Category Archives: Bible

Not Always Hope, Not Never Hope, But Sometimes Hope

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

I have had a few people ask me why the name of this blog is Sometimes Hope. “If we are called to trust God all the time,” the question starts, “why isn’t your title Always Hope or maybe Keeping the Hope?” I even struggled with this a bit myself. After some thought, here are three reasons I can only Sometimes Hope.

Sometimes I Fall Down the Stairs

Recently I was going upstairs to get my oldest son. I wanted him to clean up the kitchen. I was about halfway up, and then I had a seizure. Not that I remember the seizure. I recall walking up the stairs, then a second later being on my back with intense pain on my shoulder and back.

Having a seizure in such a dangerous place was bad enough. My kids’ response was even more difficult for me to handle. They all apologized to me like it was somehow their fault I had my seizure. As if they could have prevented my pain somehow.

To know that my children feel guilt about any seizures I have makes me sick to my stomach. My kids have enough pressures in their lives. They don’t need to feel responsible for me having seizures. But they do.

In moments like this, I want to curse God and die, like Job’s wife suggested. Questions of His faithfulness rage in my soul, like Asaph in Psalm 73:1 – 2:

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

In this moment, I have a choice: to trust the past faithfulness of God, or to view my current circumstances as evidence of His character. 

Sometimes I Let Myself Slip

There are days when I choose anger and resentment. Once in a while, that choice lasts a week or longer. I just let go of my kind thoughts toward God. I rage and allow my hatred to fester.

If this is how God is going to treat me, screw it! I may as well live my life away from Him. It’s so much easier to just walk my own path. No worries about this Getcha-God bringing sorrow into my life for some unknown reason!

My anger fuels this desire to step away from the God I have known for over twenty years now. Because my life is not working the way I think it should work. Because I have pain and my children have guilt. So I walk away and make my own path, in small ways.

I go through the motions of my faith without allowing any connection to my spirit. I don’t sing the worship songs. I don’t pay attention to the sermons. I let my Bible gather dust. I refuse to pray to God for any reason, even if it’s just to thank Him for our dinner. Slowly, I slip away from God and reassert myself as the master of my own domain.

What I eventually discover terrifies me though. I was not created to walk the Never Hope life. It is a land of confusion with no signposts to guide the way. Some may call this weakness, but I am not able to make my own path without the guidance of my God. Put differently, the antagonist from The Avengers movie Loki had it right:

You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

I Remember Whose I am

The moment always comes. Like Samson, who shook himself and realized he was without strength because his hair was cut. Like Peter, who heard the rooster crow and realized Jesus knew the denial would come. Like Asaph in Psalm 73:23-26, I realize what a fool I’ve been:

Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

I belong to God, and He is mine forever. Even when I fall down the stairs and curse God, I am still His treasure. When I consciously avoid any smidgen of goodness dropped down from heaven like rain in my life, I am still His chosen one.

So I hope again. Not always, because I slip and lose my way. Not never, because I am my Beloveds and He is mine. But sometimes hope.

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When God Sucker Punches You

Photo credit: leunix (Creative Commons)

Photo credit: leunix (Creative Commons)

I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing. The medical diagnosis was shocking. Something I was not prepared for emotionally. I’d just been sucker punched. I could look back on the last few years and see how the symptoms fit what had been happening in my life. That didn’t mean it made sense for me today though. Beyond confusion though, I was angry. At God.

How could you do this to me God? I thought you loved me? Where is the love today – did you forget it at home?

I know I am not alone in this feeling. You’ve been there too. We all have. It might be a medical situation, like it was for me. Maybe it’s the death of your child. A divorce. The overwhelming darkness we see on the evening news every day. Unemployment.

This is a big moment in our faith. When things get serious, and we have to decide what we really believe, because what we know and what we see don’t reconcile.

What we see is…well, it’s a disaster. Life is ripping apart at the seams and we just don’t know how to make sense of it. Hope is a distant memory, and things just gets worse when we try to reconcile our reality with what we see in the Bible. James 1:2-4 is a perfect example.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Yes, JOY is exactly how I want to consider my trials. Sheer and utter joy. A trip to Disneyland without lines. And yet, that’s what it sounds like the Bible is telling us to do. What God expects from us, when He’s the one who sucker punched us in the first place. But maybe there is more going on than we realize in the moment.

