Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Tis the Season of Hope

Here’s the transcript of my thoughts I shared at “The Service of Hope” held on December 16th, 2018.

img_0851I’m here this afternoon because like many of you I have experienced the loss of someone significant in my life. My father passed away in 2005 and my mother in 2016. The pain of loss is real and no one is immune to its effects—even those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus don’t need to apologize to anyone for their pain and sorrow in that regard. One of my favorite passages of scripture is the 11th chapter of John, which gives the account of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. In that story Jesus is moved by the sorrow of Mary and Martha as they mourned the loss of their brother. The words, “Jesus wept,” serve to remind me Jesus knows and understands the pain and sadness we feel when we lose someone we love.

Dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Growing up I idolized my father. By the time I graduated from college he didn’t seem that important to me. I had a life of my own. Yes, we gathered together at family functions but I wasn’t that connected to him anymore. When I reached my 40s, having established my family and a career, an unexplained desire emerged to get to know dad better. Looking back I see it was God who gave me that desire and I’m glad I acted on it. I recall praying God would show me something we could do together to connect with him.

Family genealogy turned out to be the vehicle that joined us together. Dad and I quickly became hooked on it. My wife Patty and I made a number of trips together with my parents to Pennsylvania as we researched our family tree. Not long after we connected dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It turned out to be the aggressive sort and 9 months later he died. I believe God wanted dad and me to be together as he struggled to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. When he could no longer pray, I prayed for him.

God prompted me to do something else when I learned dad wouldn’t be with us much longer. He inspired me to write down my thoughts as dad and I walked through this ordeal together. Perhaps some of you have read these thoughts in the book, Junior’s Hope. It was a book that almost wasn’t published. I figured it was my therapy, you know, something to help me cope with losing a father, my namesake and friend. I wanted to chronicle my life with him and create something to remember him by. But as time passed after his death I believed my writing had served its purpose and it didn’t need to be printed. Then one night, which happened to be exactly one year to the day after his death, I saw my father in a dream. In that dream I saw dad as a healthy man in the prime of life. We exchanged a few words and then he was gone. The dream was so real it filled me with hope and inspired me to get the book published. I remember thinking, okay Lord you made your point.

My life changed after dad passed away. I now had one more person to care for, mom. While I deferred to Patty to take care of mom’s physical needs, I focused on helping mom with whatever else she needed. As it turns out the book I almost never published became a source of hope for her. She was so proud of me that she had to tell everyone she knew about it. We can never fully understand the purposes of God. He accomplishes them on so many different levels.

Mom lived 11 more years without dad. Family, friends and Christmas were the joys of her life.  During her life, mom dabbled in writing poetry. I usually don’t dabble in poetry but the time I spent with her inspired me to write a handful of poems on her behalf. When I showed them to her she’d say, “Bill that’s exactly how I feel.” One of the shorter ones is printed on the back page of your bulletin.

Storms

During the closing months of her life we liked to exchange a couple of phrases. I wanted to reassure her she was truly loved so I would say to her, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” To this she’d reply, “I love you, I love you, I love you more!” The second exchange came about out of her concern as to how tired I looked attending to her various personal effects and financial affairs. She’d say, “Bill you don’t have to come see me tomorrow if you’re tired. Stay home and rest.” To this I would say, “I’ll rest when you rest.” We both knew what I meant by her resting. Mom passed away in the summer of 2016.

The pain I felt when dad and mom passed away was so overwhelming it’s hard to put into words. I miss them very much, especially at Christmastime. I have so many Christmas memories.

The reason we gather for a service such as this one is to hear how others have found hope in dark places. I’d like to spend the rest of my time with you talking about how I found hope in a dark place.

I have learned a few things as I struggled to cope with the loss of dad and mom. The first thing that became apparent to me is there is a strong relationship between hope and faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I hope you don’t mind me repeating that verse. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I wear a pendant I found in mom’s jewelry chest to remind me true hope can only be found in Jesus. Inscribed on it are the words, “In Christ alone my hope is found…he is my light, my strength, my song.”

Following the death of my father, I vowed not to be mad at God; I did not want to blame him for my loss. If there was one person who could help me, it was God. I found a scripture verse to remind me that God is always working on my behalf. Romans 8:28 declares, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Instead of being mad at God I chose to embrace him.

I think it was my widowed neighbor that first shared with me the significance of frog. Do you know what F. R. O. G. stands for? I didn’t. It means Fully Rely On God. Someone who fully relies on God is better able to stand on the promises of God with both feet firmly planted. So when a wave of despair wakes me up in the middle of the night, my soul can sing with all its might, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”

The last thing I’ll share with you is something I found in the book of Joshua as I was preparing to lead a study on the book Sunday mornings this past fall. Joshua was in the same boat I was in. The beloved leader of the Israelites, Moses, had just died. It was up to Joshua to pick up the pieces and journey on without him. God tells Joshua in chapter 1:8, “Be strong and very courageous!”

Brushing aside my first thoughts that this had something to do with physical strength and metal toughness, I believe God was telling Joshua that hope could be found in strong and courageous faith. God goes on to tell Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and later, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” With my whole being I believe these words to be true. God will not leave me and he will not forsake me in my hour of need. He will be with me wherever I go. He will do the same for you. Faith in God is a true source of hope.

In closing, I would add these words penned by the Apostle Peter:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  1 Peter 1:3-6

“Tis the season of hope!

