Psalm 130 – Waiting in Hope

waiting

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. (NIV)

This psalm is the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere. Yet, because the Lord is attentive to the righteous, the cry penetrates heaven and is received. The psalmist only wants to serve God with a new beginning and fresh obedience – and he will wait and hope for liberation from his misery.

We typically use the term “hope” in a wishful thinking sort of way. That is because we are not quite sure if things will shake-out like we want.  But biblical hope is not wishful thinking.  Rather, it is a confident expectation of what is to come. Hope is like anticipating the seasons.  In the dead of winter when it is bitter cold with little sunshine, we hope, and not wish, for Spring because we know it is coming.  It might come in early March, maybe in late April. The trees will bud, the grass will turn green, and the temperature will warm – you can bet your britches on it.

This old world might be messed up and broken right now, but it will not always be this way.  Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is hope, the confident expectation that deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be fully realized. We are saved from the bondage of sin through the cross and resurrection of Christ.  We are delivered into an inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for us until the time is right. Meanwhile, we hope with the confident expectation of Christ’s coming again.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV)

Until our hope is fully realized, we cry out to God and watch for his deliverance. Regarding our salvation, it is accurate to say that we have been saved (from the realm of sin); we are currently being saved (through being made holy in this life); and, we will be saved (when Jesus returns). Liberation from both our personal struggles and the evil machinations of this world is an ongoing process that will only reach its complete fulfillment at the end of the age.

That is why we experience such a weird existence on this earth, a strange amalgam of good and bad.  We not only get mixed messages from the world, but also internally, within our souls, we experience the struggle between right and wrong.  Outwardly, we suffer in all kinds of earthly grief from others who do not understand us.  Inwardly, we have the silent pain and terrible wrestling of wanting to forgive but desiring revenge; of seeking to be gracious but seething with anger; of looking to express kind words but having hate speech blurt out instead.

It will not always be this way. We have a living hope.  Jesus has risen from death. He is alive. He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.  He will take us to be with him forever.  It is the confident expectation of unhindered relationship, with no obstacles of difficult people, and without any systemic evil from organizational structures giving us a hard time.

MLK hope quote

Hope is real. It is just as real as anything we will ever know this side of heaven. We might not always find what we are looking for in this life, yet, in the next life, we shall find the life that is truly life in Jesus Christ, who is our hope. Until then, we are to wait neither idly nor passively. Instead, it is sage for us to do the following:

Occupy the time. One of the best ways to avoid becoming anxious while waiting is to do what we are on this earth to do: be a blessing to others.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited…. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-16, 21, NIV)

Don’t try too hard. Trying to use willpower to squelch anxiety will only prompt even greater anxiety. Accept that we will have to wait and that we are not privy to God’s timetable.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 3:7, NLT)

Wait with other people. Waiting with others through talking about our shared hope helps redeem our time in the here and now.

Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. (Psalm 37:7, NLT)

Think of patience as compassion. Becoming impatient about something in life is entirely normal and happens to all of us. Our impatience is a stress response to a situation. Learning to be more patient is a way of being more compassionate to ourselves and others.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

Lord God Almighty, your hope arises with each dawn, pushing back the rubble of our lives. Each new day reminds us of your grace as you paint hope across the sky. Into the deafening cry of hopelessness, you whisper love that catches and holds us. There is no end, just new beginnings. No finish, just new starts. Into your resurrection we follow you into hope. You are alive in the world and in us. So, we carry your hope within our spirits always. Help us to lift our eyes and experience Christ’s resurrection hope arise in our lives through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Big Reveal

Joseph feasting with his brothers by Yoram Raanan
Joseph Feasting with His Brothers by Yoram Raanan

The biblical character, Joseph, went through a lot. While growing up, his brothers misunderstood and ridiculed him as “that dreamer.” Their jealousy and hatred of Joseph led them to throw him into a well and leave him for dead. Then, they turned around and pulled him out only to sell him into slavery. Joseph served as a household slave, until he was again misunderstood and wrongly accused by his master’s wife.

So, Joseph languished in a prison for years, suffering injustice. Yet, the awkward liminal space in between his family of origin and becoming the administrator over all Egypt was not a waste of time. Rather, it gave Joseph a divine perspective on his life and shaped him for his rise to power.

