Tag Archives: hope

Making Sense of Suffering

First of all, making sense of suffering is an almost impossible task. The tragedies that the author of It is Well with My Soul, a hymn that has comforted countless grief-stricken, heart-broken people, are almost incalculable. Horatio Spafford lost so much in a short span of time that it would have been quite understandable if he had given in to bitterness and fury. How did he cling to faith in the midst of such pain?

Most of us have known the wrenching devastation of grief and suffering. Platitudes don’t help. It would be better if those who try to explain our misery would just remain silent. When there are no answers, we don’t need someone to try to give them to us.

Where do we turn? Where is the God who promises protection and provision for His children? How can God claim that “never again will you fear any harm” and be “mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:15, 17)? How can a loving God allow so much suffering?

Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, wrote a wonderful book, Objects of His Affection. In the eighth chapter of the book, he offered his thoughts on the love of suffering. The love of suffering? Whose love? Can we really believe that God can love us through suffering? Can’t He just take our suffering away or keep it from happening altogether? Can there possibly be a purpose in our suffering?

We draw close to Holy Week, the week of the passion of Jesus. Smith noted that God has responded to the suffering of His world through His Son. Jesus Himself spoke of His purpose in coming into our world. After His encounter with Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save those like him who are lost” (Luke 19:10). Mark’s gospel recorded these words of the Lord: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Smith wrote: “To desire the saving of many lives over the preservation of one’s own life is the way of the cross. It is the saving of many lives that defines the suffering of Jesus.” It is ultimately the suffering of Jesus that can help us gain a better perspective. “It is the suffering of Jesus that answers our cry for justice in the face of evil, suffering, and injustice. And it is the suffering Jesus who knows how to console us until the promised day of vindication and consummation of our redemption.”

“The Way of the Cross Leads Home” is not just some trite religiosity. It is a life view. It is a way of facing the tragedy and pain with hope that sin, evil, and death are not the end of the trail. The cross is our symbol of what we mean to the Father. The cross is His statement that nothing would prevent the ultimate destruction of that which seeks to destroy us. Even through a veil of tears, we continue to be a people of faith, trust, and love.


His eye is on the sparrow

“What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matthew 120:29,30)

“Mrs. Civilla Martin, author of this gospel hymn text, tells of a visit in 1904 to a bedridden Christian friend. Mrs. Martin asked the woman if she ever got discouraged because of her physical condition. Her friend responded quickly: ‘Mrs. Martin, how can I be discouraged when my heavenly Father watches over each little sparrow and I know He loves and cares for me.’”

What song would you write about your response to the circumstances of your life? With much to complain about or to grieve over or to be terrified by, it might seem that our lyrics might display our disenchantment or disgust or anxiety. Or we could live in trust and faith …

God said to Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged . For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

David said to Goliath: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies – the God of Israel. This is the Lord’s battle and He will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

Nehemiah said to the residents of Jerusalem: “Don’t’ be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Paul said to the church at Rome: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky about or in the earth below – indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give you is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

John Henry Howett wrote: “Let us sing even when we do not feel like it, for in this way we give wings to heavy feet and turn weariness into strength.”

Civilla Martin wrote: “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He’s watches me.”

What song will you sing?

One little letter

They sound the same. They are spelled the same … except for one little letter.

Mourning and morning. Mourning is about grief, about the recognition of loss. You cannot love without loss. That’s where the one little letter comes in.  “U” stands for each of us because each of us has known and will know what it means to lose something that or someone who matters. The “u” can also refer to us. Grief can drive us apart or bring us together. We may mourn privately but our healing usually comes in community. We can be overwhelmed by our personal sadness but we can also be surrounded by those who will bear our griefs with us.

And yet there is more. How does mourning turn to morning? We are approaching Holy Week. In order to arrive at Easter we have to pass by the cross. The blackest day in history calls us not to pass by, but to linger and mourn – mourn the death, mourn the devastation of sin, mourn our responsibility. But we cannot linger long because Sunday’s coming.

