Hope’s Thread

A few days ago I shared with my oldest son how hard it was sometimes to hold on to hope when hope itself seems to be so fragile and hanging by a thread. His wonderful response was, “Dad, remember Who’s holding the other end of the thread.”

I shared this with a friend who spun from it a further application. With her permission I share her thoughts here thinking that those whose grasp of hope is tenuous at best might be encouraged by her words.

I was thinking about what you said about hanging on by a thread right now. You came to mind this morning when I was thinking about John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus said that was His reason for coming. And we know that His reasons are never thwarted. Not by exhaustion. Not by frustration. Not by fear. Not by violence. They just are not thwarted.

But I also realized that He didn’t say that he came to give us an easy life to the fullest. Part of life is suffering. I know He was talking at least in part about eternal life, but that’s not what He said. He said “life”—and that includes the now.

So, I think what this means is that even in the now, He is with you. Giving you life to the fullest. If he wasn’t at the end of that thread—which to be honest, I picture to be one of those thick, heavy ropes used for anchoring cruise ships to the deck—there wouldn’t be life to the fullest. But because He is there, in the midst of our fullest suffering, we can also have our fullest hope. And that hope is in the promise that He made. He’s not going to let go.

Come, Jesus

A prayer, this, linked to Simeon’s prophetic hopes in Luke 2, and written by Charles Wesley. Christmas reminds us that that which brings us sorrow us will come to an end.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art,
dear Desire of ev’ry nation,
joy of ev’ry longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chapter 37 and Holding

Community groups at the church I pastor are looking this year at the stories of various biblical characters, thinking through them in the light of our own stories. It is a dual purposed vision of engaging scripture as well as coming to know one another better. It has generally worked very well.

This past Sunday, the group of which I’m a part considered Genesis 37. Genesis 37 introduces us to Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph and his relationships with his father and siblings. Dysfunction does not seem to be a strong enough word to describe this family. Eventually things fall apart so terribly that his brothers decide not to kill Joseph, which was their first impulse, but to sell him into slavery.

I’m not sure too many families are dealing with their dysfunction that way, but I think we all can identify with family life falling short of what we might imagine as an ideal.

We were asked then to consider what we learn about God from the passage. Our general answer was either “nothing” or “he’s absent”. But then it was argued that he was not absent, though he is not mentioned in the chapter. It was pointed out that in Genesis 50, when all was resolved, that Joseph is able to see God’s hand in the whole mess as moving purposefully through his life and the lives of his brothers.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:19, 20)

This was true, others of us argued, but we are not being asked what we learn about God from chapter 50, but what we learn about him in chapter 37. We found it terribly frustrating to try to make sense of chapter 37 without being given recourse to the later chapters.

And then it struck me that this is the very thing that works frustration into our own lives.

We see the dysfunction in our families or churches or work environments. We see the miserable state of our lives. And we can make sense of none of it. We want to see purpose, but we see only sorrow. But that is because we are by our human limitations constrained to see only the present. We are stuck in Chapter 37 where God seems absent. But perhaps one day we will be able to peruse our own “Chapter 50” which will give meaning to our Chapter 37 life.

And if we take Biblical teaching to heart, we can be encouraged to wait with patience. We can be assured that God is at work, purposefully, even when his work is not seen. We can know that we rest in the palm of his hands. We can know that he who began a good work in us, will not leave us unfinished on the potters wheel. We can know that he who raised his Son from the dead is intent on restoring all things and removing all sorrow. We can know that it will make sense one day.

We are simply (!) encouraged to wait. Waiting is hard. Our lives often feel Genesis 37-ish. But waiting is softened by the promise of Genesis 50. And for that we should be grateful.

Poor Randy’s Almanac #3

Hope is an unstable element.

In the accelerator of life, Experience is smashed into Promise and Truth. In the collision, Experience shatters and what remains is Hope.

Exposed by these infinitely more hard and stable elements, Hope’s existence is observed and confirmed.

But it is unstable and fleeting. Soon, experience re-forms obscuring Hope until Promise and Truth shatter it again.

Hope exists for a short while, sometimes longer. Research has shown, however, that under certain future conditions, it will achieve stability and never more be obscured.

Longing

Some background is necessary to understanding this post.

First, we have been traveling on a difficult journey with the family of a seven year old boy, a close friend of my son, who is, to all appearances, losing his battle against leukemia. His name is Joseph and he has spent the better part of the past two months in the hospital. Today is Joseph’s birthday, and that he lives to celebrate it with his family and friends is a wonderful thing. We will help him celebrate.

