Tag Archives: hope

February is the Longest Month

The month of February is not the shortest month, but the longest for me. The length of a Minnesota winter has always been a big psychological barrier. I did not embraced Nordic skiing this winter and now my winter running has been interrupted by a nagging hamstring injury. For the past month as I watched the snow piles rise in the church parking lot I wondered if spring will ever come.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Yet I hope in the promise of spring. The evidence of it may be fleeting, but I am confident that the snow will melt, the trees will bud and my winter coat will be shed.

In a similar way, I take hope in God’s promises of scripture. The Bible is not a set of apps that I can download into my life. I cannot go to the “Google Playstore” and find a verse or two on depression or happiness and plug them into my life. No, the Bible is more like a story into which I am invited. As I live God’s story I discover that no matter how chaotic or troubling the plot may be at times, the Author remains faithful to the story of redemption and new life.

Just as I know that spring will come to Minnesota, I know that Jesus rose from the dead and comes to bring life. Beyond the snows of winter lies the promise of new life.

This is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Walter Brueggemann wrote these word of questions and hope regarding the Bible thirty years ago.

The central concerns of the Bible are not flat certitudes . . . but assurances that are characterized by risk and open mystery. The quality of certitude offered by the Bible is never that of a correct answer but rather of a trusted memory, a dynamic image, a restless journey, a faithful voice. Such assurances leave us restless and tentative in the relation, and always needing to decide afresh. Rather than closing out things in a settled resolution, they tend to open things out, always in fresh and deep question and urgent invitation. The central thrust of the Bible, then, is to raise new questions, to press exploration of new dimensions of fidelity, new spheres for trust. Such questions serve as invitations to bolder, richer faithfulness. Such questions also serve as critics exposing our easy resolution, our faithless posturing, and our self-deception. If the Bible is only a settled answer, it will not reach us seriously. But it is also an open question that presses and urges and invites. For that reason the faithful community is never fully comfortable with the Bible and never has finally exhausted its gifts or honored its claims. (The Bible Makes Sense)

Lord Jesus, continue to write hope upon my heart.

Prayer Challenge

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion - ...

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3) Painter: Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956) Year: 1990 Characteristics: Oil on canvas, 245 x 137 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus made radical promises regarding prayer.

  Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Jesus promised that his disciples could “ask whatever they wish” and God would make it so. Such bold promises challenge my observation of the church and the world. So many prayers seem to go unanswered or forgotten.

I am not talking about what I consider “childish” prayers, like winning the lottery or finding a parking spot at the shopping mall. I am thinking about those real prayers of the heart, when day-after-day you pray for the healing of a loved one. A friend is afflicted with cancer or an addiction, a spouse is battling depression or a child is traveling in the wrong crowd and we pray. We pray asking God to bring healing and peace to this person believing that this is God’s will for God’s people. Jesus certainly brought healing to those in need; healing and wholeness is what God desires for all of creation, especially his children.

Naturally if the person resists God’s healing, God will not force mercy. Often a person wrestling with addiction has to hit bottom before they can see how powerless they are in their addiction. God does not force healing.

Still many of us pray daily for God’s healing and we do not experience it. Oh, there are those occasions when miraculous healings occur. Thanks be to God! I have participated in prayer services where God’s power has restored the sick to health. Yet such answers seem almost arbitrary because others have not had the same prayers answered even when their faith was strong and their prayers persistent.

I do not know the answer to my own question, other than to look to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his own cup of suffering to be taken away, yet the next day he walked to the cross and death. His prayer was real and deep. And though he did drink the cup, his prayers gave him the strength and power to walk to Golgotha . . . . and three days later, the empty tomb.

And that is what we each need: the strength and courage to walk the path God has given us. So, like Jesus, we pray, “your will be done.”  The final answer to all prayers comes in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life in him.

Lord Jesus, your will be done in my life.