On the morning of the third day, the power of sin and death and evil was broken. In the morning the stone was rolled away. In the morning the perfect sacrifice who suffered a cruel death left the grim reaper in the dust. In the morning He turned mourning to joy.

Within the span of a few days, the deaths of two remarkable women named Debbie have given us reason to mourn. Our hearts are broken for the families who have suffered loss. But we are people of hope as they were women of faith. Our mourning will turn to joy because of that morning two thousand years ago. One little letter … For God so loved “u” that He gave His only Son. Mourning turned to morning.

Take a deep breath

Good-bye 2016. You brought a plethora of experiences and events that touched every human emotion. We have known grief, despair, anger, confusion, disappointment, and fear. Our world has been rocked by disaster, violence, displacement, and loss. Notable people died this past year. Some of them had obtained celebrity status. Many perhaps mattered more to some of us because they were family and friends. We can be overcome by all that went wrong, all that hurt us, and all that we would change. We turn the page and engage a new year.

Greetings 2017. We refuse to take our first steps into the uncertainty of the days ahead terrorized by the darkness and destruction of evil. We are a people of hope who know the Creator of life personally, who claim an eternal relationship with the King of kings, who believe that we have a purpose to fulfill and a mission to accomplish. The path we will walk will not be without difficulty or pain. We know that we will need more than inner strength to face what will come our way. We claim the comfort, support, and faithfulness of family, friends, neighbors, fellow believers. Even more, we rely on the One who promised to be always with us.

Let His Word speak …

“Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9); “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 4:14; 8:10); “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1); “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13); “He who is faithful to all these things says, ‘I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 21:20)

Light out of darkness

 A young German soldier was shipped to the front in the last days of World War II. Aware that his army was in desperate straits and the outcome was certain, he surrendered to the first British soldier he met. He was sent to a prisoner of war camp for the duration of the war.

He came from a family that had no interest in religion. While in the camp, he came to know some fellow soldiers as well as some Allied personnel who were Christians. Far from home, discouraged by his circumstances, and horrified as he learned of the ghastly horrors of concentration camps much different than the one where he was held, he began to consider matters of the spirit for the first time in his life. An American chaplain gave him a New Testament that he read with great interest. His life changed.

That young man was Jürgen Moltmann. He became one of the foremost theologians of our time. One of his greatest contributions was his classic work, Theology of Hope. He spoke of the transformation he experienced: “Many of us then, and I was one, glimpsed the light that radiates from the divine child. This light did not allow me to perish. This hope kept us alive.”

He knew the power of darkness, but he also knew that light was stronger still: “Today I see before me the millions of the imprisoned, the exiled, the deported, the tortured, and the silenced everywhere in the world where people are pushed into darkness. For it is on them that the divine light now shines.”

More than ever, the world needs the light, the life, the hope of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who proclaimed Himself the Light of the world, called His followers to be light and salt in the world He died to save. The season of Christmas gives us many opportunities to push back the darkness!


Of course I pray

Following a Sunday morning service, a man said to his friend, “I’ll bet you can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer.” The other man responded, “Yes, I can! Listen: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep …'”

“Wow!” said the first man, stunned. “I was sure you wouldn’t know it!”

Do you remember how you learned to pray? Did it start at your bedside or at the table? Was church the place you first began to pray? Was it a crisis that brought you to your knees? Was there a moment of awe and wonder that made you shout for joy and pray with praise?

Sometimes I think we make it more difficult than it needs to be. Prayer should be so natural. The psalmist wrote, “I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy. Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1,2).

It is just that simple. God loves each of us like He loves all of us. He cares about His children. He invites us into an intimate relationship with Him. He wants us to share our lives, our hopes, our fears, our needs, our hurts for our sake. He knows. He really does.