Likely believing he would never see his brothers and father again Joseph went about the immense work of overseeing Egypt. One day, during a severe famine, lo and behold, his brothers show up in his court looking to purchase some food for their large families! Joseph immediately recognized them. The brothers, however, did not have a clue that this was their long-lost brother.

Joseph, understandably guarded, kept his identity to himself and toyed with his brothers to discover how Jacob his father was doing. Eventually, through a labyrinthine experience of a few journeys of the brothers back and forth from Palestine to Egypt, Joseph could take it no longer; he just had to reveal his identity to his brothers. (Genesis 45:1-15)

Yet, the ultimate unveiling is much more a glimpse of what God was up to. Joseph provided a commentary on his life, why he endured hardship, and how he came to be the administrator over all Egypt. Joseph wisely discerned that God sent him to Egypt to save many lives.

It is mostly in retrospect we see what God has been doing all along.  A good chunk of our lives is a mystery that is concealed, only revealed with time and patience on our part. While we exist in the strange space of the great unknowing and may struggle to understand our hardships, God is working behind the scenes, bending all our life events to his purposes. And that is the key to understanding the entire narrative of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

Joseph’s brothers, despite being stinkers, were the means God used to send Joseph to Egypt.  Furthermore, all of Joseph’s experiences in Potiphar’s house, and in the prison where he was unjustly sent were the training ground for him to lead all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

The Reconciliation of Joseph and his Brothers, Peter Cornelius 1
The Reconciliation of Joseph and His Brothers by Peter Cornelius, 1817

Therefore, trust and faith are imperative for God’s people. Faith is placed where the object is trustworthy. In other words, we trust God if we believe God is good and has our best interests at mind. Conversely, if we view God as sometimes fickle or inattentive, then placing faith in him becomes a gamble and we might be hesitant, hedging our bets and relying more on ourselves and our own ingenuity to get through a hard circumstance.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18, NIV)

We all face times and seasons in our lives where we wonder if the Lord is sitting in his Lazy-God recliner sleeping while we wither in some miserable situation, believing that God has better things to do, or has simply lost interest in my puny life. Yet, it could be that the Lord is providentially shaping our circumstances in preparation for us to accomplish a significant godly purpose.

Although hindsight can help us see the superintendence of God, the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is still largely a mystery.  Many times, we can only affirm paradoxical truths. For example:

  • It was ordained before the foundation of the world that Jesus would be our Savior.
  • Jesus chose to willingly face the cross for our sake.

Both statements are equally true at the same time, all the time.

  • Christ’s betrayal by Judas was foreordained and foretold in the Old Testament centuries before Judas Iscariot was born.
  • Judas deliberately chose to betray Jesus with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver.

Both are equally true.

  • Joseph was meant by God to go through all kinds of hardship for a purpose.
  • Joseph willingly submitted to his hardship, choosing not to become angry, bitter, or vindictive.

Both of those realities are equally true.

It is not so much what happens to us that is the issue or problem. Rather, it is how we interpret what happens to us that is the critical issue. The way Joseph interpreted his difficult circumstances and his brothers’ calloused behavior toward him was to see the big picture of what God was doing in the world, instead of merely viewing events from a narrow perspective of painful personal adversity and becoming hateful.

Just as Joseph saw his suffering, hardship, and persecution as the means to saving lives, so Jesus viewed his suffering on the cross as the means to save our lives and bring us reconciliation. And, in the same way, we too, will undergo suffering and hardship for the purpose of saving lives through peacemaking efforts.

My dear wife and I have endured our share of hardship in our lives. I choose to interpret the reason we have gone through it all just as the Apostle Paul discerned his own adversity by saying to the Corinthian Church:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces within you a patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, NIV)

Whatever you are going through, or have gone through, even if it has been many years ago, God wants to use your difficulties and troubles for both your personal strengthening of faith, and for empathic and compassionate ministry for the sake of others.

We all need to practice patience and perseverance through hard times, if we are going to realize better days and gain a better interpretation of our difficult circumstances. Here are a few ways to do just that:

Write It Out

When suffering an upsetting event, writing about it can make us feel better as well as helping us make some sense of it. The act of writing organizes our thoughts, which then makes the experience feel less chaotic. Writing also provides an emotional release, along with insight and awareness into yourself. And with awareness, we have conscious choices.

