When There’s No Hope, What Then?

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In the fall of 1997 I found myself living outside of a Cardiac Care Unit. For seven nights I slept on the floor of the waiting room of a hospital in Huntsville, Alabama. I was not there because I was a pastor. Granted, I have spent my fair share of time at hospitals doing my duty. This time, I was there because I was a son, and my mother, eighty-three years of age, was lying in the bed of room six of the Cardiac Care Unit on the sixth floor with tubes running in and out of her body. She was dying.

For the prior three years, she had been in and out of the hospital every other month due to congestive heart failure. My two brothers and two sisters knew that this time was the most frightening. The night before I had left my home in Chicago to fly to Alabama. Her heart had stopped. Through the valiant efforts of the nursing staff it was restarted. She was in a most serious condition.

After several days of employing various drugs and treatments, Dr. Cash, the cardiologist, spoke with the family as he did each day. This time there was deep concern on his youthful face and his voice trembled. He described her present condition. She was weakening and not responding to the treatment. He spoke of how our mother had been very firm and clear in instructing him not to prolong her life through artificial means. He said very nervously, “There is still a slim chance for her recovery, but I am putting DNR on her charts.”

DNR. Meaning if her heart failed again the hospital staff was instructed Do Not Resuscitate.

DNR carries not only the overt meaning, but those three words also carry an unwritten message: There is no hope.

While I realized the severity of my mother’s condition, it still came as a jolt to hear those words and to understand their meaning.

A Man of Hope
The cloud of confusion and despair that hung over my family for the next several days is similar to the dark storm that pervaded the globe nearly two thousand years ago. The world was enveloped in a deep darkness.

Into that dark room of despair, there walked a Galilean carpenter, a miracle man, and a promise of hope. He proclaimed the stirring message of God’s love and God’s life. He demonstrated it by raising people from the dead. The ministry of Jesus of Nazareth instilled hope in the hearts of many. His presence gave birth to optimism. His actions righted wrongs and brought decency and order back to a crooked world. Perhaps, the future was not bleak after all. Perhaps, he was the one to resuscitate a dying world.

But the renewed optimism, the hope, was once again dashed. On a bleak Friday morning, Jesus’ enemies took him prisoner, and after a mock trial, soldiers nailed the hope-bearer to a cross. Once more, hatred and evil seemed to speak the last word. Do Not Resuscitate. Hope has died.

Three Words
On the cross Jesus’ final utterance was “It is finished” (John 19:30). Stop and listen. Can you imagine the cry from the cross? The sky is dark. The earth is rumbling. The other two victims are moaning. The jeering crowd is silent. Possibly there is thunder. Possibly there is weeping. Then Jesus draws his last breath, pushes his feet down on that rusty Roman nail, and cries three final words, “It is finished.”

I doubt that anyone on that hill with him would have disagreed with that observation.

Surely, the chief priests and scribes rubbed their hands together and agreed: “Finished indeed! No longer do we have to worry about this young upstart threatening the status quo of the religion of our fathers. He’s dead and gone.” The soldiers could see that it was finished. The distasteful duty of this execution was nearly over so they could return to their barracks. The friends of Jesus also saw that it was finished. Their hopes were dashed on the rocks of disappointment. Their dreams for a prosperous and peaceful tomorrow were finished. Hope had died. There wasn’t much to do but to go home and take care of the burial proceedings.

The disciples stood secluded, a far distance from the cross, like I stood with my family at the sterile nurse’s station, a short distance from my mother’s bed. The disciples heard the three words “It is finished.” I heard the three words “Do Not Resuscitate.” For both the disciples and me these words carried the same poignant meaning: There is no hope.

What was finished, though?

While the disciples heard one thing, Jesus meant another. What did he mean? The job of salvation for the souls of humanity was finished. The song had been sung. The blood had been poured. The sacrifice had been made. The sting of death had been removed. It was over. Finished.

Was it a cry of defeat? Hardly. John is the only gospel writer that recalls these three words of Jesus—“It is finished.” But the other gospel writers mention how he uttered them: with “a loud voice” (Matt. 27:46, Mk. 15:37, Lk. 23:46). In Greek the words are phone megale, which transposed and transliterated, begins to look familiar: a mega-phone. This was not a cry, but a cheer. Jesus was not proclaiming tragedy, but heralding triumph. His was a shout, not of utter despair, but of undying hope. Had his hands not been fastened down I dare say that a triumphant fist would have punched the dark sky.

Did he know something that the disciples didn’t? Yes. Jesus knew that while the world was in chaos, heaven was calm. While Satan seemed to have the upper hand, God was still on his throne. While death was dancing its final number, life was about to spring forth into a new beginning. While despair lingered over the disciples like a storm cloud, hope was about to break through like the sun after a thunderstorm. The Son was in the tomb, the Father was preparing for his glorious resurrection.

The Miracle of Miracles
And on Sunday morning, the miracle of miracles happened. The stone sealing the tomb’s entrance was rolled away. The tomb was empty. Mary Magdalene saw it first. Then Mary, the mother of James. Then Salome. They came to anoint his body with spices. Jesus was not there. He was gone. They were bewildered. What happened? Where was the body? Who had taken it? An angel provided the answer: “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” (John 16:6).

Three words: He has risen. But, oh, the impact of those words. In one grand “swoosh” the times were changed, B.C. became A.D. The impact of that moment can be felt like an earthquake through the centuries because hope came to life.