Advent Storms and Safe Harbors

Advent comes during the dark cold month of December. The sun hangs low in the Minnesota sky and frequent storms race across the prairie.  This past Sunday a 15 inch snowfall disrupted our daily lives.  During this season we often hanker for some warmth and light, some good cheer. The world seems ready to collapse and die.

In Advent, I am reminded of Jesus’ words,

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)

hepen_aan_lager_wal_-_Ships_running sectionJesus experienced the broken, destructive shadows of creation. He knew the despair we can slip into. Yet he would not let us go. It’s as if we are on a long sea voyage and terrible storms are smashing our ship. The storms of sickness, violence, neglect, sin and death cause us to despair. Why celebrate Christmas when the world appears to be so harsh, cold and cruel? But the present storms are not the end of the story, only a temporary part in God’s glorious story of safe passage. Even as the seas roar, our safe harbor in Jesus is drawing near.   A safe harbor called Bethlehem.

Lord Jesus, you gave us a glorious promise that someday your whole creation will be made new again. Grant us the faith to trust in your promise and the everlasting hope to live by your power. Raise our heads high and let us sing your praise with energetic joy today. Amen.

Marathon Dreams and Christian Hope

This summer I am training for the Twin Cities Marathon. After taking a couple of years off from such focused training due to injuries and my new call to Resurrection Lutheran Church, I will attempt to complete my eleventh marathon on October 7. Finishing is not some vague wish that I am hoping to accomplish. It is an honest assessment of my fitness, training and experience.

Like almost any physical endeavor, patient, persistent training leads to success. From past experience I know that if I am able to run consistently 35-45 miles per week, complete several long runs of 16+ miles and stay injury free, I have a better than 90% chance of finishing the 26.2 mile course. Factors that may contribute to not finishing are an unforeseen injury or illness. I have had some poor race performances (Des Moines Marathon in 2009 and Grandmas in 2007) but even in my poor races I finished.

In recent years my marathon goal has been more ambitious than simply finishing the race. I  aspire to qualify and run the historic Boston Marathon. To qualify for Boston, a runner needs to run a marathon under a certain time based on their age and gender. I qualified once in 2005, but a running injury kept me from running Boston in 2006 and the qualifying time is only valid for about eighteen months. This fall I am hoping to run under 3:55 so that I can qualify for the 2014 Boston.

Now that hope is not outrageous, but it will be a true test of my abilities. It will require proper training and rest. (Overtraining can be as detrimental in marathon preparation as under-training.) It will require focused nutrition and stress management. It will also require some good luck on factors I cannot control (like race day weather).

Still I have the hope and dream of qualifying.

What distinguishes this aspiration from my Christian hope is that my marathon dreams primarily rests in myself and my abilities. My Christian hope rests totally in Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished through his death and resurrection. To quote a famous hymn, my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I am a fallible human being who may twist an ankle tomorrow, ending my marathon dreams. But my hope in Jesus remains steadfast because of the promise of God’s Word.

We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. I Timothy 4:10.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my rock and my hope.

American Optimism And Christian Hope

ImageAs I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, title Abounding in Hope, our American culture promotes optimism for a better future. To use an old proverb, we tend to promote the idea that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. To quote President Ronald Reagan, “Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”

Part of our American optimism comes from our predominant Christian heritage. Hope is a central virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ. But there is at least one key distinction between American optimism and Christian hope. American optimism places our basic trust in ourselves and our ability to solve our common problems. We see a challenge, roll up our sleeves and get to work, whether it is placing a man on the moon, fighting terrorism or recovering from natural disasters. As Americans we believe in the possibility of creating a “better life” for ourselves, by overcoming obstacles and challenges.

Christian hope has a different focus. Our Christian hope is not in ourselves, but in our God who loves us and saves us from ourselves. We believe God is at work in the world, calling all people to God’s rule of justice and peace. We know that there will be struggles and difficulties. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). The cross is hardly a symbol of optimism.   Paul goes so far as to say that he boasts in his struggles.

we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

As an American Christian I do not reject an optimistic glass-half-full attitude. There are many problems in our world that need a positive can-do attitude — poverty, hunger, and racism to name a few. However I also know that as follower of Jesus Christ, there will be times and situations that I cannot overcome. The primary ones are my sin and my death. No amount of optimism and self-encouragement will help me here. My only hope is Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection are my source of hope today and forever.

