Hopes and Fears

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).

Michael Suderman, a minister in Washington D.C. has occasion to chat with and encourage elected officials.  One member of Congress was frustrated with her constituents because their expectations were impossible.  “Politicians aren’t superheroes!” she told him.  Win or lose, emotions run high after elections and this year those flood waters are churning.  That indicates that voters could have impossible expectations or unaddressed fears. If America hopes to find the high ground of honesty, decency, and peace, politics won’t take us there.

The word “expect” is so closely linked to “hope” that the Spanish verb “esperar” captures both ideas.  Let’s separate them a bit. We might expect government leaders to do their jobs, but to say we put our hope in them is perilous.  The ancient people God chose to bring forth the Messiah were as prone to that mistake as we are.  The prophet promised a child to be born, “and the government will rest on His shoulders” (Isa. 9:6).  So, during the Roman occupation, their expectations hardly extended beyond a political solution.

They missed the big picture.  Paul quoted another ancient prophecy to them: “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations. In him the Gentiles will hope” (Rom. 15:12).  Jesse was the father of kings, yet the original source of this family would mysteriously appear later.  This person wouldn’t be a national leader but would rule nations and offer hope to all people.  That’s a far loftier expectation than overthrowing Roman rule or winning an election.  History witnessed that hope fulfilled by Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, His death on Calvary’s cross, and His resurrection from the tomb. Jesus is our hope for peace with God, and His Providence is unfazed by any political outcome.

Humans seek reasons to hope.  We yearn for a better day.  Maybe that’s because of trouble, uncertainty, and fear.  Maybe we are hard-wired to hope for abiding joy and lasting peace not realized in this life. Even when life is good, our souls are stirred with the haunting hope of a paradise already sensed but not yet seen.  Whatever the reason, we hope for life that is more sublime and transcendent than what we have experienced thus far.

Isn’t that the idea reflected in the familiar carol? “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Yes, you may have nagging fears.  Yet you soar on wings of hope in the Lord, and none other.

With Gratitude

Gratitude is good for you.  So says Amy Morin, author and therapist.  In a Forbes magazine article, she cites scientific research to make her point.

Morin reports that gratitude isn’t just good manners.  Gratitude shows you value the contributions of others, and that improves your relationships.  One study showed that grateful people are healthier.  Gratitude tamps down the toxic emotions of envy, resentment, frustration, and regret.  It even helps you sleep better!  In other words, these research results agree with the Bible that thanksgiving is vital to the human experience.  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:16).  This is yet another example of God revealing truth in the Bible for your good, long before scientists arrived.

Should you thank God when it was your friend who did you a favor?  Consider this: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).  So, sure, thank your friend.  Thank God for your friend and tell your friend as much.  Joseph Addison (18th C. British essayist) wrote, “If gratitude is due from man to man, how much more from man to his Maker?  The Supreme Being does not only confer upon us those bounties which proceed more immediately from His hand, but even those benefits which are conveyed to us by others.”

Most people aren’t looking for gratitude, hence the response, “It was nothing” (Spanish – “de nada”; French – “de rien”).  But leave it out, and it is uncomfortably obvious.  Once, Jesus was walking toward a village.  Ten men with skin disease saw Him, but maintained their social distance. “Have pity on us!” they cried.  He told them to go to the authorities to end their quarantine.  As they went, they were healed.  One rushed back to thank Jesus and praise God.  Jesus said, “Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17).  This encounter is a cautionary tale about how easy it is to omit gratitude.

Gratitude to God is the natural response when you contemplate His gifts: the beauty and complexity of the universe and our world; the provisions necessary for human existence and flourishing; the ability to think, love, and create.  As you survey God’s gifts, remember His forgiveness, purpose, and hope available to you through Christ Jesus.  Joseph Addison penned verses for a hymn about this: “When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys, transported with the view, I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Consider British writer G. K. Chesterton’s challenge: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”  Raise your soul and your quality of life by living with gratitude.



The Persistent Call

What do I do now?  How shall I live the rest of my life?  Those are the questions that can arise when something changes your life circumstances.

Culture and politics can suddenly change things, leaving you feeling like an exile in a foreign land.  That literally happened to the ancient Hebrews.  Their enemy defeated their army, destroyed their cities, and deported their leading citizens by the thousands to Babylon.  Resettled in a foreign land, they faced tough questions.  Jeremiah sent them an encouraging letter.  “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and father sons and daughters…Seek the prosperity of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity will be your prosperity” (Jer. 29:5-7).  Their calling was to live their lives, trusting the Providence of God.  They did, and God restored this exiled community to their homeland.  Their descendants witnessed the birth of a child called Immanuel, a fulfillment of their calling as a people.

Your calling in life does not change with your circumstances.  For the believer, life’s seasons come and go but your ultimate purpose remains.  Through you “God is love” comes alive to people you encounter.  Through you, God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Through you, the afflicted are delivered from evil.  Through you the broken are restored and the lost are found.  Through you, things that are true, honorable, and lovely are seen. You are one of God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9), a high calling indeed.