Jim Cymbala noted: “I have discovered an astonishing truth. God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need Him.”

The week ahead offers us opportunities to pray in private and together in community. Prayer should happen naturally in a fellowship of believers. It should be characterized by expectancy and confidence. We approach the throne of grace boldly, said the writer of Hebrews (4:16). Robert Smith wrote: “You want prayer to be something that’s a powerful expression of faith and belief that God can touch those around you.” Prayer changes us as we pray for things to change. Here are some key factors for praying churches:

  • Praying churches experience breakthroughs – barriers are torn down, pathways are cleared, new directions are forged
  • Praying churches have praying leaders – leaders must first be followers who seek the true Leader
  • Praying churches anticipate answers – stories are told, answers are celebrated, a climate of expectation is fostered
  • Praying churches attempt great things for God – when God’s people pray, God works. When God works, transformation occurs

It’s time to pray!

What if?

It happened on June 24, 1935. Four young people were double dating. The young man who was driving tried to take a curve going too fast. He lost control. The car flipped several times, ejecting three of the passengers. The fourth was pinned under the car. The others survived their injuries. She didn’t. Elizabeth Wilbanks died that night. She was 17 years old. She had just graduated from high school.

The boy she was dating that night was the driver of the car. He was Jewish. Why should that matter? These young people lived in Anniston, northeast Alabama … in the ‘30’s. A young Baptist girl was dating a Jewish boy in the Deep South. You would have thought there might have been a scandal. No. The community rallied around the young people and the grieving family.

Elizabeth’s older brother by two years was a student at the University of Alabama. His parents got word to him; he needed to come home. Something terrible had happened. It wouldn’t be the last time. Thirteen years later, he would receive another summons. His younger brother was in the hospital in Anniston. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 24 years old when he died.

He lost both siblings in his young adult years. In between their deaths, he served in the 90th Division of the US army in the European Theater from 1943 to 1945. He came home with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. A lot of his buddies were left behind.

Life is full of “what ifs” – you take the left fork instead of the right; circumstances develop that force your hand in unexpected ways; young lives are cut short; dreams are altered or shattered. Misery happens to all of us sooner or later. Our broken world serves up a great deal of pain and heartache. How do you live with the “what ifs” of life?

I wish I had all the answers. Even with the consoling help of Scripture, we can be overwhelmed by the “what ifs” we ponder. The young man who lost so much in those years had two amazing parents. After all, they had lost two children and fretted the loss of their oldest in war. They didn’t approach their sorrows and fears with blind faith. Instead, they practiced a willing trust that didn’t demand all the answers. They chose to live with hope. They laughed and sang with joy, a joy that sustained them when their hearts were heavy. Their surviving son learned well. He also chose to live with optimistic, joyful faith. He modeled that faith among those he loved and served. If he had lived, he would be 100 on July 16. We don’t mourn his death; we celebrate his life – full of faith, hope, and love. He was my dad.

Wishes come true?

The song was written in 1940 for Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story a little wooden puppet who became a real boy. The animated character who sang it was a talking cricket named Jiminy. The original version was performed by singer Cliff Edwards. The song continues to be the theme song for the Walt Disney Company. It was the first Disney song to win an Oscar.

“When You Wish upon a Star” suggests a world where dreams come true. Pinocchio’s wish was granted. In Disney films, dreams usually do come true. I am a sucker for happy endings.

Life doesn’t always work out that way. We live in a broken world where people don’t dare to dream because they believe there is no use in dreaming; because hard work doesn’t always end in success; because someone else seems to have all the luck; because life can be cruel and heartless.

So, why try?

  • Because life is too precious to waste
  • Because we don’t have to wallow in misery
  • Because someone needs us
  • Because our dreams open the world to new possibilities
  • Because we are children of the King
  • Because we were made to be His masterpieces
  • Because there is no one else just like us

We can become jaded, cynical, pessimistic, and fatalistic. We can expect the worst because we look for the worst. We can bathe in self-pity and join the ranks of the miserable …

Or we could choose another path: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

That was Paul’s advice in Philippians 4.