How do you connect or distinguish American Optimism and Christian Hope?

Lord Jesus, continue to fill my heart with hope in you.

American Dreams

Wednesday, July 4th, the American flag my father gave me will be hung outside my home. He gave it to me many years ago when he noticed we didn’t have one. My father was a quiet man who served our nation during the Second World War, building airfields in Sicily and Italy. He celebrated every 4th with a family picnic and local fireworks. He was patriotic American in steady calm way that resonates well with me even today.

I am proud to be an American, yet I recognize our flaws as a nation and culture. I have had the opportunities to travel to other nations, but I do not see myself living long-term in any of them. I think American can be too materialistic and proud (including myself). Our nation’s history has some very dark chapters with racism and jingoism, but also some marvelous chapters of humanitarian care and sacrifice. We are sinners; we are saints.

In few weeks, I will be cheering for many American athletes in the London Olympics, but I will also be cheering for athletes from other nations. I will be a bit embarrassed if the television networks make some ostentatious show of how many medals Americans have or have not won. I will rejoice in moments when athletes from any nation congratulate others who have done their best. The shared competition will hopefully bring forth the best effort from all the athletes, whatever flag they carry.

There are a couple of songs that I plan to sing this Wednesday as part of my devotions. One will be “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin. The other is a less familiar hymn, “This Is My Song.” The hymn’s text was written by Lloyd Stone (1912-1993). The first stanza states,

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May the dreams of all nations work for peace, joy and prosperity of all people.

Lord Jesus, be Lord of the nations, beginning with my heart.

Hope Runs Eternal

The biggest problem with Minnesota winters is not the severity: not the deep cold, not the large snow falls, not the short dark nights. The real problem is the duration. Winter drags into March and even parts of April. There may be teasers of warm weather, but winter usually has a second or third slam to deliver.

What a difference this year. Not just one day of beautiful warm spring weather, but a whole week. I was able to run the trails at Afton State Park today and though muddy, it was a delight. What a joy to be alive. The exercise, prayer and sunshine gave me a feeling of hope. After all, hope runs eternal.

As a Christian, hope is a critical part of my belief system. I recognize that life is often cruel, unfair and extremely difficult. I remember that every time I do a funeral or visit a hospital room. I also remember it when I make the yearly journey with Jesus to Calvary and the cross. Here is someone who was willing to suffer and die, in the hope of the resurrection. Jesus died for me and he rose for me. I cannot prove the resurrection, but I see plenty of evidence in the New Testament and in the lives of God’s people. I am hopeful that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. “While we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” Titus 2:13 (NRSV)

 My own hopeful news is that after nearly a year layoff, my running is back strong. Thanks for the many words of encouragement and prayers. As I was running Afton, I thought about its 25K trail race this July. Anyone want to join me? God is good!

Lord Jesus, let me run or walk or sit or be with you daily.

Gloom, Doom and Light

My nephew, Andy Young, an avid photographer, snapped this gripping photo of Seattle on a gloomy afternoon. I immediately thought of both the prophet Jeremiah and the season of Advent.

First, Jeremiah spoke to the people of Jerusalem of the impending disaster that was coming. The people had forsaken their covenant with God and so God gave them a real wake-up call.

But my people have forgotten me, they burn offerings to a delusion; they have stumbled in their ways, in the ancient roads, and have gone into bypaths, not the highway, making their land a horror, a thing to be hissed at forever. Like the wind from the east, I will scatter them before the enemy. I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity. (Jeremiah 18:15-17)

In 587 BC Jeremiah’s “Word of the Lord” became reality. The Babylonian army march into Judah and conquered Jerusalem. The temple of God was destroyed. The leadership and skilled laborers were taken as prisoners into Exile in Babylon. It was a day of calamity.