It is only three little words: He has risen. But because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his finished work on the cross, we can be resuscitated. The empty tomb changes our pessimism and despair into optimism and hope. It reminds us that there are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them. In the end, the last words don’t belong to doctors or death; they don’t belong to soldiers and syncs. The last words belong to Jesus.

A Message of Hope
On Sunday morning, September 21, 1997, ten days after I had arrived in Alabama to be with my family, my mother died. Her heart stopped. The nurses, per their instructions, did not resuscitate her. She slipped through the chains of death and entered a new life in a glorious resurrection. It was her Easter. She met her Savior. She was ready, prepared, for she had faith.

As with any death, the days following were difficult. Yet my family and I weathered this storm with the same courage and strength that our mother fought her battle with death. My mother worked every day of her life up until her last year when the doctors ordered her to stop. The last half of her life was spent operating a small-town shoe store.

When my twin brother and I walked into the store a few days after her death, getting her affairs in order, we noticed a sign she had written. Somehow in all the cleaning and removing of things this one had been left behind. I spotted the hand-lettered sign, hanging a little unevenly, just as she had left it. It spoke her final words to us. The sign read: “Gone for a little while. Will be with you soon.”

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5 Strategies for Defeating the Devil

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We fight battles with the devil every day. Sometimes it is over morality. Sometimes it is over being ethical and honest. Sometimes the battleground is out in the open with other people and how we could relate to them. Sometimes it is in the privacy of our mind as we are bombarded with ungodly and impure thoughts. Sometimes the battle is waged in a momentary furry such as a sharp criticism of another. Sometimes it is a prolonged conflict as a nagging doubt or a debilitating emotional pain.

The Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. Every day, every hour, and every minute we are under attack. We are in a war.  It is invisible, yet, real war.  We are fighting a foe with highly organized strategies, tactics, and battle plans.  If we do not understand these facts, we will lose the battle.

The fact is that we will never be sinless, but we can sin less. We can do this by understanding how to defeat the enemy. Our understanding has everything to do with our victory. As believers in Christ, we are in a position to defeat Satan and win this war.

Understand your power . . .

We are not wimps, who when attacked by the devil and his bullies have to turn tail and run. We are reliable, mighty, and powerful.  But this power comes not from ourselves. We are not strong in our strength but in the Lord’s strength.  We are not mighty and powerful in our abilities but in God’s.

Once we understand our power, we, therefore, refuse to be intimidated. We already have the victory. We as believers in Jesus Christ are not fighting for victory but from victory. The victory against Satan has already been won at Calvary through the death of Jesus on the cross. He fought the battle for us and won.

Satan is the ultimate source of evil and our ultimate enemy. He is a personal, supernatural spirit-being with great powers and strength. But, and hear this, he is a defeated power. While he is powerful, he is not all-powerful. While he strong, his strength is limited.

Jesus, on the other hand, is all-powerful and strong. We fight from his vantage point. We do not have to be intimidated by Satan. We do not have to be bullied around by him. We already have won the victory.

Put on your protection . . .

Many police officer’s lives had been spared because they were wearing a bulletproof vest. These vests are incredibly strong even though they are only about three-eighths  of an inch thick. They are made of dozens of layers of an extremely though fabric—Kevlar.

As believers, we have even better protection than a bulletproof vest when we do battle with Satan—the full armor of God. We are going to war. To go into the fight without the whole armor of God is as foolish as walking onto the front lines of a military battle dressed for a game of tennis.

Unfortunately, many believers chose not to put on the armor—their bulletproof vest. They are spiritual “streakers.” Doing battle in the buff.

In reality, this armor is not a “what;” it is a “who.” The armor is the person of Jesus Christ. Paul instructed the Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:14 NIV). Jesus is not only in us, through his power; he is also on us, with the armor of God.

Once we put on our protection, we, therefore, resist the tempter. Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” We have been given this protective armor to resist them, not the temptation. The Bible says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NIV). Nowhere in Scripture are we told to resist the temptation. The failure to understand and employ this strategy is where so many believers stumble and fall.

A little boy was asked how he overcame temptation in his life. The boy responded, “When temptation knocks on the door of my heart, I send Jesus, and Satan is gone.”

Be prepared . . .

An army that only digs in and holds the line will eventually be rooted out and defeated. In this battle with the devil, God not only provides us with a sturdy and protective defensive position, but he also unveils a potent offensive weapon.

The Word of God is a sharp sword that is used by the believer to cut the life and energy out of Satan’s attacks. This weapon unleashes supernatural powers to thwart the attacks.

Jesus used this weapon when he did battle with Satan in the wilderness. Three times Satan sought to trick and deceive Jesus, yet each time Jesus responded: “It is written . . .” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Jesus did not resist the temptation. He went on the attack with the Word of God. Jesus won the battle by knowing God’s Word and putting it into practice and use. He was prepared.

Once prepared we, therefore, refocus our attention on God’s Word. If we redirect our focus on God’s     Word, the power of the temptation will be decreased. A psychological law states whatever gets our attention gets us. We may say I’m not going to eat that dessert but eventually we will. We may try to convince ourselves that we are not going to get angry, but ultimately, we do. We move toward whatever we focus on.

Practice the presence . . .

When we talk with God through prayer, we invite his presence into our lives. When we walk into the war, we never go alone. God goes with us. His presence accompanies us. God has promised, “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:5,6 NIV). We may not see him, but he see s us. He watches over us.

