanation, He comes with Himself.” – Bob Benson

Why do we pray? There are many answers to this question. On most we could all agree. Still, I think there are some reasons that are hidden and secret, known only to God.

Here is my start at addressing some of the reasons why I think we pray, why I pray, why God has called all of us to pray.

We pray because we are alone and powerless.

We have all drifted away with our busy lives and then a crisis strikes. There is so much we can fix on our own. These may not be perfect solutions but they are ours. Then something strikes at us that’s just too much. Our self-sufficiency cannot protect us. Most of us want answers right away. An easy and painless solution that will solve the looming threat. Don’t you?

Instead, what we need is a nearness to the living God. The great distraction is the search for a fix. Unfortunately, it is an endless quest, to find answers to problems for a life that keeps coming unraveled. Isn’t there a way to live and experience less aloneness and accomplish more?

For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

Here Jesus is teaching about the vine and the branches. He is the source of our life and we are to live attached to him, branching out from him, growing out of his will and way.

  1. It seems that we are meant to be doing something with our lives, something that matters.
  2. The plan all along has been to be with God, to live a life that is always in fellowship with him.
  3. To live apart is a disaster, not just a preference (life choice). Read the rest of the parable. Do you smell smoke?
  4. When we pray, we are joined with God – our heart, mind and soul. We all need to live a daily life of prayer so that we will be less prone to wander away from our Heavenly Father.

Our aloneness isn’t the cause of our inner struggles, it’s the effect of living separated from God. What are you doing, thinking, worrying, planning, auto-piloting, judging, failing, reaching? Why are we living any aspect of our lives apart from God?

I doubt most of us consciously make decisions to wander away from our relationship with God. Instead, I think we get distracted by the cares of life. Fast-paced living sets my spiritual attention into an automatic mode. Rituals and routines lose their meaning and purpose. Sometimes I look up and wonder about all the miles and sights that I’ve missed. My attention and soul was somewhere else. What about you?

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10

Apart from walking with Jesus each day, you cannot live the rich and satisfying life that he intends for you to live now.  You cannot live in fellowship with God unless you are living in a conversational and transformational relationship. You have to be on speaking terms. You have to realize that things are never going to stop changing. This is an essential reminder that I must look in the eye each day.

Look at what Paul wrote about a life lived in fellowship with God:

“When I think of all this (God’s mysterious plan), I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”  – Ephesians 3:14-21

Paul had to remain conscious of what God had, was and will do in His great plan. That consciousness on his part was a constant reminder that he was never alone and God’s transformative power was always at work.

Lasting transformation isn’t going to happen on my own. No matter how many self-help books I buy at the airport. We all need a supernatural relationship. Living near to God matters. Living away from him is a fully furnished house you walk around in all alone at night.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. – Psalm 73:28

Seeing is Believing

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich

Another wonderful sermon on Sunday. We were reminded about “Doubting Thomas” who had to see in order to believe.

Faith and doubt is difficult to write about. We all believe right up until we start to doubt. Our doubts can  help us to keep a check on our faith, never taking it for granted. You can imagine the theological discussions that Thomas must have had with his fellow disciples after he declared he’d have to see to believe.   

“If you don’t have doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”― Frederick Buechner

Our doubts center on how far we should wade in. How much are we willing to risk by stepping out and living parts of our life according to our beliefs. Doubt describes this tension between risk and trust.

Poor Saint Thomas. More like all the rest of us than perhaps any other disciple. At least during this event. He had been left out of the visitation of the Risen Christ, off doing something else and had missed the glorious moment. What must he have been thinking, what could have been more important? He’d been left out of the big adventure and must have felt lonely, angry and/or even discouraged.

Maybe we spend too much time being miserable about our past mistakes. Future hopes and dreams can dull the here and now. We miss so many chances because we’re not living in the present. Thomas was literally absent. So to can we be absent from our faith and miss the very presence of Christ.

Sometimes God will come and get right in your face. Jesus certainly did that with Thomas.

 “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” – John 20:27

Thomas paid attention to his encounter and it changed his life forever. He was ready to believe.

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. – John 20:28

I’m afraid that I’ve too often been looking in the wrong direction. Too often filled up with myself. Thomas put all that aside and reached out with faith and grabbed a hold of his Savior. What about you? Are you always ready to believe?

The Christian faith is a lot like that encounter Thomas had with Jesus. It’s very “hands-on.” You can’t coast along on the faith of someone else. You can’t sit in the pew for too long and hope to make it when that 800 year flood hits. You have to get up and wade into your belief.

Thomas was challenged to stick his fingers into the very side of the Risen Christ. What must he have thought as Jesus looked him in the eye and grabbed his hand? If you are going to follow Christ, you are going to have to take some risks and even get uncomfortable. Where are those boundaries in your life?

Thomas had to see with his own eyes. He had heard the words of faith for for three years. Now it was time to put it into real practice. He just didn’t realize the time was now. Everything was moving so fast. Walking in faith is often like that, it can sneak up and suddenly challenge us to get out of the boat and step into the storm.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” – John 20:29

Are you becoming one of the blessed?

There’s nothing wrong with doubts. Jesus didn’t reject Doubting Thomas, he made a special visit to assure him. God isn’t mad because we don’t believe enough, he’s instead offering so much more, encouraging us to believe more and more each day.

For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

It all makes me wonder, why am I not demonstrating my faith so that others have something more to see? What might walking and talking my faith produce?

  1. It would increase my own eternal health. Each time I take a step of faith, I confront my own doubts. I reassert in my heart and mind why belief is so crucial.  Putting faith into practice confronts my own weakness and lethargy of spirit.
  2. Instead of blending in all the time I could provide an alternative. I can live my life as an example to the unbelieving elements of my culture. My life choices can serve as a beacon.
  3. My walk of faith can inspire the faith of others. There are people in my path who need to be encouraged to live a life of faith. I can be like Thomas to those around me and demonstrate doubts converted into undying faith.

 

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky