Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hope In The Pit of Hopelessness

“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.”[1]
Christopher Tydeman - www.soulfulheartblog.com
Complete and utter hopelessness.
Sitting in the muck and mire, my fingers scrape across the four walls that now feel more like a hand-dug well than a home and I wonder, “How did I get here?”
For too long I’ve gone through the motions of living a normal life and acting as if everything is okay. I’ve clung to the muddy sides trying to inch my way back up, but as each day passed, I slipped lower and lower. Then today as if out of nowhere, the bottom like a bony, shriveled hand reached up, latched onto my heel and yanked.  My grip, precarious from the beginning, broke. Arms flailing, I desperately grabbed at anything to stop my fall, but hopelessness took over. I succumbed to the inevitability of my situation and plunged headlong into the blackness.
Looking up to the pinhole of light I asked, “Can anyone crawl out of a pit this deep?”
If you’re like me, you want to see a happy ending to this story. Yet, with these painful images we are reminded of the devastation and desolation of utter hopelessness.
For this sad, seemingly lost soul, their next step could be suicide. Unless God intervenes.
Recently, a cousin of a friend did just that. So again the questions surface. How much despair does it take for someone to actually end their life? What thoughts run through their mind prior to the act? Could we have done anything to stop it?
I know some situations in this world can cause us to lose hope, but that magnitude of hopelessness I cannot comprehend, nor do I want to.
Grieving families and friends are left blaming themselves, beginning their own downward spiral to hopelessness. So the vicious cycle continues.
Because of this, I am angry at sin and the enemy whose lies caused the initial pain. He dangles the bait of ecstasy and leads the lost down the broad road to destruction. With every step, light dims and their eyes adjust. It’s not until they’ve traveled many miles do they realize they’re sliding faster and faster into the darkness, confusion, and hopelessness. Along the way, they search for ways to dull the pain, looking to alcohol, drugs, sex, or endless psychotherapy that only drives them deeper into the pit. By then their minds are so confused they can’t see and instead of exposing the root of their problem and confessing sin, they cover it with temporary pleasure. However, if on the way down or when they finally hit bottom, they look up, hope is available. That pinhole of light at the top of their pit is the Lord who loves them.
I wish I could say these are only the emotions of the lost, but sadly, even some of the found have experienced them.
Yet for the lost as for the found, there is only one remedy, one hope for our pit of hopelessness.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills…” the Psalmist says. “From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”[2] Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.[3] He is our Blessed hope[4] for His eye is on those who fear Him [and] hope in His mercy.[5]

[1] Psalm 130:1-2
[2] Psalm 121:1-2
[3] Psalm 146:5
[4] Titus 2:13
[5] Psalm 33:18

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Father's Advice

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” is the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled “If”. As a kid, I loved poetry and still do.  I love the pulse and rhyme of poems.  My first poetry book was Read-Aloud Poems where “Eletelephony” by Laura Elizabeth Richards, quickly became my favorite. But as I grew, I moved on to more thoughtful and introspective poetry like “The Duel” by Eugene Field: “The gingham dog and the calico cat side by side on the table sat…” Just kidding. But seriously, this poem remains one of my favorites, even if it’s a bit morbid.

One Christmas my mother purchased the book, One Hundred and One Famous Poems as a stocking-stuffer. Perusing through its pages and remembering my youth, I came across Kipling’s poem. All those years ago the poem’s full message escaped me, but now Kipling’s words made sense. I wondered what persecution this man must have suffered to write such poignant words. Kipling wrote in his autobiography, the poem was based on the exemplary character of his friend, Sir Leander Starr Jameson. Still, I saw something more. It felt as if Kipling was actually speaking to those who may have hurt him and then rising above to know he was the better man.

Yet the poem may be exactly as it reads, simply a father’s words of advice. If so, and his autobiography is to be believed, then Kipling’s advice was for his son to grow to be a noble man like his friend, Sir Jameson.

Advice is one of those good gifts God allows us sinful people to give to our children. But, what type of advice do we give?

Kipling applauds fortitude, resourcefulness, and ingenuity as the way to become a man. And while these virtues are impressive, they seem to encourage hope in human ability alone.

Nevertheless, they are God-created.

In Proverbs King Solomon penned advice from our heavenly Father. Solomon may have thought he was writing to his own son, but God had greater plans and centuries of children to advise.