When we are in the presence of God we, therefore, request God’s attendance. We can’t defeat Satan ourselves. We need help. Through prayer, God builds a hedge around us. In the Bible, a hedge was constructed around vineyards and growing fields much like fences or walls today that keep animals and unwanted intruders out. When the hedge was trampled or removed, ruin came to the precious possessions of the landowners.

How does the hedge of protection work? Simple. God’s presence sensitizes us to the things of God and the things that dishonor God. The hedge created by the presence of God is like an invisible fence that many homeowners have. It can’t be seen, but once the pet goes beyond the limit, the undetected alarm goes off. A hedge or boundary has been established. Or, it could be compared to radar. As we travel through life and encounter enemy attacks, a warning light goes off. Our spirit is sensitized to what pleases him, and we keep on doing those things, and it sensitizes us to what displeases him, and the warning signal goes off, so we know not to cross that boundary.

We’ve all had an internal alarm go off warning us incoming danger. This is God’s way of warning us. The signal is strong as long as we are in close contact with the Father.

We can either pray to the Savior or become the prey of Satan. Remember that Jesus fought the most significant battles in life, and he prayed the most.

 

Align with partners . . .

One of the most overlooked tactics of fighting this battle with the evil one is thinking we fight this battle alone. We are not to engage the enemy single-handedly. We not only need God’s help. We need the strength and support of other bel ievers.

The war being waged is not a solo event. We struggle and fight as a platoon, a team, a family. We all are engaged in the fight.

As in any conflict, there is strength in numbers. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12 NIV). The power, the protection, the preparation, and the presence are heightened in partnership with other believers.

When we have partners we, therefore, reveal our struggles to a trusted friend. One of the most helpful tactics in defeating Satan is to enlist the aid and help and support of a fellow believer. This can’t be just anyone, but someone who can pray with us and for us and hold us accountable. It needs to be a man-to-man and woman-to-woman relationship. This person must hold confidences and be extremely trustworthy.

Defeating the devil means having Jesus in your life, putting him on your life, allowing him to work through your life, sensing him with you at all times. In essence, Jesus is to be your life.

 

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5 Strategies for Defeating the Devil

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Her defenses were down. She had kissed guys, but not like this. She had never wanted to go all the way before, but now she did. Was it love? It must be. She had never felt like this before.

Karen grew up in Sunday School and church. She was not a tramp. She was not cheap. She could be anybody’s sweet girl next door.

She knew all the “thou shalt not’s” including the seventh. But in a moment, she threw it away. Why? Was it the mood? The moment? The man? No. It was none of these things. Karen had a battle with the devil and lost. Oh, she never knew it was Satan. Never. In fact, if someone would suggest that as the reason she shed her virginity like an old coat, she would have laughed it off. But that is what happened.

We all fight battles like the one Karen fought every day. Sometimes it is over morality. Sometimes it is over being ethical and honest. Sometimes the battleground is out in the open with other people and how we could relate to them. Sometimes it is in the privacy of our mind as we are bombarded with ungodly and impure thoughts. Sometimes the battle is waged in a momentary furry such as a sharp criticism of another. Sometimes it is a prolonged conflict as a nagging doubt or a debilitating emotional pain.

The Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. Every day, every hour, and every minute we are under attack. We are in a war. It is invisible, yet, real war. We are fighting a foe with highly organized strategies, tactics, and battle plans. If we do not understand these facts, we will lose the battle.

The fact is that we will never be sinless, but we can sin less. We can do this by understanding how to defeat the enemy. Our understanding has everything to do with our victory. As believers in Christ, we are in a position to defeat Satan and win this war.

Understand your power . . .

We are not wimps, who when attacked by the devil and his bullies have to turn tail and run. We are reliable, mighty, and powerful. But this power comes not from ourselves. We are not strong in our strength but in the Lord’s strength. We are not mighty and powerful in our abilities but in God’s.

Once we understand our power, we, therefore, refuse to be intimidated. We already have the victory. We as believers in Jesus Christ are not fighting for victory but from victory. The victory against Satan has already been won at Calvary through the death of Jesus on the cross. He fought the battle for us and won.

Satan is the ultimate source of evil and our ultimate enemy. He is a personal, supernatural spirit-being with great powers and strength. But, and hear this, he is a defeated power. While he is powerful, he is not all-powerful. While he strong, his strength is limited.

Jesus, on the other hand, is all-powerful and strong. We fight from his vantage point. We do not have to be intimidated by Satan. We do not have to be bullied around by him. We already have won the victory.

Put on your protection . . .

Many police officer’s lives had been spared because they were wearing a bulletproof vest. These vests are incredibly strong even though they are only about three-eighths of an inch thick. They are made of dozens of layers of an extremely though fabric—Kevlar.

As believers, we have even better protection than a bulletproof vest when we do battle with Satan—the full armor of God. We are going to war. To go into the fight without the whole armor of God is as foolish as walking onto the front lines of a military battle dressed for a game of tennis.

Unfortunately, many believers chose not to put on the armor—their bulletproof vest. They are spiritual “streakers.” Doing battle in the buff.

In reality, this armor is not a “what” it is a “who.” The armor is the person of Jesus Christ. Paul instructed the Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:14 NIV). Jesus is not only in us, through his power; he is also on us, with the armor of God.