But Jeremiah continued to speak God’s Word and so streaks of light and hope came to the people. Jeremiah promised a new covenant, a new relationship between God and God’s people.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

This promise is one reason Jeremiah fits so well in the season of Advent. Though we may wait in the dark gloom of winter, praying for spiritual light, we lean towards the coming light of Christmas. A new covenant that will be born in Bethlehem. Alleluia!

Lord Jesus, let your light shine bright through me.

Seeking Sarah’s Tomb

The Narrative Lectionary that Resurrection Lutheran Church is using this year skips through the Old Testament at a fast pace. This coming Sunday we will be studying Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But before I shift our focus to Joseph and Egypt, I want to examine one final story of Abraham. In Genesis 23, Abraham’s beloved wife Sarah dies and he must find her a tomb.

When God first called Abraham, God promised him land and descendants. When Abraham arrived in Canaan, the Lord said to him, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). His descendants will be as many as the stars of sky.  Yet as Abraham nears death, he has only one son and no land. Is God’s promise ever to be reality? Have you, like Abraham, ever wondered if God’s promises would become reality for you?

After Sarah’s death, Abraham goes to the Hittites who own the surrounding land and says, “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying-place, so that I may bury my dead.” (Genesis 23:4). The Hittites recognize Abraham as a great man and are willing to give him a burial site for his wife. But Abraham does not want a “gift” or “honorary guest” burial site; he wants to own the burial site with proper title. He wants something permanent and legal that can be passed on to future generation.

Abraham is willing to pay top dollar for it. (A stewardship sermon is buried in that verse!)  After skillful negotiation, he purchases the small field of Ephron in Machpelah where he buries his wife in a cave in the field (Genesis 23:15-19). Years later Abraham is buried there as well.

At first, a burial plot may seem like a useless, pathetic fulfillment of God’s great promise to Abraham and Sarah. Is this all the land God can give?  Yet it is the first step in God’s patient, enduring plan of salvation. It becomes a sign of hope and possibility.

After all, as Christians, we remember that God’s plan of restoration culminated in the empty burial tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Jesus’ empty tomb is the first step, the first fruits, of a new heaven and a new earth.

 Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died (I Corinthians 15:20).

In what ways does God give you hope in difficult times?

Lord Jesus, you are my rock and shield, give me the hope I need this day.

A Logger’s Confession

Red Alder Woods

When I was in elementary school, my best friend was David Brown.  Every morning I would stop by his house so we could walk the last five blocks to school together.   We attended the same church and sang in the children’s choir.  After school we would usually end up at his home or mine for whatever adventure we could dream up.

One of those adventures involved the deep woods across from my house.   We lived near a lumber mill and logging trucks rumbled by throughout the day.  We aspired to be loggers, so at the tender age of nine, we “borrowed” my dad’s hatchet and started chopping.  It took us three days of swinging our mighty hatchet to finally watch the tall red alder begin to wobble.  When it fell, David and I leaped out-of-the-way to watch.  Unfortunately the woods were thick and the tree did not crash to earth, but came to rest on another tree.   So David and I would climb the half-fallen tree, bouncing up and down, pushing it to the earth. We left the tree to rot on the ground and went off in search for some new adventure.

Over the next couple of years we probably chopped down 10-15 trees.   Our parents never knew of our “adventures.” David and I both moved away in sixth grade and our logging days were over.  

I write about this experience, because at the time it seemed so innocent, yet now it troubles me. It was a secret I kept from my parents.  Our chopping trees was simply for our pleasure and served no useful purpose.  Our behavior could have hurt either of us seriously.  We had no respect for the creation God had given to us nor for our neighbor’s land.  Perhaps most troubling, at the time we had no idea we were doing anything wrong.  Could I be doing something today that I don’t realize is harmful to God or my neighbor?

As we prepare to confess our sin on Ash Wednesday, let us be mindful that sin can come in various forms and disguises.   Let us ask God to cleanse us of known and unknown sin, and to lead us out of darkness into light.

 Has sin every troubled you?