Guard your heart more than anything else because the source of your life flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23, GW)

Some thoughts to get started writing:

  • Set aside 10-15 minutes a day for several days to write about the event and how it made you feel.
  • Don’t worry about grammar or creativity. This is just for you.
  • Stick with it. At first writing about an upsetting experience might be painful. However, over time it can help you get past the upset. Keep in mind, though, that if it is an especially disturbing event, you might want to do this work along with a trained professional.

Tackle Your Problem(s)

When distressed, it is unhelpful to stew in self-pity or to waste energy in blame shifting. Instead, be assertive.

Make every effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who does not need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly. (2 Timothy 2:15, CEB)

Take charge of your trouble:

  • Write down the problem. On paper it seems more manageable than when it is swirling inside your head.
  • List as many solutions as possible. You can reject options later.
  • Assess the list. Ask yourself how you would like this situation to end. Which of the written options likely will get you there? Weigh the pros and the cons.
  • Accept a reasonable solution, without searching for the perfect one. Focusing on perfection only breeds disappointment.
  • Form a concrete workable plan. Set some realistic and specific deadlines.
  • Avoid discouragement if the first solution does not pan out – just try another one on your list.

Get Support

We as people are hard-wired by God for community and needing one another.

Help each other with your troubles. When you do this, you are obeying the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, ERV)

  • Ask someone to give you a hand if you are overwhelmed.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for advice. Consulting and collaborating with others are always the way of wisdom.
  • Get emotional support. Crying, sharing our frustrations, or otherwise venting helps release tension, relieve stress, and helps us move on.

So, may we choose to have the eyes of faith and trust, discerning that God is good and  sovereignly works out his will through our troubles.

Acts 14:19-28 – Strength through Suffering

William Ellery Channing quote

Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and persuaded the people to turn against Paul. So, they threw stones at him and dragged him out of the town. They thought they had killed him. But when the followers of Jesus gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he and Barnabas left and went to the city of Derbe.

They also told the Good News in the city of Derbe, and many people became followers of Jesus. Then Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. In those cities they helped the followers grow stronger in their faith and encouraged them to continue trusting God. They told them, “We must suffer many things on our way into God’s kingdom.” They also chose elders for each church and stopped eating for a period of time to pray for them. These elders were men who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus, so Paul and Barnabas put them in his care.

Paul and Barnabas went through the country of Pisidia. Then they came to the country of Pamphylia. They told people the message of God in the city of Perga, and then they went down to the city of Attalia. And from there they sailed away to Antioch in Syria. This is the city where the believers had put them into God’s care and sent them to do this work. Now they had finished it.

When Paul and Barnabas arrived, they gathered the church together. They told them everything God had used them to do. They said, “God opened a door for the non-Jewish people to believe!” And they stayed there a long time with the Lord’s followers. (ERV)

The Apostle Paul and his traveling companions went on three missionary journeys in the New Testament book of Acts. “Mission” is more than an activity the church does; it is an expression of the church’s identity. To be the community of the redeemed is to embrace and embody the grace and love of Jesus in proclaiming in both word and deed the good news of restoration to God in Christ.

What is good news for many is bad news for others, that is, those for whom are ensconced in power and take advantage of their position to maintain the status quo. Paul was much too radical for them, as he persistently spoke truth to power when needed – not to mention that his effectiveness as a missionary caused a religious, social, and economic impact wherever he went.

It only takes a few rabble-rousers to gin up an angry mob, and Paul saw his share of them. He sometimes escaped unscathed. Yet, in other situations, Paul was beaten or stoned, sometimes being left for dead. So, how does that square with a God who sees all and is able to protect all, especially his own devoted followers?

Paul and his missionary coterie were forthcoming about the nature of following Jesus. Here are a few various translations of their words to new believers (Acts 14:22):

Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. (ASV)

If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles. (CEB)

We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom. (CEV)

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. (NIV)

It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God. (NRSV)

Through many afflictions we must enter into God’s Kingdom. (WEB)

The various English words used to translate the original Greek word accurately depict what Paul was talking about. My own translation of the verse is:

It is through a lot of varied stressful adversity that we must enter the rule and reign of God.