Once we put on our protection, we, therefore, resist the tempter. Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” We have been given this protective armor to resist them, not the temptation. The Bible says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NIV). Nowhere in Scripture are we told to resist the temptation. The failure to understand and employ this strategy is where so many believers stumble and fall.

A little boy was asked how he overcame temptation in his life. The boy responded, “When temptation knocks on the door of my heart, I send Jesus, and Satan is gone.”

Be prepared . . .

An army that only digs in and holds the line will eventually be rooted out and defeated. In this battle with the devil, God not only provides us with a sturdy and protective defensive position, but he also unveils a potent offensive weapon.
The word of God is a sharp sword that is used by the believer to cut the life and energy out of Satan’s attacks. This weapon unleashes supernatural powers to ward off attacks and reveal the flaws and weakness of the assault.

Jesus used this weapon when he did battle with Satan in the wilderness. Three times Satan sought to trick and deceive Jesus, yet each time Jesus responded: “It is written . . .” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Jesus did not resist the temptation. He went on the attack with the Word of God. Jesus won the battle by knowing God’s Word and putting it into practice and use. He was prepared.

Once prepared we, therefore, refocus our attention on God’s Word. If we redirect our focus on God’s Word, the power of the temptation will be decreased. A psychological law states whatever gets our attention gets us. We may say I’m not going to eat that dessert but eventually we will. We may try to convince ourselves that we are not going to get angry, but ultimately, we do. We have a tendency to move toward whatever we focus on.

Practice the presence . . .

When we talk with God through prayer, we invite his presence into our lives. When we walk into the war, we never go alone. God goes with us. His presence accompanies us. God has promised, “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:5,6 NIV). We may not see him, but he sees us. He watches over us.

When we are in the presence of God we, therefore, request God’s attendance. We can’t defeat Satan ourselves. We need help. Through prayer, God builds a hedge around us. In the Bible, a hedge was constructed around vineyards and growing fields much like fences or walls today that keep animals and unwanted intruders out. When the hedge was trampled or removed, ruin came to the precious possessions of the landowners.

How does the hedge of protection work? Simple. God’s presence sensitizes us to the things of God and the things that dishonor God. The hedge created by the presence of God is like an invisible fence that many homeowners have. It can’t be seen, but once the pet goes beyond the limit, the undetected alarm goes off. A hedge or boundary has been established. Or, it could be compared to radar. As we travel through life and encounter enemy attacks, a warning light goes off. Our spirit is sensitized to what pleases him, and we keep on doing those things, and it sensitizes us to what displeases him, and the warning signal goes off, so we know not to cross that boundary.

Have you ever gotten into a situation, engaged in a conversation, or become entangled in a set of circumstances and thought something was wrong? You might say, “This just does not feel right. I can’t put my finger on it, but I need to get out of this situation.” That is your spiritual alarm going off in your spirit. That is God’s way of warning you of danger. And the signal is strong and felt as long as you are close in your relationship with God. When you veer away from his presence, the signal becomes weak. So, if you want the message to remain loud and clear stay in close contact with the Father.

We can either pray to the Savior or become the prey of Satan. Remember that Jesus fought the most significant battles in life, and he prayed the most.

Align with partners . . .

One of the most overlooked tactics of fighting this battle with the evil one is thinking we fight this battle alone. We are not to engage the enemy single-handedly. We not only need God’s help. We need the strength and support of other believers.
The war being waged is not a solo event. We struggle and fight as a platoon, a team, a family. We all are engaged in the fight.

As in any conflict, there is strength in numbers. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12 NIV). The power, the protection, the preparation, and the presence are heightened in partnership with other believers.

The Bible depicts Satan as a lion. Lions in Africa prey on weak, unsuspecting animals who have wandered away from the protection of the herd. Likewise, the devil prowls around to deceive and devour those unsuspecting, weak Christians who have strayed off from the pack of other believers. Believers who refuse to submit to the accountability of other believers in the local church find themselves isolated and defenseless— good prey for the crafty deceiver.

When we have partners we, therefore, reveal our struggles to a trusted friend. One of the most helpful tactics in defeating Satan is to enlist the aid and help and support of a fellow believer. This can’t be just anyone, but someone who can pray with us and for us and hold us accountable. It needs to be a man-to-man and woman-to-woman relationship. This person must hold confidences and be extremely trustworthy.

Defeating the devil means having Jesus in your life, putting him on your life, allowing him to work through your life, sensing him with you at all times. In essence, Jesus is to be your life.

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What Are You Thinking?

Man in lake water at sunset. Beautiful sunset with man silhouette

Solomon wrote, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (Prov. 4:23 GN). It’s been said, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” Mohandas Gandhi wrote, “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

The way we think determines the way we feel, and the way we feel determines the way we act. So if you want to change your actions, change the way you think. If you want to change your attitudes, change the thoughts you put in your mind.

Granted this is easier said than done. But let me give you some practical steps for positive thoughts.

1. Make your first thoughts God-directed.
Before you face the day, face the Father. Before you crawl out of bed, crawl into his presence. C. S. Lewis wrote: “the moment you wake up each morning . . . [all] your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life comes flowing in.”

2. Focus your waiting thoughts on uplifting-ideas.
Consider that by the time your life is over, you will have spent six months at stoplights, eight months opening junk mail, a year and a half looking for lost stuff, and a whopping five years standing in various lines. In the waiting moments, the common becomes the uncommon, by becoming a cathedral as you pray, or a classroom as you learn from a teaching CD or read a book.