Someone asked a dear saint I know, an invalid octogenarian, what motivates her to wake up every day.  She replied, “Friends, family, and the world still need my prayers.” Her circumstances changed, but not her calling.  She rises to this occasion: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer” (Rom. 12:10-12).  We share that calling with her.

If you are searching how to fulfill your calling, think about what moves you, what you enjoy, or what your skills and experience are.  Then consider what is missing you can contribute, what is broken you can restore, or what is evil you can resist.  Find alignment there, and you’ll find fulfillment.  Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What do you do now?  Cherish friendships, invest your life in people, and wherever you go, take an awareness of the presence of God.  He restores and redeems.  He draws people to Himself.  And He calls you to share in that work.

Lord, I pray thou forever wouldst see, thy calling ever persisting in me.


Don’t Lose Focus

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. – Jesus

Are you too emotionally staked to the outcome of this election?  However you feel about it, don’t lose focus.  Politics is downstream of culture, and culture is the collective thoughts and actions of people.  Only Jesus has the power to give sight to the blind, wisdom to the foolish, and strength to the weak.  When He does, culture will change and so will elections.

During WWII, in Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis wrote, “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends.”  That suggests the community of believers is part of a resistance.  Our mission is to carry with us the presence, goodness, and truth of God to people under siege by a culture desperate to cancel Him.

The culture beckons people to prioritize the pursuit of entertainment, pleasure, and comfort.  That sounds like the oldest lie of all, the one the serpent whispered in the Garden of Eden:  “Ye shall be as gods.”  That’s whispered in churches, too.  Cal Thomas warns in America’s Expiration Date about “a pseudo-religion that jettisons the doctrines of historical biblical Christianity and replaces them with feel-good, vaguely spiritual nostrums.  The highest goal of the religious life is being happy and feeling good about oneself.  It’s the perfect religion for a self-centered, consumerist culture.  But it is not authentic Christian faith.”  That religion needs no Savior.  It does need politicians and their utopian promises.

Cal Thomas offers a solution for politics and culture. “If reformation and restoration is to occur, it will not come from the top down, no matter how righteous government officials appear to be.  It can only come from a restored community of believers and from the bottom up, which means it must come from you and from me.”  Apply the gospel of Christ to yourself first, and make that message your mission.

If you are to sabotage something, let it be the notion that the culture identifies the problem and the government solves it.  The greatest problem for humanity has never changed.  It is the failure to see ourselves as God does: mortally flawed, incapable of self-rescue.  The world needs a Savior, not a new religion or an old politician.

Jesus prayed, “Just as You sent Me into the world, I also sent them into the world” (John 17:18).  You are in the world, but not of it.  Don’t let politics, elections, and cultural pressure distract you from the mission.  For Christ’s sake, don’t lose your focus.


Life in the Sun

“The Lord has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Psa. 50:1).

May cancer be forever wiped from the face of the earth.  And it will be in time, either by the wisdom God gives, or by His promise of a new heaven and a new earth.  Life in the sun is more precious when long enjoyment suffers diminishing prospects due to dread disease.

Denial and anger lurk in the shadows of such dim news.  He has so much left to offer, so many who care.  She is so kind, so giving.  It isn’t fair.  It all feels so random.  Why not another someone?  Walter Hooper, secretary to C. S. Lewis, faced those thoughts during Lewis’ declining health.  He wrote, “I told Lewis that I was tempted to tell Our Lord that I thought it monstrously unfair that He should allow (a certain naughty old man) to seemingly go on forever and yet let Lewis, only 64, come close to death. ‘What is that to you?’ Lewis replied.”  Lewis had quoted the Lord’s rebuke to Peter who raised the same objection, comparing his lifespan to John’s (John 21:22).

God’s sovereignty in your life has purpose.  He “determined their appointed times…that they would seek God” (Acts 17:26-27).  But faced with the prospect of loss, it’s easy to look on the past as all that matters.  In 1973, Terry Jacks recorded the downcast “Seasons in the Sun.”  About three people close to him he sang, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.”  It’s OK to grieve for what is lost and what might have been.  Yet for the believer, the future is expectant!  It is not for us to “grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13).

Growing old also makes you think about life in the sun.  A lady of fine vintage who enjoyed writing verse bore a child some threescore years past.  He inherited that predilection. Yet I make no claim that my verse is as clever as hers.  I’m typically inspired by birthdays.  Alas, I confess and disclose my latest:

It’s my birthday and it’s a big one. Life’s a journey and I am not done.
If I have one thing to say, to borrow a phrase, if I may:
I’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when I first begun.
So I’ll rejoice, it’s been a good run. Sixty pleasant years under the sun.

What an adventure it will be to fly away from the light of one sun to that of another!  By faith, your destiny is another city, one that “has no need of the sun…for the glory of God has illumined it” (Rev. 21:23).  Journey on, Traveler, and cast a confident gaze toward life in that Son!