Paul was doing so much more than explaining his own suffering. He saw his experience as paradigmatic for all who would follow Jesus. For it was Christ himself who exhorted people to count the cost of discipleship:

“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:27, 33, NIV)

In doing the very thing which Jesus asks, the Christian life becomes pressurized from those who do not wish to see us:

Proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18, NIV)

Yet, we also have words from the Lord Jesus about how it all shakes-out for us when we deliberately and unflaggingly follow him with steadfast commitment:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, avoid you, insult you, and slander you because you are committed to the Son of Man. Rejoice then, and be very happy! You have a great reward in heaven. That’s the way their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23, GW)

Adversity quote

Late in Paul’s life as he reflected on his missionary journey experiences, he said to his young protégé Timothy:

You know about my persecutions and my sufferings. You know all the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—the persecution I suffered in those places. But the Lord saved me from all of it. Everyone who wants to show true devotion to God in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:11-12, ERV)

Christian faith is strengthened through the stress, pressure, and adversity of facing hardship through utilizing the words and ways of Jesus. So, receive these blessings from the Apostle Paul today:

And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7, NCV)

And now may God, who gives us his peace, be with you all. Amen. (Romans 15:33, NLT)

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. (Galatians 6:18, NRSV)

Psalm 28 – To Be, or Not to Be

David pelted with stones
David being pelted with stones, by unknown Slovakian artist, 1937

I cry out to you, Lord.
You are my rock; don’t refuse to hear me.
If you won’t talk to me,
I’ll be just like those going down to the pit.
Listen to my request for mercy when I cry out to you,
when I lift up my hands to your holy inner sanctuary.
Don’t drag me off with the wicked and those who do evil;
the type who talk nice to their friends
while evil thoughts are in their hearts!
Pay them back for what they’ve done!
Pay them back for their evil deeds!
Pay them back for their handiwork!
Give back to them exactly what they deserve!
Because they have no regard for what the Lord has done,
no regard for his handiwork,
God will tear them down and never rebuild!

Bless the Lord
because he has listened to my request for mercy!
The Lord is my strength and my shield.
My heart trusts him.
I was helped, my heart rejoiced,
and I thank him with my song.
The Lord is his people’s strength;
he is a fortress of protection for his anointed one.
Save your people, God!
Bless your possession!
Shepherd them and carry them for all time! (CEB)

The biblical character David, in frustration and agony, cried out for help, for God to hear his prayers. And, when his prayer was heard, David gave exuberant praise to the Lord for listening to him. We are not told specifically of how that prayer was answered and what happened between the request and the response. It seems the juicy details are left out on purpose, so that maybe we would not get lost in the retribution but stick with the fact that there was a desperate need and the Lord stepped in and did something about it.

As I pondered this psalm and its lack of life-detail, I wondered about David’s situation: Could it be that David gave God praise just for being heard by him?  Was David cured in some way, or was he healed from the need to be healed?  Was there even any actual deliverance that occurred?  Did David come to praise God despite a lack of deliverance?  Was David’s joy in his relationship with God conditional, or unconditional?

Hamlet
Hamlet, played by actor Matt Amendt in the Pittsburgh Public Theater, 2018

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c.1601 C.E.) put the question this way: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s soliloquy went on to say:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance, to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin (knitting needle)?”

Hamlet, much like David of old, was miserable and burdened with a profound lack of power to change his circumstances. So, he reflects on life and death in a morbid and melancholy way. It is not that Hamlet was contemplating suicide as much as he meditated on what life truly is and finding some meaning within it. Unlike David, Hamlet cannot find the courage to deal with his frustration and feels stymied with fear of the unknown.

If we are blatantly honest with ourselves, we must admit that far too often we have a particular outcome in mind for God to do.  Our hopes and expectations are tethered to God doing something extremely specific so that, if it does not come to pass (or does not come quickly!) we become discouraged and disillusioned. Like Hamlet, we become lost in the shadows of our thinking and ponder some sort of escape.

So, here is another set of questions I am asking myself: If my adverse circumstances do not change, can I praise God anyway?  Can I, like David, take joy in simply being heard?  Can I find gratitude in all situations?  Do I only express thanks and praise to God when things are going my way?  Am I open to whatever God wants to do in my life, even if it is not what I would choose?  Do I feel that I am above having to put up with the wickedness of this world?  Am I expecting heaven on earth, or am I willing to suffer as Jesus did?

I honestly believe the answers to those questions will determine the trajectory of our Christian experience. For the identity and meaning of all persons is found in the divine.

I praise you, O God, in the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the failures and the victories.  You are Lord over all things.  You are my strength and shield in every circumstance.  When I am weak, I am strong. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Amen.