3. Center your repeated thoughts on the winning outcome.
We all talk to ourselves often saying the same thing over and over again. Make sure those repeated thoughts are positive and will benefit you not bring you down. Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful tools we can use. We are going to talk to ourselves (some of us will even answer ourselves). The point is to make those words uplifting and encouraging. We, in many respects, are the benefactors of self-fulfilling prophecy. We become what we think and say to ourselves.

I remember when I was playing competitive tennis I had a few phrases that I would repeat to myself. I would say, “One point at a time” or “Concentrate on the ball and hit a winner” or “Racquet back, watch the ball, follow through” or “You can do this. You’re a winner.” I would repeat those phrases throughout the course of a match. These repeated thoughts helped me to stay positive and focused.

Likewise, we need to utter repeated positive thoughts so we can stay positive in everyday life.

4. Give your final thoughts to God.
Conclude the day as you began it: talking to God. Thank him for the good parts. Question him about the hard parts. Seek his forgiveness. Seek his wisdom. Seek his strength. And as you close your eyes, take assurance in the promise, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa. 121:4 NIV).

 

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When You’re Suffering

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We all exhibit different characteristics. We don’t look alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t dress alike. We have different tastes in food, in music, and in the books we read. We have dissimilar backgrounds, goals, and motivations. We have different philosophies, politics, and religions. Our weights vary. Our heights vary. So does the color of our skin.

But there is one thing we all have in common; we all know what it means to hurt. Suffering is a universal language. We can’t escape its abuse.

What do we do when suffering comes our way?

Don’t be perplexed, prepare.
Don’t be upset when suffering comes. Don’t be frightened, don’t be shocked, don’t be caught off guard. Pain is just part of living a Christian life.

This may come as a surprise to you. A myth has circulated for years that because I am a Christian, everything will be peaceful and calm. Another tale is that if I have everything right in my life, then things will go smoothly. Neither is true. You can do everything right in life and still have problems.

Job, for instance, was a righteous man. He had vast wealth, and in Old Testament times that was a symbol of God’s blessings. He had had robust health, a large and loving family, and a sterling character. He was one of the best men that ever lived. Then through a series of tragedies, he lost everything—his wealth, his health, his children. All hell broke loose in his life, and he was doing everything right.

Jesus, another example, was perfect, sinless, yet was crucified.

Get the point? We are not shielded from the tragedies and misfortunes of this world just because we are right or because we are Christian. We all get hammered occasionally. If life hurt Jesus and Job, who are we to expect exemption?

Mark my words, suffering will come. No one is exempt. So, what are we to do?

Be prepared. The Boy Scouts’ motto is fitting for the trials of life—”Be prepared.” Abraham Lincoln once said, “I want to live in such a way that when I am called, I’ll be ready.” About the trials and sufferings in this world, “I want to live in such a way that when the misfortunes strike, I’m prepared.

Don’t complain, celebrate.
When suffering comes, don’t have a pity party, have a party. Now that may sound a little ridiculous. The Bible is always telling us to rejoice. There is a big difference between enjoyment and rejoicing. Enjoyment means getting pleasure out of something. Rejoicing means choosing to have a positive attitude in spite of it. We are not to enjoy suffering, but to rejoice in it, to keep a positive attitude in the midst of our pain.

It has been said, “No society has ever developed tough men during times of peace.” Suffering is prosperity to those who possess a positive attitude in the midst of their misery.

Few people knew Abraham Lincoln until the enormous weight of the Civil War showed his character. John Bunyan was imprisoned for his faith, but in jail, he wrote the timeless classic Pilgrim’s Progress. Martin Luther was also imprisoned for his beliefs and teaching that ignited the Protestant Reformation, but while confined in the castle of Wartburg he translated the Bible for the common man.

Each of these individuals had reason to complain. Yet they chose to celebrate. To demonstrate a positive attitude in the midst of their suffering.

They knew what we learn as kids. Kites rise against the wind, not with it. When the adverse winds blow, allow it to be to you what a blast of wind is to the kite—rejoice because you have a force that lifts you higher and higher.

Don’t quit, partner.
Often when suffering rears its ugly head, we become overwhelmed and give up. “I can’t take it,” we say. And that is right. But we have never been told that we have to face the suffering and pain of this evil world alone. We have a helper. A confidant. A partner.

Ask any war veteran. The suffering the soldiers went through in war binds them to their fellow soldiers. Or when people go through a disaster together, it brings them closer together. Or when families experience the same problem, it unites them. Likewise, when we suffer, it helps to face it with someone who loves and cares for us.

When we suffer, we have an intimate ally. Jesus suffered, too. He knows what we are going through. He has been there before. During these times of pain and turmoil is the time to connect with him, draw strength from his partnership. He is our partner who has given us a promise of his presence.

When David Livingstone returned to his native Scotland after sixteen years as a missionary in Africa, his body was emaciated by the ravages of some 27 fevers that had coursed through his body during the years of his service. His left arm hung uselessly at his side, the result of being mangled by a lion. Speaking to the students of Glasgow University, he said, “Shall I tell you what sustained me during the hardships and loneliness of my exile? It was Christ’s promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.’” Then he said, “This is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honor, so there’s an end of it.”