Paul might not have had the sweet tenor voice of Jiminy Cricket, but his words sound like a hopeful hymn to me: “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”


Triumph over Tragedy

Monty Williams had just been told his playing days were over. A promising freshman basketball player at Notre Dame, he was devastated by the doctor’s diagnosis – a rare cardiovascular condition that could take his life if he continued to play. Disconsolate, he thought about suicide. He had met a young woman named Ingrid Lacy and they were falling in love. When he was at his lowest, she encouraged him to set his sights on new challenges. In the next two years, their relationship blossomed. Friends and family were praying for him. His symptoms vanished and he was able to return to the team and then head to the NBA.

Triumph over tragedy? Monty Williams now coaches with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Life seemed to be on the upswing. He and Ingrid, valued contributors to their church and community, enjoyed a full life. Parenting five children was both daunting but rewarding. On February 9th, Ingrid was driving, accompanied by three of their children when her vehicle was struck by a car traveling at 92 mph. The head-on collision took the lives of Ingrid and the woman driving the other car. The children survived their ordeal.

Triumph over tragedy? On ebruary 18th, more than 900 people gathered for the “celebration of life” service to honor and remember Ingrid Williams. The crowd included NBA and college coaches and players, civic leaders from Oklahoma, media members, and people who just wanted to be there to support the family.

Monty Williams gave the eulogy that day. You can find it easily because the service coverage went viral. The grieving husband acknowledged the family’s  pain but said, “We didn’t lose her. When you lose something, you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is.”

His powerful words spoke of hope in the face of despair, and faith in the presence of heartache. He asked those assembled to pray for the family of the woman who also lost her life. He didn’t pretend there was no hole in his heart, but he refused to be defeated.

In our broken world, tragedy happens much too often. How do we make it when it happens to us? There are no easy answers, no simple pathway. Every day is a crisis in faith. But every day is an opportunity to take one step. Bill Gebhardt was the Williams’ pastor while Monty coached the New Orleans Pelicans. He said of Monty: “He truly understands that the price of love is grief, and he is deeply grieving. He is facing each day with faith and authenticity.”

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Empty words? Not to Monty Williams.

Spring is about to spring

Now that Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, Downton Abbey has reached its climactic end, Hollywood has thrown itself its congratulatory party, and baseball’s spring training is underway, I guess we’re getting close to spring. The season of rebirth, new beginnings, warmer temperatures, and fresh hope draws near.

Over the next few months, celebrations of all kinds will take place. The greatest occurs when Christians around the world remember that they are Resurrection people.

There will be proms and graduations and weddings – important events in the lives of people who yearn for reasons to rejoice. We need moments when we mark milestones.

One mother of the bride felt it was necessary to add one more touch to the wedding reception. She thought a biblical text affixed to the wedding cake would set the right tone for the bride and groom as they began their new life together. She asked the baker to write out the text of a portion of 1 John 4:18 on the cake. She chose these words; “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Encouraging. Bold. Hopeful. Right?

Whoops! The baker made a mistake. He thought the text came from John 4:18. He probably should have checked first, but since he was being paid good money …

Here’s what the words were on the cake: “For you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband.”

Hopefully, somebody found another can of icing for a quick fix. If not, don’t you wish you had been invited so you could see the fireworks?

It’s because we are imperfect and we stumble and we mess things up, that we need to celebrate. So much goes wrong that it is really nice when things go right.

Think about the week that Jesus spent in Jerusalem. On Sunday, He was being hailed as the coming king. By Thursday, He was being hunted and betrayed. On Friday, He was nailed to a Roman cross. On Saturday, darkness reigned and evil gloated. But on Sunday, sin and death were cowering before an empty tomb and a risen Savior. Celebrate, Spring is about to spring!