Father God declares, true wisdom, knowledge, and understanding begin with a fear of the Lord.  Without this fear, God says we are like a fool despising wisdom and instruction and hating knowledge. However, no unbeliever would ever admit they are lacking intellect because they do not fear God. But they are.

Innate within every human is the capacity to know God personally.[1] Nevertheless, in choosing to glorify self instead of God, we become futile in our thoughts, our foolish hearts are darkened. We lose the capacity to see heaven and earth as they were created.

Placing reverential fear in man and man’s abilities brings a snare, because sin corrupts character and even the virtuous are subject to it.

So listen to your heavenly Father’s advice. Fear the Lord. Gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Hate evil, pride, arrogance, and a perverse mouth.[2] For only trusting and fearing God prolongs days, gives strong confidence, a place of refuge, and a fountain of life.[3]

[1] Romans 1:19
[2] Proverbs 8:13
[3] Proverbs 14:26-27

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Got Hope?

got hope?
Hope waits.
Hope trusts.
Hope anticipates.
Hope longs and expects.
Hope is unseen.
Have you ever prepared something you couldn’t wait to deliver?  You lovingly create this special item and then rehearse every scenario of the moment it is received.  But when the time comes, things don’t go as planned.  Somehow the delivery was bungled. The timing skewed. The reception less than perfect. What happened?  Nothing went as you had imagined. Now you’re left with great disappointment; dreams deflating like a leaky balloon. All your hopes, poof – gone in an instant.

Aww, such is life, my mother would say. But why?

Is it because we are temporal and our life, in its best state is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away?[1]

Is it because we live in a sin-cursed world where everything groans, awaiting the revealing of the sons and daughters of God?[2]

Possibly. But thankfully, we cannot see the future.  If we could, chances are we would not have even tried. We never would have begun the task of creating our special item, let alone try to deliver it.  On the other hand, what is the line in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem? “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

Yet, it doesn’t feel better during the emotional pain of heartbreak. Nor does it feel like we should have created a special item when our dreams are dashed.

Nevertheless, we are more loving, because we loved and we’re stronger, because we tried. So, it’s much better to try a special task and fail at the delivery, than to have never tried at all – right?

If you say no, then answer this:  Even though our item was not as well received as we would have liked, does this mean it was not worth doing? Maybe for the moment our hopes and dreams disappeared, but should we quit trying altogether?

No, on both accounts. We learn from our mistakes. We apologize, make corrections, change our approach, and we know in our heart the next time things will go better. This, my friends, is hope.

Hope is to desire with expectation of obtainment[3] and God created us with hope. Yet hope in the physical is fleeting and finite. When life is over, so too, our hope. Unless, we believe in Jesus Christ.  Then hope extends beyond life. It is eternal because Jesus is eternal and He is our Hope.

Most humans do hope for something beyond physical life, but without Christ, their hope is misplaced. Still, they hope just the same, for God set eternity in the heart of man. And because He did, believers are given an open door that no man can shut. So, take the time to walk through it. Share the gospel. Don’t worry about delivery, timing, or failure. That’s God’s job.

Then wait for the seed to take root. Trust it will grow and bear fruit. Anticipate, long and expect God to finish the good work He started. And all you who hope in the Lord, continue in faith and be of good courage for He, who loves you with an everlasting love, shall strengthen your heart.[4]

[1] James 4:14
[2] Romans 8:19-25
[3] Merriam-Webster Dictionary
[4] Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 31:24

Saturday, April 4, 2015

By The Blood Of The Lamb - A Story for Passover - continued

    As morning sun lasered through the stitched seams of Nahshon’s tent onto my eyelids, I realized I’d slept way passed dawn. I tried to get up, but since my circumcision, every move caused excruciating pain. With gritted teeth, I stood to my feet and peeked through the door flap. Our chosen lamb leaped and baaed in joyful play with Nahshon’s giggling children. Tonight I would have the privilege of celebrating Passover with my new friends. In these four days, I too had become very fond of the soft little lamb and it had become his children’s pet. Surely Nahshon would not sacrifice this lamb now when he could just as easily choose another.

     I scarfed down the manna cakes left for my breakfast and went in search of Ithamar. As I drew closer to the Tabernacle, the curtained structure that seemed so ominous a few days ago, I heard Eleazar’s voice. Just outside the east-facing tapestry gate, he and Ithamar were instructing the priest trainees and Levites.