Don’t be ashamed, praise God.
When we are put down for our faith, refuse to be ashamed. We don’t need to be intimidated by critics or by cynics. We don’t need to run from situations that put our faith on trial. We don’t need to be outraged when we claim to be a believer and unbelievers throw stuff at us just to see how we react.

If we live our lives in disobedience to God and his Word, we will pay the price. When we are faithful to our spouse, when we refuse to cheat a customer, when we are devoted to our word, when we remain sexually pure before marriage, when we are positive about our situation in life—we might suffer because of that stand. In those times, we are not to be ashamed. We are not to be embarrassed about our faith, our convictions, our character, or our values. When those character traits are put to the test, we should praise God. Praise him that we are worthy to be tested. Praise him that there is something about our Christian life that can be tested.

Don’t despair, commit.
Yes, sometimes suffering is a part of God’s will. Why? Because God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. Sometimes suffering is redemptive. God wants us to grow and mature and be a blessing for other people. And for that to occur, we must endure the hard times of pain and disappointment.

So during those times of struggle and suffering, don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Instead during those times, commit yourself to God’s plan and his will. Commit to our faithful Creator and continue to do good. The word commit sometimes translated entrust, is a banking term that means to deposit. The idea is that of storing a treasure in safe and trustworthy hands. When it comes to trials, we deposit ourselves into God’s safekeeping. And that deposit yields eternal dividends.

When it comes to depositing yourself into God’s eternal hands, you need to ask, “Am I a trader or an investor?” A big difference exists between investors and traders in the stock market. A trader in stock is making decisions minute-by-minute in the hope of shaving off profits measured in fractions of a dollar. An investor, on the other hand, typically buys or sells a stock based on views about the company and economy at large. In other words, traders are wheelers and dealers. They pursue short-term profits. By contrast, investors are in it for the long haul. They “chain themselves to the mast.” Investors commit their money to stock, believing that over a period of years and even decades the stock will pay substantial dividends and steadily grow in value.

In the kingdom of God, there are also investors and traders. They come to Christ with different goals. Traders in God’s Kingdom want God to improve their lot in this world. If following Christ means pain or hardship, they sell out.

But investors in the kingdom stay true to Christ no matter what happens in this world, knowing that eternal dividends await them.

A final word.
When suffering comes in our lives, and it will, and we ask, “Why are you doing this God?” be careful not to lay the blame for all affliction at the feet of God. Some suffering comes because we are humans living on a fallen planet. Some pain comes because we are sinners suffering from the consequences of sin. But some distress slips through the fingers of God into our lives because we are believers in Jesus Christ. Remember that God never intends to harm us or destroy us.

There is an old story about a physician who was the only surgeon available to operate on his son who was very ill. The father knew that the procedure would cause his son severe pain, but it could save his life. He also knew that the young boy might not understand why his father was hurting him. Trying to explain, he told the boy: “I may hurt you, but I would never harm you.” It is doubtful whether the little boy understood, but the father said it for himself as much as for his son. Then he did what he had to do and saved his son’s life.

The Chinese have a proverb that says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” When suffering comes, allow God to use it to perfect your life.

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How’s Your Attitude?

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When Jeff, a restaurant manager, was asked him how he was doing, we would reply, “If I were any better, I’d be twins!”

One day he was asked, “How do you do it? I don’t get it; you can’t be a positive person all of the time.”

Jeff replied, “Each morning, I wake up, and say to myself, Jeff, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood, or choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life. The bottom line of life is: It’s my choice how I will live life.”

Jeff’s positive philosophy was put to the test. One morning he left the back door to his restaurant open and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him.

Luckily, Jeff was found quickly and rushed to the local trauma center. When he was wheeled into the emergency room he saw the expressions of the faces of the doctors and nurses. He got scared. In their eyes, he read, He’s a dead man.

A big, burly nurse was shooting questions at him. One question she asked was if he were allergic to anything. “Yes,” Jeff replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for his answer. Jeff took a deep breath, and loudly said, “Bullets!” Over their laughter, he told them, “I’m choosing to live. Treat me as if I’m alive, not dead.”

Jeff lived thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing positive attitude.

Attitude is our response to life. It is our choice. Someone once said that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. One of the most significant decisions we can make on a day-to-day basis is choosing a positive attitude. Henry Cloud in his book 9 Things a Leader Must Do writes that successful people “do not allow negative things to take up space in their lives.” Attitude is perhaps more important than education, experience, and endowment in living life to the fullest. An optimistic attitude fuels one’s fire to greater heights. When one’s attitude is right then no barrier is too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, and no challenge too great. William James, the father of American psychology, stated, “The great discovery of my generation is that people can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

 

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How to Deal with Your Competition

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We live in a competitive world. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where the only rule is survival of the fittest. On the toll road, drivers race to make it first to the tollbooth. At work, people contend for promotions and advancement, climbing over others to get to the top. At school, teenagers strive for higher grades hoping it will result in larger scholarships or better colleges. In the neighborhood, families desire the largest home with the latest furnishings. In relationships, friends compare who went on the most exotic vacation or who has the best golf score. At home, mothers compete with daughters, fathers with son, and siblings with siblings.

Why do people compete?

Inferiority. Some people compete because they feel inferior. And in an effort to erase their lowly stature they challenge everything and everyone in their wake. They have to win because they want something they never achieve. Winning, therefore, becomes a reflection of their identity.

