Tag Archives: hope

God’s window

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In this past week I was involved in quite a few conversations and scenarios where the idea of “doubt” came up: What is it? What does it do? Is it good or bad? (etc. etc. etc., as the good king would say :D) And you, knowing me by now, should know that these situations and conversations got me a’thinkin. This is how far I’ve gotten; maybe you can comment and take us all a little further?

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I have always been one to ask questions – from the obvious to the awkward – which means I have always asked questions of my faith as well. In studying theology I found a certain freedom – finally it wasn’t frowned upon to ask questions! In fact, it was encouraged. But in this process of letting go, of going farther and asking more than I had ever imagined, I lost something. Something precious, something that I only realised the worth of a few years later – I lost faith…I lost the capability to know when to let go. I got lost in the pain and the uncertainty of doubt, arrogantly thinking I had finally gotten to where everyone should be journeying. When in fact all I had become was hollow. It was in this time that God graciously introduced Himself to me again – through the faith of others, through their lives and their stories. I was confronted with a freedom I did not know anymore, for I had chosen to become confined within my own small mind and the things that mind could think of and could handle. I thought I had found the answers, because they were answers I could work out; when, in fact, I had only lost the capability to venture outside of myself. I had gotten stuck. Luckily, I got “pulled out” again before there was no turning back. But from then on the debate has raged within and around me – for “doubt” as such is not a bad thing. It makes sure we do not become complacent. Become petrified in our ways.

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” ― René Descartes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom” – Ancient proverb

Doubt can be exactly the window God needs to be able to settle Himself in our souls – it very often is. And doubt can make sure that we are still in relationship with the real God, not our imagined or accepted picture of Him. So when does doubt become negative? When does it scoop all meaning out of our thoughts and our lives? When there is nothing left but doubt and cynicism. When all we do is question and doubt and fear. For then we have nothing to live for, nothing to drive us, nothing to strive towards. All we have is emptiness and trying to live through it.

Faith in doubt

Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.” ― Søren Kierkegaard ” “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

May there always be enough doubt in our lives to keep us honest and our minds and hearts clear. But may there (also) always be a little faith in our doubt, enough faith to make the doubt an instrument, not the end. And may God, the true Source of all doubt and faith, keep watch over us all in our journey on this balancing act called life.


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Risen indeed!

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He is not here!

“The story of Easter is the story of God’s wonderful window of divine surprise.” – Carl Knudsen

“There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou – Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.” – Emily Bronte

“Easter is not a time for groping through dusty, musty tomes or tombs to disprove spontaneous generation or even to prove life eternal.  It is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.” – Author unknown (as quoted in the Lewiston Tribune)

He is risen!

“The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world.  Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice.  But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.” – Henry Knox Sherrill

“Ye sleeping buds, break
Open your green cerements, and wake
To fragrant blossoming for His sweet sake.” – Margaret French Patton

That’s the story of…

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In every moment of every day we are surrounded – by things, by events, and, of course, by people and their opinions. And for every one person in our life – whether they are just passing through or part of the more permanent décor – there are at least three different opinions. And oh, how easy it is to lend out our ears to those people and their opinions! In fact, I think it might not be dramatic to say that our ears are on permanent loan! And then not just to the important people in our lives, but to anyone and everyone who might have what looks like an opinion.

Worst of all? We actually LISTEN to their opinions! We let the opinions of random strangers and people who don’t really know us determine the way we think about ourselves and the way we act! Now, some of it might be reasonably explained by saying “that’s the way I was taught” – they’re family so you are obligated to listen; they are in authority so you must listen; they are seen as very wise and so you would be stupid not to listen.

Overwhelmed

I’m sure we all have those rhymes that are ingrained into the fibre of our being, coming almost as naturally as breathing. They might not sound exactly the same, but the gist remains the same: we are duty-bound to live the life and be the person others expect us to be, for that is the way it has always been done and the only way to be a decent human being. And then we become heavy and weary…and who wouldn’t…because we are carrying around others expectations and desires. But to stop doing that, to stop listening to and doing what others want would be unspeakable, wouldn’t it? It would at the very least be very unchristian?! And so we bend and break under the weight of others’ expectations, for there is always more that we could have done or been, always something that could have and should have been different, always something more. A never-ending spiral of not quite being “good enough”…a spiral that started from the very best of intentions…