God has the long term view of who we are becoming in the pain we are experiencing. He sees the end from the beginning and rejoices over the maturity we arrive at through the sorrow we go through now. It is from this place of eternity that God calls us to rejoice in trials, and it is the ultimate test of trusting Him. It comes down to a single question:

Do you trust God more than you trust your circumstances?

Answering this question is perhaps the key to writing the story of our life. As we learn to say yes, we are able to walk into a place of greater favor with God. To see life through His eyes, with His perfect vision. Our wounds get healed. We find hope. We discover the courage to move past our pain and into the destiny God has for us. We get unstuck.

 

2013 – The Year to Overcome

Wish I could tell you that I am big into New Year’s resolutions, but I am not.

Wish I could tell you that I choose I key word or phrase to define what I want to accomplish for the coming year, but that would be a lie.

I usually view life more as a continuum, and see each moment as a chance to become someone better (or worse) than I was. But this year is different.

This year, my diagnosis of epilepsy in November has put me and my family in a bit of a crisis mode. The normal way of doing business just is not going to cut it. Something has to give.

I am not foolish enough to sit here and tell you that 2013 will be the year that I conquer my epilepsy, because that is not up to me. There is too much guesswork. The right medication. The right dosage. The right timing. The right positioning of Saturn in comparison to Venus.

I can decide how to respond to my epilepsy though, and starting today, I am not going to be overcome by it. I may continue to have 3 seizures every day for the rest of 2013 (God, I pray it’s not so). These seizures will not rule me.

I will not be overcome by this circumstance, no matter how much it just plain sucks.

Many years ago, God used Romans 8:31-39 to draw me into a saving knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ, and tonight He is using it to draw me back into a full assurance of His good intentions toward me. It’s a long passage, so here is just a snippet of it:

If God is for us, who is against us?…But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Won’t you join me? What do you need to overcome this year?

Now Comes the Hard Part

We’ve been talking about thinking small to respond to the enormous tragedy that happened in Sandy Hook a few weeks ago. I took a break to focus on a few other topics, but wanted to finish that series tonight. If you thought sincere love and hospitality was a challenge, wait until we read what the Apostle Paul tells us next in Romans 12:14-21 –

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Lots of words here, but there are two themes here to tease out: how to respond to evil & how to respond to what others are experiencing.

How to Respond to Evil

Of the two themes, this is by far much more difficult and unnatural for most of us. Quite simply, Paul says that our response when others sin against us should be to love them.

To bless them.

To feed them.

To clothe them.

To give them a drink.

To shower them with the favor of God, that same favor we don’t deserve either.

Some days, I wish Paul wrote a different passage. Or I think he didn’t understand what I was going through. Then I remember his experiences:

He was stoned.

He was whipped thirty-nine times, five times.

He was shipwrecked, three times.

And yet he is the one who told us to bless not curse those who persecute us. He who understands far better than nearly all of us what is means to experience evil, and what it means to be persecutes. Perhaps it’s time for a gut check?

How to Respond to What Others Are Experiencing

Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep. I believe he was just giving us some examples, and that list could go on:

Laugh with those who laugh.

Mourn with those who mourn.

Be confused with those are confused.

Be hurt with those who are hurt.

The big idea is to stop insulating ourselves and living separate lives. We were never meant to live apart from community. All the way back in the garden, we see God saying “It is good…It is good…It is good.” Then He sees Adam alone, and “It is NOT good.” We were not meant to be alone. This speaks not only to marriage, but community.

Three questions to respond to:

1)      How well do you respond to evil?

2)      How well do you live in community?

3)      How can I help you respond better with either one?

Continuing the Battle Against This Dark World

A few days ago I introduced the idea of battling the darkness of this world with sincere love. Let’s continue thinking about how to position ourselves as meaningful alternatives to the hate-mongerers that so often steal the name of Christ for themselves by continuing to walk through Romans 12, this time continuing with verses 10-13.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Again, there are a lot of powerful words here in this passage, words that are not often heard in the American conversation, but should be: Devoted…preference…diligence…fervent…serving… rejoicing…persevering…devoted…contributing…hospitality…bless.