Insecurity. Some people compete because they have deep-seated feelings of insecurity. They are afraid of failure, and because of this fear, they are easily threatened and are thus repeatedly forced to prove themselves worthy. Afraid of losing, they are unable to separate who they are from what they do.

Envy. Some people compete because they want what other people have. It may be tangible, like a position, or it may be intangible, such as a personal quality like self-confidence. Envy always sees and desires what it does not have. Envy is not just wanting what the other person has; envy is wanting the other person not to have it.

Before we go on, let’s take a quick inventory. Do you know some people that are driven by inferiority, insecurity, and envy? Now for a more sensitive question: Are you driven by inferiority, insecurity, or envy?

If so, what are we to do? Here are some suggestions.

Commit to doing your best, not simply beating the other person.
A myth says that competition leads to superior performance. Actually, competition leads to inferior performance. Striving for personal excellence is what produces the best results. Researchers studied two groups of children who were asked to make “silly” collages. One group’s artistic work was judged by a panel of professional artists to be superior to the other. What was the difference between the two groups? The less creative groups competed for prizes. Athletes who pay attention to personal performance goals shoot better and run faster than athletes who concentrate just on beating their opponents. Dr. Janet Spence of the University of Texas found that performance-orientated business executives earned 16 percent more money than those motivated by competition.

The point is that the internal motivation of doing your best is a far more effective incentive than competition. Being the best does not mean being the best, but being your best. Competitors want to be better than everyone else, superior. Being your best is being better today than you were yesterday. Competitors want to exceed the achievement of other people. Being your best means matching your practice with your potential.

I love the story Gene Stallings tells when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins. They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the score?”

As these men show, being your best isn’t determined by comparing our score to someone else’s. Being your best comes from giving one’s all, no matter the score or the outcome.

Recognize that constructive competition allows room for cooperation and love.
The Latin root of the word competition means “to strive together.” When you compete with an ally, there are no losers.

The key is to look at others and ourselves, discern the various gifts and talents, and to feel secure about who we are and the role and the personhood of the opponent.

Harold Myra, former editor of Campus Life, wrote: “When we were kids, I tackled my brother in a backyard game. Years smaller than he, I grabbed his ankle and rode him 30 yards before I tripped him—Thunk!—into the hard November ground. He looked across at me, surprised. ‘Way to go, kid,’ he grunted—and the rest of that day, I was a tiger!

“Couldn’t competition be like that sometimes, Lord? Admiring the brother who outdoes you . . . but still fighting like crazy to win? . . . I don’t have to hate the guy who beats me—I can admire his ability. Opponents are made in your image too. Yet you live within me, telling me to love, even as I compete—love people, love you, as you loved me and died for me. Help me to take that to the ball field, Lord.”

And, help us to take it to the office, to the classroom, to the neighborhood, and to the home.

Guard against envy.
The horrible and destructive sickness of envy according to Aristotle is “the sin against the brother.” Like Jacob of Esau, and you and me against those closest to us. Envy is felt most keenly by two people of the same age and similar interests. Doctors envy doctors. Lawyers envy lawyers. Preachers envy preachers. Neighbors envy neighbors. The closer the competition to one’s own stature and rank, the higher the stakes and the more likely envy is to erupt.

And when it does. Watch out. It can destroy you. A man in ancient Greece killed himself through envy. The story has it that a city erected a statue to honor the champion athlete in its public games. This athlete’s archrival was so envious that he pledged to destroy the statue. Each night, under the cover of darkness, he would go to the statue and chisel at its base, hoping to make it fall. Finally, he achieved his goal and toppled the statue. His envy had driven him to destruction, not only of the statue, but of himself, for when the statue fell, it fell on him.

The proverb is right: Envy slays itself by its own arrows.

If any competitor, would look to God rather than to others, understanding that God loves and accepts them, recognizing the blessings God has graced them with, it would prevent them from being consumed by competition.

 

 

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Discovering Your Higher Purpose

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I’m not sure where I heard it, but the following statements make enormous sense: Purpose leads to passion; passion leads to energy; energy leads to actions; action leads to opportunities; opportunities lead to success; success leads to significance; significance leads to happiness.

When considering each step in that litany of statements, the progression is true. It begins with understanding your purpose and the final outcome is happiness. Understanding these statements and following through with them will inspire us to make a difference in the world. Living them out each day is enormously satisfying. They will drive us, focus us, and consume us.

It begins with purpose. What’s yours?

Here are three steps to discovering a higher purpose.

Serve a higher good.
No greater purpose in life exists than to serve something that is beyond us. In fact, your life’s purpose to be truly meaningful must always have another-component, something larger than we are. We were created not to eat, breathe, then die. Or, to go to school, go to work, then go to a retirement home. We were created to serve a higher good.

Discover your talents, gifts, and personality to excel in what you were created to do.
Passion, energy, actions, opportunities, and success often follows you when you give yourself to the purpose for which you were created. Have you ever seen an Olympic gold medal winning gymnast also win the gold medal in the shot put; or the mechanic at the auto shop who also moonlights as an oral surgeon? It doesn’t happen. Everyone has a race he or she is created to run. Some run the 220; others excel in the marathon, while others do better in the sprints. Find your sweet spot that intertwines with your talents, gifts, and personality.

Get going.
Consider this simple formula: Dream Big, Start Small, Get Going. At some point, we have to take action. One day a man hit a golf ball in the rough and several ants went scrambling. When the hacker attempted to hit the ball, he swung several times missing the ball. One of the ants, said to the other: “If we don’t get on the ball, we’re going to die.” If you and I don’t get on the ball we, too, will not find our higher purpose. Actions move us in the right direction.