     “In the past,” Eleazar explained, “Our twilight Passover sacrifices were unorganized. But this year, Ithamar and I are determined to perform them in a more efficient manner.”

     “This where you come in,” Ithamar interjected, spotting me as I strolled into view. “Ah, here is our new proselyte. Meet Oreb, the Midianite.”

     Although I was already acquainted with some, they did not know I was a Midianite. I saw fear in their eyes. My people had played a sad part in seducing Israel with Baal of Peor and because of this, God sent a plague. Twenty-four thousand Israelites died until Phinehas, Eleazar’s son, grandson of Aaron the priest, zealously turned back the wrath of God.

     “I have come in peace.” I said, trying to calm them. “I believe your God is the true God and I want to know Him as you do. My traveling companions returned home when faced with circumcision. Meeting God was my quest, not theirs. But they mean you no harm nor do I.”

     With tension eased and priestly instruction concluded, we returned to Nahshon’s tent and my lessons. For two days Ithamar taught about God’s miracles, why Israel is forced to wander in this wilderness, and the glorious day God spoke from the mountain. However today I would hear more of Passover; how Ithamar believes this sacrifice points to something greater, yet that meaning has eluded him.

     My ears heard nothing but Ithamar, not even the children when they scurried into the tent after the lamb. Nor did I hear their mother’s scolding.

     As Ithamar departed, Nahshon arrived and announced, “It’s time.”

     Like taking a cue from a director, the children shouted in unison, “No Papa.”

     Salmon clung to the little lamb and sobbed. Some ran to their mother in tears and the two youngest sat on Papa’s feet trying to hold him back.

     Heartbroken, I blocked Nahshon and attempted to reason with him. “Maybe just this once you choose another. What would be the harm?”

     When he raised his head, I saw agony in his eyes. “Do you think this is easy?” He whispered. “It’s the hardest thing I have to do. I don’t want to hurt my children. Nevertheless it’s God’s Law and it is much easier to sacrifice a lamb than my son.” Nahshon gently removed the children from his feet, detached Salmon’s arms, and lifted the lamb. Caressing the tiny creature, he continued, “Those were the choices Egypt and Israel faced. I was firstborn. The blood of a lamb saved me.”

     Then, like a jolt of lightning I understood. This precious lamb is our innocent substitute. It dies in our place. Someday God will send the greater lamb and these painful sacrifices will cease. But until then, we sacrifice, because our salvation is paid by the blood of the lamb.

     “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…He was buried, and…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures...”              
(I Cor. 5:7, I Cor. 15:3-4).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By The Blood Of The Lamb: A Story for Passover

     Intense forceful wind swept the floor of the desert hurling bits of sand that stung our faces. Yet, with feet feeling of lead, we trudged toward the sea of tents.

     The encampment seemed deserted, but muffled voices filtered through the walls of each tent. Clearly, the brief sandstorm had forced the inhabitants to remain sheltered.

     Determined to reach the odd rectangular-shaped structure in the midst of the camp, we wove our way through crude walkways while our shadows, splashed against the tents, made known our presence. By the time we reached our destination, whipping sand had given way to searing heat and Nahshon, son of Amminadab, leader of the children of Judah blocked our way.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love, A Many Splendored Thing

Snowflakes floated silently from the dark night sky while two lovers strolled, hand in hand, down the moonlit street. Reaching the door, their hearts wrenched knowing one would enter and one must leave. A good-bye kiss and adoring embrace made them yearn for another and then another. Through rose-colored glasses, they viewed life and dreamed of the day they would never part.

Ah love, in the beginning of a relationship, it saturates our whole body and we feel as though we’re walking three feet off the ground. Every waking moment is consumed with thoughts of our beloved and our nighttime dreams enhance passion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How Long, O Lord?

2015 started off well, but seven days into this New Year, extreme violence hit.

In our shrinking world of high technology, the massacre in Paris almost feels like it happened here. Through the media, we see the faces of those Parisians who had their loved ones mercilessly cut down and our hearts are touched. From a distance, we groan with righteous indignation and mourn with them, because we know how it feels to have senseless acts of violence perpetrated against us. We remember the horror of 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, and others that fuel an ever-present fear of terrorism. Still, even without foreign influence, our country has seen escalating violence. Anger spewing out in riots, looting, and destruction over court verdicts and vicious, irrational school shootings. It’s as if violence stepped from the movie screen and made its home in our everyday life.