But then I am reminded of how Jesus’ family once wanted to stop Him from continuing on with the work He was doing and the reaction they got in Mark 3:31-35 (as well as Matthew 12:46-49 and Luke 8:19-21). Jesus’ own family, the people who knew Him the best, those people we would expect would have His best interests at heart, who would be all for the fulfilment of His life’s purpose, had decided that what He was doing did not fit in with their picture of how things were supposed to work. And so they had come to fetch Him, stop the craziness and take Him home with them. Which I am absolutely sure they thought would be the best thing for Him. Can you imagine what life would have been like if He had not rejected them? Well no, because then there would be no life and no hope. Now that’s something to chew on! Jesus Himself, the perfect example of being human, once had to reject those people we are horrified at even thinking of rejecting (and that is only in our own heads, that is not including the shock and anger of those outside ourselves!). I am also reminded of the words of Doctor Seuss himself: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. It is starting to seem as if we need to adjust the way we think about listening…for sometimes the right thing will get all the wrong reactions and strong resistance, while all the wrong things will be encouraged. So what now?

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver. The only place our ears should be is where our hope and our life lies – with God. He is the only one who truly knows all the details of our innards, He is the only One who has only our best interests at heart and He is the only one whose biggest desire it is to see us succeed. Now, that success might not be the success the world, our family, our friends or the random people on the street think it ought to be. But that success is the success that we were made for…the success in which our purpose, happiness and satisfaction are hidden away. A satisfaction that might mean dissatisfaction for many…

John 17

Is that the same as saying: “Screw everyone, I’m doing what I want”? Well, yes and no. For sometimes you might be convinced of something that you have to do and it causes others frustration or harm, while other times you know you are acting from within selfish desires and others get angry or hurt. What makes the difference then? What gives us the security of knowing that what we are doing is the right thing, even though it might not be the popular thing? RELATIONSHIP. But then not any and every relationship (as we are so prone to do), only our relationship with God. For it truly is only in our walk with God that the truth of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do can be found. Not only that, but it is only in that relationship that we can find true peace with who we are and what we do, no matter what or who surrounds us.

And so it seems then, Romans, that it is time we stopped lending out our ears and start taking them back! “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” – Henry Ellis. May God, and ONLY God, grant us the wisdom of getting to know this art, and may He give us peace in that knowing.

God-coloured glasses

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“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” - Jeremiah 29:11

A verse that, I am sure, most of us have run into in one way or another – whether it be in an encouraging note from a friend/loved one in a bad time; as a way for someone to try and motivate you towards bigger and better things; or as a prophetic promise given to you. It is a verse that has been over-used, “done to death”, as a quick solution to sticky/uncomfortable emotions or situations. It has also become one of the flagship verses for any prosperity gospel worth its salt (and then you and I both know what the hope equals…think The Apprentice’s theme song…). It has become a verse all about how God’s only desire is to help us prosper, to protect us and to ensure our every need satisfied while nothing bad happens to us. But is this message that we have become so accustomed to what God initially intended? Was that the message He was trying to convey to his people? For those answers we will need to look a bit farther than we might be used to – at the rest of the text surrounding the verse…

The verse forms part of a message, conveying God’s will, sent by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. And here we have to pause a moment to allow for sinking in… Because of Israel’s constant rebellion and disobedience, God had permitted for His people to be defeated and taken away into exile in Babylon. They had gone from free citizens of their own kingdom, to being a small minority in an alien culture constantly being mocked, harassed and humiliated. Their cities, their homes and their land, had been destroyed – worse yet, the Temple, the earthly dwelling-place of God had been flattened to the ground. And now they were being kept prisoner so far away from Zion that it must be impossible for God to be with them. Under these circumstances “holding onto their faith” becomes an ever-dwindling daily battle. And it is into exactly these circumstances that Jeremiah speaks, that he brings his people news of God’s promise of prosperity and hope. But then not the prosperity and hope that they were expecting…

“The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia: ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease. Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to theirt dreams. They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken’. The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home’. – Jeremiah 29:4-10

We cry out: "Save us as we want to be saved!" The Israelites were hoping for a power play from God – that He would come forcefully and redeem them from exile; taking them back to the Promised Land and blessing them with more than they could need. THAT would be prosperity and hope! And, if we were only to read verse 11, then that hope could very well sound very plausible. BUT, taking the rest of the text into account, that type of future fades; for, instead of immediate rescue and restoration, God proclaims that the exiles should “settle in comfortably” (i.e. build houses and gardens, marry and have kids etc.) and help build Babylon’s interests. Not only that, He commands them to PRAY FOR Babylon and its people! Because Babylon’s interests are now their interests…the country that still humiliated them at every turn was now their country too…A truth that God ensures is “taken home” by His emphasis on the fact that anyone dreaming or saying anything different – proclaiming quick rescue and immanent departure – should be known for the liars they are. There IS promise of rescue, but then only in seventy years time. It is after this “wonderful” news that we find verse 11, promising prosperity and hope. So how is that supposed to work?! Luckily, God is not done talking yet…

“Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:12-13

Wherein lie the prosperity, the future and the hope that God promises in verse 11? NOT in physical rescue/redemption or material success, BUT in the NEW ESSENCE/NATURE of the relationship between themselves and God. It is not rescue that comes first or is most important for their future and their joy – the foundation of the new future and joy that God promises is thus not to be found or bound to circumstance. It is to be found in God’s eternal self/essence and in His being with them in any circumstance.

Why is it important for us to hear at the beginning of 2012? Because we can (and do) also easily feel like we are in an alien situation/country and that no one is looking after our interests (in fact, that some people are fighting against our interests). We also tend to focus on the negatives of our circumstances – because they do make our lives unpleasant – and lose faith. But faith is to look past circumstance and to see God there.

“An undivided heart, which worships God alone, and trusts Him as it should, is raised above all anxiety for earthly wants.” - John Cunningham Geikie

And to all a good year!

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I don’t know about you, but when I think about the fact that by Sunday we’re in 2012 already, I feel a little overwhelmed. I mean, it feels like yesterday that we were beginning with 2011, and it feels like light-years ago. Sheesh, time flies (and faster and faster too)!

“Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”

Now, I know that not all of us are as emotional or pensive/meditative as others, but at this time of year – even if only for an hour or two – it’s almost impossible to not spend a little while thinking about the year that has passed. And maybe, when looking back, you could be feeling proud, satisfied, surprised, inspired…maybe lonely or sad…or even just tired. This is important because the year that has now gone by has an influence on the year we are entering into: if it’s been a smashing year then you’re probably already jumping for joy at the new year; but if it’s not been your best year, you might be wishing that you could stay in a limbo between the two – a place where you don’t have to deal with the old year, or move into the next.

It would be very easy to over-simplify this and say it’s only about the way you view/understand life – the whole “glass half-empty or glass half-full” shtick – and though there is truth to the saying, we all know it is not as simple as that. We do not live in isolation; people and situations that affect our lives surround us. Whatever the case may be, here we are at the beginning of a new year. Is there something that could be said to inspire us all in our different situations and states of mind?

“You, Lord, are the light that keeps me safe. I am not afraid of anyone. You protect me, and I have no fears. Brutal people may attack and try to kill me, but they will stumble. Fierce enemies may attack, but they will fall. Armies may surround me, but I won’t be afraid; war may break out, but I will trust you. I ask only one thing, lord: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.” – Psalm 27:1-4

Maybe a text where David is going through the same kind of thought process as we are now with the turning of the year. Looking at Psalm 27 I am struck by the realism of the poem – it was not written by someone wearing rose-coloured glasses; it was written by someone who had experienced both sides of life, someone who understands that life is made up of paradoxes, sweet and sour moments, good and bad. Something that is good for all of us to remember at the beginning of this New Year, especially when New Year’s eve itself can be so euphoric. We joke and we laugh and we celebrate, thinking only about the very best things for ourselves and for those around us. But that is not how life works, so maybe that is a good place to start – admitting, together with David, that this new year will have its good and bad parts. There will be times when our faith and our trust will be tested to the utmost.

Sounds a bit too depressing for New Year? Precisely NOT! For in the midst of the realities of life David is writing a testimony of note! He describes God as his Light and his Redeemer, his Refuge, the Rock on which he builds his life. He is looking back at his life, at the year that has passed, and can still describe God as the One that protected him in every difficult situation, the One that never allowed him to go under in any of the storms in his life. This is a man who knows the realities of life and takes them into account – sickness, disappointment, and loss – but does not let these realities bring him down. Why? Because God is the One who lifts up his head, allowing him to look life straight in the eye.

Psalm 27…life as we know it…is ambivalent…filled with things we will never be able to fully understand or explain. We will never have all the answers. There will always be things that leave us in the dark. But in all pain, in every bitter moment, every bad thing that might happen to us need not steal our joy, because our joy’s foundation is not our circumstances but rather the God who is our Light and our Redeemer, our Refuge and our Rock. And He will never ever forsake us.

“What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? It is exactly as the Scriptures say: ‘For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered’. In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” – Romans 8:31-39