When we discover our higher purpose, we will experience intense satisfaction and pleasure—the best of all feelings.

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What Makes Christian Hope Powerful

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Consider the indelible impact on the world made by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Both men led a strong attack on the Christian faith, with Marx calling religion the “opiate of the people” and Freud defining God as the projection of a child’s wish for a protecting, powerful father. Believing that God was dead, both Marx and Freud died bitter and disillusioned men, virtually friendless, without inner peace and overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness.

Contrast Marx and Freud with C.S. Lewis, another intellectual, who embraced the Christian faith and used his talents to influence people in a noble direction. Lewis, if you recall, lost his wife to cancer. He grieved severely, but later emerged from his sorrow with renewed strength and unspeakable joy derived from God on whom his hope was grounded. Unlike Marx and Freud, Lewis had the resources of a living God to see him through.

Lewis’ life revealed, in contrast to a secular view, a hope that is not in us, not based on what we can do or achieve, but rather coming from beyond ourselves.

The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond us and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope. Again, and again, God is called “the God of hope” The apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1 NIV). On another occasion Paul says of Jesus “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NIV).

The Christian’s hope is not fleeting but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why a believer can sing, “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. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).

The Christian’s hope is encouraged in community. Early believers who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus or were just one generation away from Jesus were under persecution. They were being attacked and assaulted. They were becoming discouraged, filled with despair. The fire was beginning to go out. A letter began to circulate offering words of strength and support. One of its instructions for keeping hope alive was to fellowship with hope-filled believers. Here’s what the letter said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. . . . Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23,25 NIV). In other words, if you want hope to burn brightly stay in the fire of community, around people who love you and support you and care for you. When you are cold you can draw heat and energy from them, and when they are in despair they can draw encouragement from you.

The Christian’s hope is founded on faith in the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.

The Christian’s hope is linked to the future. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised the exiles who wished to return from captivity to their homeland: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29: 11 NIV). God always has our best in mind.

When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.

The Christian’s hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle of hope, Peter, reminds us that we can rejoice even in the midst of sorrow and death. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV). Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.

The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church, and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.

 

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Why Hope Brings Life

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Cicero gave us the well-known proverb, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Was he right? A few years ago, the psychology department of Duke University conducted an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container the experimenters placed a rat for which there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few minutes and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for that rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of Cicero’s statement, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The Duke experiment proved, “While there’s hope, there’s life.”

Hope brings life. While faith belongs more to the intellectual and love to the emotions, hope concerns itself with the will. Hope is medicinal. Hope is that vivacious virtue that can transform despair, defeat, and death, knowing that there are no hopeless situations there are simply people who have grown hopeless about them.

Your situation may appear bad, hopeless in fact. Your job may be slipping away. You may be wondering where you are going to get the money for the Christmas presents this year. Your marriage may be unraveling. Your children may be causing you to pull your hair out. Or, any of a number of things that may be causing you to ask, “Why go on with life?” Let me remind you of the words of social critic, Richard John Neuhaus: “The times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Remember, hope is still a Christian virtue, and despair is a mortal sin.”

Keeping hope alive keeps us alive. The ugliest words in the English language may very well be, “There’s no hope.” How can we hang on to hope? How can we keep going when all the odds are stacked against us? How can we continue when we feel like giving up?

Hope is based on God.

Outside the Bible, especially in our society, hope consists of a half-hearted optimism unsure of its basis. It has no anchor. It freely trusts in one ideology after another, from Marxism to capitalism, materialism to idealism, religiosity to secularism, legalism to license. Or society’s hopes are more clearly focused but are in objects that cannot satisfy hope: a career, business opportunities, marriage, children, money, security, a new home, and so on. The secular version of hope becomes like Sinbad the sailor who anchored his craft to what he thought was a sturdy atoll, only to discover that it was a big fish which dashed off with sailor, craft, and all.

The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond us and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope.

The Christian’s hope is not fleeting but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why a believer can sing, “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. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).

At those moments when we are overwhelmed by disillusionment, discouragement, depression or even despair, we must never forget that God is the anchor for our hope.

Hope works best in community.

Ever watched a campfire? The logs and timbers in the fire dance with magic as they burn together. But when an ember rolls away from the fire, it quickly burns out. It can’t sustain its warmth or its fire. People are a lot like that. Together in community we gather warmth from each other, the fire of optimism burns brightly. But separated and alone from the group we turn hollow and cold, dying on the inside.

Hope is encouraged in community; despair often comes in isolation.

Pulling closer together keeps hope alive; existing far apart is certain demise.

The Christian faith is a hope-filled faith because of the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.

Hope pertains to the future.

We speak of hope now and in the future, but never hope for yesterday. Hope always has a future focus. Saint Augustine said, “Hope deals with good things, and only those which lie in the future, and which pertain to the man who cherisheth the hope. When hope attains its object, hope ceases to be and becomes possession.”

When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.

We also come to understand that out of sorrow there is life. Christian hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.

The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.

Hope and life are inexplicability woven together. Real hope, lasting hope, is a God thing. To know God is to know hope. To know God’s people is to have hope strengthened. To know the certainty of God’s heaven is to have hope reign supreme.

 

 

 

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