It’s time to change the American conversation from one of self-centeredness to one of gratitude and thankfulness, to one that recognizes the giver of all good gifts who causes rain to shine upon the just and the unjust. It’s time for us to do our part in our neighborhoods, to rise up and make a difference.

What does it mean to honor others above ourselves? It might mean to stop averting your eyes when the homeless man asks you for something, anything to help him out, and to but him lunch from the local Burger King.

How does one not lag behind in diligence? Find the most excited servant in your church, and try to out-serve him. Wait, you don’t go to church? Well then that’s step one: find a church. You can’t serve a body if you don’t have one.

Before we can rejoice in hope, we can to understand it. I talked about it more here. Persevering in tribulation is hard, and there are no easy answers on how to do this. Some days are easier than others. Some days are dark and heavy. I imagine the Apostles Paul and Peter felt the same, but they never fully lost heart in their God, and neither must we lose heart.

Contributing to the saints’ needs and hospitality both speak of the fruit of a generous heart. There is no quick and easy way to test your heart for generosity per se, but here is a start – do you enjoy unexpected opportunities to give to others, or get irritated by them?

The biggest thing to remember is this – most of us just do not have the capacity to change the entire governmental structure, but we do have the ability to change the lives of those in our neighborhoods. Let’s not miss the change we can be because we are complaining about the changes we want to see.

Gut check time – how’s everyone doing here with honor, diligence, hope, perseverance and generosity? What can you share with us that helps you along in your journey to maturity in these areas?

Battling Darkness with Sincere Love

I’ve spent the better part of the past week without any new posts, trying to make sense of what happened in Connecticut personally, trying to determine what I can add to the near cacophony of voices out there in the media and the blogosphere. It’s been tough for me, because my daughter is autistic, and her and I are both on mood-altering medications right now, so I had to resist the urge to post something I would later regret about the connections between autism or medication and violence, but I have now found my voice in this tragedy.

Let’s face it – this world is just dark. Every day, all we have to do is take a good in the mirror to come face to face with some heavy selfishness, some deep brokenness, and probably some habitual sinfulness. And on occasion we have moments like Sandy Hook that broadcast the darkness loud and clear.

So, what are we supposed to do? It would be easy to throw up our hands in despair and say, “It’s too much! I simply CANNOT make a difference. I am no Mother Theresa. I am just going to live my life.” Or, we could curse the darkness.

I believe there is a third way, an ancient path the Apostle Paul laid out for us in Romans. I want to walk us through some very practical things that Paul shares with us in chapter 12 of this book over the next few blog posts. If we take Paul’s words to heart, I believe that we can be the change our society needs, not just in the face of tragedies like the senseless deaths of kindergarten students, but every day.

9 Love must be sincereAbhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

Verse 9 has some unmistakably powerful images – sincere love, hatred of evil, clinging to good. These are words that are largely missing in our society today.

Sincere love is a life changing force for good. I don’t mean to sound like a reject from the DC Comic universe, but sincere love is almost unstoppable. The sincere love of an unknown next door neighbor literally saved my life, stopped me from committing suicide, and led to my introduction to Jesus. Countless others have the same story. We simply must learn to slow down, ask real questions, listen intently to the answers, and actually care. This is where sincere love will be birthed from.

Once birthed, sincere love acts a certain way. Sincere love abhors evil and clings to good. Hate does not seem to be in short supply nowadays, whether that is directed to homosexuals or Greensboro Baptist Church or Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee. This hatred misses the point though. Rather than thinking large and speaking judgment, we should think small and be sincere.

Make no mistake – if you claim Christ, those who don’t are watching the way you live your life, and looking for a reason to believe it or not. The consistency of your love life with them will determine the answer. It’s the simple things that will make the difference.

When you ask how their day is going, do you actually listen to the answer, or do you shine them on just like everyone else? Do you ever ask how their family is doing? Do you even know if they have a family? Do you care?