Secondly, my son and I have become enamored with an odd British sci-fi series called Dr. Who. (Watch the 2005 episode 1 and you’ll be hooked, too.) Dr. Who is a time traveler who travels in what looks like a phone booth but which is really a time-traveling spaceship called a ‘TARDIS‘.

Yesterday, he and I went to the hospital to see Joseph. In the hospital elevator, I said to him, “Hey, this is like a TARDIS. So, where do you want to go?”

Without a pause or a moment’s reflection, he said, “To a dimension where Joseph is not sick.”

A child’s longing is our own.

A longing fulfilled by our gospel hope.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Fragile, Frightful Hope

Hope is always a bit unrealistic.

The reason some of us – myself a prime example – retreat to the confines of what we proudly call ‘realism’ is because we are afraid to hope. Hope is not only unrealistic, it is fearful.

Hope is the longing that one’s desires will somehow be fulfilled. The single gal hopes for a suitor. The married couple hopes for a child. The college graduate hopes for a job. The sports fan hopes for a victory. The church hopes for stability and prosperity. Such hopes are variously realistic and unrealistic.

But if we have hoped and have seen our hopes dashed, it will not be long before we are afraid to hope any longer. Hope draws our fragile emotions out into the open where they are vulnerable once again to being beaten to death by disappointment. After a hurtful breakup, or the third miscarriage, or the fourth rejection letter, or the fifth pastor in seven years, we may have no more desire to risk disappointment. We retreat, fearfully, into what we call realism. It protects us from hope. It protects us from hurt. It’s not a happy place, but it is a safe place.

My sports obsession has given me insight here, insight that I see as applicable in the more serious affairs of life.

After the Tampa Bay Rays lost the second game of their best of five series with the Texas Rangers, I lost all hope. I was a realist, of course. They stood a 13% chance, statistically, of coming back to win the next three games. I watched game 3 with no emotion, and no fear, because I had no hope. To watch without hope was safe. To hope would have introduced the risk of hopes being unfulfilled, and I did not want to face that.

But they won game 3 and game 4. Now, they play Tuesday night with a chance to advance to the American League Championship Series. And I find myself trying to put away all hope, because of my fear of disappointment. I want to hope, but I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll face the frustration of disappointment.

That is a window into my heart and my sin, but I believe it to be a window into the hearts of many. We have been broken so many times, that we refuse to hope anymore. The only way to be open to hope again is to find a place to stash the fear. And I don’t know any way to do that other than to be reminded that I am a beloved child of God.

I can never know beforehand whether the Rays will win or not. And I cannot tell another whether he or she will find a mate or have a child. And I cannot know whether my church will prosper or falter.

But I can know that whether any of these things come to pass or not, none of them change the way God looks at me. His embrace never slackens. His heart never grows cold. And when I look into his face, the candle of hope can flicker once again to life.

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I cannot tell from day to day how many will or will not be reading this blog. I would benefit from hearing your thoughts on these reflections, or some word of your experience, regarding the intersection of fear and hope.

Lost Scripture Fragment

A lost fragment of the Bible has just been found which sheds light on yesterday’s post.

Scholars are still studying this fragment to determine its place in the canon of Scripture. However, it appears to be a portion of a conversation between Moses and his brother Aaron. Israel is pinned between the Red Sea and the advancing Egyptian army. In the fragment, Aaron comes to Moses, and says:

“I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m a realist. We’re toast.”

As I said, scholars are still debating the authenticity of this fragment. Rings true to me.

Hope Is Unrealistic

I have spoken, with pride, and from the pulpit, the fact that I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist.

I now repent of such notions.

When I have said such things, it was to separate me from the irrational, polyanna-ish view of life which suggests that all is right with the world. It’s not and so a dose of what we call biblical realism is certainly necessary.

And yet it is far too easy to settle into ‘realism’ as an abandonment of hope. We can look at a situation, a marriage, a church, children, or whatever, and claim that we are being realistic about the situation as we paint the grimmest of possible outcomes. In so doing, we may  under the banner of realism be wrongly subduing hope.

Hope, really, is always just a bit unrealistic, isn’t it? Jesus encouraged his disciples to expect him to rise again from the dead. But they were realists. Peter’s friends prayed for something, but obviously not his release from custody. They were realists, after all.

Hope is always unrealistic. There is a place for rational evaluation of circumstances. But there is no place for rational evaluation displacing hope. And we who claim to be realists, we are all so good at displacing hope.

I am still neither a pessimist nor an optimist. But I do not wish to be a realist if that means emptying life of hope.

So, I’m hopeful. I think that is where we are supposed to be.