Advertisements

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_0620

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.  Psalm 107:8

Your coffee mug verse: Philippians 1:6

coffee-690421_960_720

Philippians is one of those inspiring reads prompting some to plaster its verses on tee shirts, wall plaques and coffee mugs.  It’s been called by some the epistle of joy.   With that thought in mind, I’ll be including “scraps” from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi in my blog over the next several weeks.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6

good-night-3027664_960_720

The good work being referred to is the work of grace in the heart of a believer in Jesus Christ.  Consider Charles Spurgeon’s comment on God’s desire to complete the good work He began in the lives of his children:

“Where is there an instance of God’s beginning any work and leaving it incomplete? Show me for once a world abandoned and thrown aside half formed; show me a universe cast off from the Great Potter’s wheel, with the design in outline, the clay half hardened, and the form unshapely from incompleteness.”

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” Philippians 1:9

Believe with all your heart that God has a purpose and a plan for your life!

Trustworthy: 3

Trustworthiness; an important quality sorely lacking in leadership.

If you met someone who’s aware of everything you’ve ever done, who knows you better than you know yourself, willing to meet your every need, and guide your footsteps, wouldn’t you want to follow him?

Trustworthy3

Jesus, creator and sustainer of the universe is worthy of our trust.

Grace and truth

I heard a sermon recently about being an authentic Christian.  I wouldn’t describe my pastor’s words as comforting.  I have been thinking about two words ever since; grace and truth.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17

I understand that grace and truth are a part of the Christian’s salvation experience.  But for some reason we followers of the gospel end up gravitating towards one of two camps over the course of time as we journey.

Grace without truth is meaningless.  You might know them as chameleon Christians who are tossed by the wind when they encounter change or challenging issues.  Conversely, truth without grace leads to legalism. Often times people find them to be an angry, condescending bunch when others make different choices than they do.

Having found myself in each camp at one time or another in my life, my pastor’s message troubled me.  Grace and truth are both needed as we journey.  Truth says to me, “You know right from wrong, yet you still make wrong choices sometimes.  You are in constant need of grace.”  Grace whispers, “I have embraced you time each time you have asked for it, so why not demonstrate it to others by loving God and your neighbor.”

We do need both.  Truth grounds us in the faith, and lovingly extending grace to others affirms our witness.  Thank you Pastor H. for bringing this to my attention.

care-583236_960_720

Making a New’s Year Resolution

new year'sresolution2016Let me begin by wishing everyone a Happy New Year! This is my final installment of the series entitled, “table scraps” (words likely to be used at family gatherings over the holidays). As you might expect, I chose a word closely associated with this time of year: “resolution.”

In 2013, Dan Diamond, a blogger and contributor to //onforb.es (www.Forbes.com), states that 40% of Americans are likely to make New Year’s resolutions but only 8% of them will achieve their goal. According to Diamond, “More often than not, people who fail to keep their resolutions blame their own lack of willpower.” He cites a desire for self-improvement as the leading factor in making resolutions.

My reasons for making a resolution would include, a desire to act on something that’s been bothering me, whether it is guilt from neglecting something or someone, or inaction (not doing something I feel I should be doing). Like many other people, I would include health related reasons; two of my favorites are losing some weight and exercising more.

Our culture has adopted the practice of making our resolutions at the start of a New Year. I guess the new calendar symbolizes a fresh start and makes the starting date easier to recall. Add to that the social buzz created by a host of others also making resolutions and you have a strength in numbers kind of thing going on. For people of faith, having just celebrated the birth of Christ on Christmas, a new calendar year offers a convenient starting point to resolutely draw closer to God.

This year, before you jump on the bandwagon and vow to make a resolution, you may want to give more thought to the word’s meaning. Google defines “resolution” as “a firm decision to do or not do something.” Synonyms include: intention, decision, commitment, pledge, and promise. Words closely related to resolution are: “resolute,” (purposeful, determined, and unwavering) and “resolve” (defined as a “firm determination to do something”).  Making a resolution, then, can be likened to drawing a line in the sand, and vowing not to cross it.

Returning to Dan Diamond’s piece for a moment, he gives the following advice for making a resolution: (1) keep it simple (small, obtainable), (2) make it tangible (eliminate vagueness), (3) make it obvious (have visual reminders), and (4) keep believing you can do it (have willpower).

If you are a Christian you can add a fifth point: involve God in your resolution making decision and seek out His help in seeing it through. He is very much interested in the little details in our lives. Take Romans 8:28 for example, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

A quick peek at my Bible concordance (TNIV translation) yielded two scripture passages using the word “resolved,” Daniel 1:8 and 1 Corinthians 2:2. Since the book of Daniel is one of my favorite books, I decided to check that verse out.

“But Daniel resolved to not defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.” (TNIV translation)

Here Daniel resolved not to do something – not to eat of the king’s delicacies. He was a prisoner of war taken to a foreign land, to be assimilated into a pagan Babylonian culture. To resist assimilation meant facing the possibility of being killed. Many scholars feel he was a young teen when he was taken to Babylon and made this resolution.

As a true believer in God, Daniel believed there was no separation between his religious beliefs new year's resolution 2016and the world he functioned in. (Many of us need reminding of this fact on a regular basis.) The former (his faith) governed the latter (his work). His resolve to resist defiling himself came from within; he purposed not to do this in his heart. His decision was an act of worship, not one of self-affirmation or self-improvement.

On the surface the resolution seems trivial until you look at its broader implications. Daniel was being asked to abandon his devout faith in God and adopt a pagan way of life. He made the resolution out of a need to preserve his relationship with God.   God honored Daniel by working on his behalf and making it possible for Daniel to eat the food and water of his choosing. By keeping the resolution he made, Daniel’s life became a conduit for the miraculous workings of God.

What, if any, resolution will you make this year? Will you be including God in your plans?

Loneliness

maeterlinck

This week’s quote affirms a dog’s willingness and capability to address one of our most basic needs–companionship.  Canine companionship, however, has one major limitation, it doesn’t last forever.  A dog’s presence in our life, however, does point to an everlasting companion.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NLT