It might not seem like these questions are related to abhorring evil or clinging to good, but they are in a very real way. God never intended for us to live selfish isolated lives, focused on our own needs, our own jobs, our own families, our own selves.

Whatever we can do to jar others out of this self-focus is GOOD, and forces the focus toward community, toward God.  We will talk more about how to live out this type of life in this dark world in a meaningful way in the coming days and weeks.

Oh, and Merry Christmas to all!

What is NORMAL?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the word normal, for a few reasons.

I have well-meaning individuals in my life who keep asking me, “When will you stop having seizures and get back to normal?” I have to remind them that I am an epileptic, and this IS normal for me. To them, normal seems to mean not having seizures, so both me and my daughter are abnormal. I know I am sounding mean-spirited, and playing word games a bit here, but the insinuation unfortunately hangs in the air every time sometimes ask me when I will get back to normal.

One of my oldest friends is a future television screenwriting star – I know you will all know her name someday, and I will be able to say, “She watched my kids when she was 12, but I didn’t know she was 12, because she didn’t look 12 and certainly didn’t act 12” and people will be jealous – and she is just brilliant. Truthfully, she is one of the most well-spoken and thoughtful people I know, and also happens to be African-American. Regularly, people she comes across of all races and genders are SHOCKED at how intelligent and thoughtful she is FOR A BLACK WOMAN! So, apparently to many people it is normal for a young black woman to be ignorant, or uninformed, or not inarticulate. Again, the unintended consequences of others’ expectations produces frustration.

So, what should normal look like in the church, and what if anything does the Bible have to say about this? Believe or not, there were racial and societal tensions in the first century too, and the Apostle Paul had to instruct the early churches on how to deal with them in a God-honoring way. Most of the epistles have a verse or two on the topic, so let’s just pick one. Galatians 3:26-28 says:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Said differently, in Jesus there is no racial differentiation, no social status, no gender break…just lovers of God. Oh that we would learn to walk in that today! When we see the teenager sucking her thumb in the Sunday service, might our heart be filled with joy that she’s worshiping God by raising her hands during worship, instead of our minds being filled with judgment that her parents let her act that way. When we see the autistic girl struggling to find her way in the raucous junior high ministry, might we befriend her and encourage our children to do the same, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Truth is this – whether we are in Christ or not, we are all abnormal. We are all broken. Sin has touched us all, messed us all up, warped our minds, distorted our emotions, blinded us from the best in ourselves and others. So really, we are all in process, and either moving toward God or away from Him. Let’s decide together to stop defining normal and just encourage one another along the path toward Christ, day by day, moment by moment.

I am not Kobe Bryant and neither are you

I play basketball (technically), but not at the level Kobe does. I am also not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; as a matter of fact, I have no musical talent at all. I am not even Mark Wahlberg, who has possibly the most spectacular abs in the history of mankind. Odds are that you are none of these people either, and this could be a problem (as an aside, if Kobe or Mark are reading this, please comment so I can feel amazing for a day). When I focus on who I am NOT, this prevents me from stepping into exactly who it is God has created me to be. The same is true for you.

It is far too easy to waste our time emulating someone else, but once that happens we will lose our path. A quick jaunt down to Ephesian 2:8-10 will break it down for us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Workmanship is a wonderful word here, but it does not capture the full imagery of the promise given to us after we are saved by grace through the work of Christ upon the cross. A better word is masterpiece – we are God’s masterpiece…His Mona Lisa….His Statue of David…His Starry Night. If you are anything like me, you probably do not spend much of your life feeling like a masterpiece, just a person trying to get through life. And yet, this is the truth, we are His masterpiece. When God stands back and looks at us, He gets a glint in His eyes, a wistful smile crosses His lips, His face lights up, and He says, “Yes! Exactly as I imagined it!” But we were not made to be put in some museum, dusted once in a while, and admired from afar.

We were made for good works. This seems pretty mundane, until we take a closer look. We were made for specific good works which God prepared beforehand – that’s where it starts to get exciting. God has precise things that He has created us exactly for, and He had them exactly in mind when He created us in the first place. If we are too busy being Kobe Bryant, or Mozart, or Mark Wahlberg, then we will miss the chance to be ourselves, and we will miss the works that He created us for.

Then God said, “Go to this 10-Hour Meeting?” “Ummm….God….I Don’t Mean to Complain, But….Are You Sure This is What You Meant By Full Time Ministry?”

Sometimes, following God’s plans for our life does not turn out exactly like we imagined. I remember being in Bible college over a decade ago and hearing someone in chapel say this: “In 15 years, less than 75% of you will still be in full-time ministry. So think of your 3 closest friends. If you think all of them will still be in ministry full-time, then guess what – it’ll be you whose not!” Bad statistical analysis aside, I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t be the one to fail God by walking away from my calling to full time ministry. Boy how my perspective has changed.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I just finished up two days full of meetings with some high-powered business professionals, in preparation for two more days full of meeting with even more high-powered business professionals. I am not exaggerating either – I literally had thirteen hours of meetings in the last two work days. But here is where it gets weird: I know that I am in the center of God’s will for my career right now. I also know that I am still called to be in the ministry. How’s that work?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some thoughts on this. It’s pretty easy to draw a hard line between paid professional Christians AKA pastors and “everyone else” too quickly, and even to think it’s in the Bible somewhere. Too bad you cannot really find it anywhere.

Rather you see that –

we are all called to be priests,

we are all given spiritual gifts,

we are all responsible for exercising discipline,

we are all expected to move from glory to glory,

we are to grow in maturity until we are not moved by every wind or wave of doctrine,

we are all called equally to be co-heirs with Christ in His kingdom.

Think on this last one for just a moment – seriously, stop reading this blog and think about this – CALLED EQUALLY TO BE CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST IN HIS KINGDOM. Perhaps we ought to take the title sons and daughter of God more seriously than we do, because it seems like God does.

Instead, we settle for so much less, we settle for the idea that our tithe pays the salaries for the brightest of us to do the ministry, to serve us, to sing to us, to speak to us, to teach us, to motivate us to live better lives. It is as if we expect the paid professionals to life their lives for Jesus, so we don’t have to. Frank Viola has a lot to say about this, and says it better than me, so I would point you to his blog to get a better grasp on this radical but true idea.

But I digress – how does this relate to two days meetings, and how do two days of meetings relate to ministry? The Sermon on the Mount helps here:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Jesus

The boardrooms of the business world are a pretty dark place, and far too few thoughtful followers of Christ carry His light into this particular dark corner of the world. I just spent thirteen hours trying to shine the light of Jesus into a pretty dark place. I am trying to pick up the mantle of the priesthood, to walk into the call to ministry, to grow into maturity. Sometimes, I grabbed that bowl and hid my lamp, I am more than a little ashamed to say. It is difficult to always stand for righteousness, to stand apart, to stay pure, to demonstrate the love of God to broken and cruel people. My hope is that the light of God outshined the darkness of me.

No guilt trips here, but just an honest question, and perhaps some self-reflection. Where are you carrying your light as a member of the royal priesthood of the tribe of David? Are you stepping into your call to ministry, or letting the professionals do all the work? I’d love to hear your story, of how you are sharing the kindness of Christ in your daily life, so please share.

Scripture bombs

Ever been real with someone and they respond with a Scripture bomb?

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It’s related to a Jesus Juke but is a little more defined. What happens is this: you share something personal in your life, usually something you’re struggling with, in the hopes of getting some encouragement or at least a kind ear. For me, it’s usually with someone I trust, because I tend to be a tad private and closed. Instead of kindness or hope, they quote you a Bible verse, then walk away. BBBBOOOOOMMMMM!! You’ve just been Scripture Bombed!

Don’t mishear me. I believe the Bible is the best source of hope and encouragement on this planet, but sometimes your hope needs skin. That’s what community is for, because a book, even a Holy Spirit inspired one, never gave a hug, or smiled, or shared a lunch with you. Only the Church of God can do that. Maybe that’s why the Scripture bomb is so destructive. Because we know in our hearts that we should expect more.

I never know what to do when I get a Scripture Bomb. What about you — ever been the victim of a well meaning bomb? Ever given one (I know I have)? How do you respond?