What I’ve Learned from Running

I have never been a consistent runner. There have been a few attempts attempts at trying to get in the swing of it for the sake of getting into shape but motivation was highly lacking. In some instances an old college knee injury crept up and sidelined those attempts. Then there was life, and plenty of excuses to go along with it.

Alas, and out of the blue I was challenged to run a half-marathon. Not more than 4 miles had my weak little legs carried me for a run. My couch sitting was at its high and my athletic prowess was at its low. I thought, “there is no way, I can do this.” But now that I had gotten sucked in, I had to try.

Since then I purchased shoes, found a training plan, and started to prepare. With 1.5 days before the race begins (at the time of composition) I determined it would be good to reflect publicly on lessons learned along the way. This post might get a bit lengthy, so feel free to read it a piece at a time. Also, I don’t want this to be a brag piece. I suck at running and my only goal is to run / jog the whole thing without walking. The professionals will finish in less than 1/3 the time it will take me.

1) A person needs to have the right gear and plan. I was able to find some cheap(ish) shoes that get the job done, but better shoes would have been nicer. Once the shoes were acquired a proper training regimen was found. I needed something that would get me from not running to running a half-marathon in 12 weeks. It did not have to lead to a good time but simply help me cross the finish line. This took a little trial and error. The first plan selected lead to an injury and overworked muscles. A much less aggressive plan had to be selected instead. The point is just going out and running would have gotten me prepared. I needed to have smaller achievable goals that helped me get in shape and develop under-developed muscles. We all need to have plans for getting ourselves into spiritual shape and develop weaknesses that might hold us back.

2) A person needs support and instruction in the middle of the process. Helping me stay motivated was Sarah. It is not possible to achieve such a task without people give words of affirmation. Also, when a person runs into problems in the middle of training it is important to talk to people who are more experienced. When I injured myself, I had to consult people about healing the injury and preventing it in the future. Simply googling the problem was not enough. In fact, had I followed the advice I read online, my training should have ended and the race would not be run by me. In all areas of life, we need to have people that we can look up to for advice, instruction, and help. Finding the information online does not always cut it. We need to be able to have back and forth conversations with trusted friends who will give us accurate information. Had not Shawn or Jim given the right advice when I needed it, again, I posit that I could not have made it this far in my training program.

3) Humility is necessary. In reading up on running a half-marathon, I encountered posts about over-training leading to injury. It seemed ridiculous that a person could injure themselves apart from a sprained ankle from running into a pothole or breaking an arm from tripping. Then it happened. I trained too hard and injured my Achilles tendon. That was a major dose of humility. Another dose was given after checking the race results form last year and seeing my practice time being about equal to those in the 50-55 age category. We must be humble in all aspects of our lives. Not in a humble brag sort of way. But we really need to adopt a humble heart, speak with humble words, and serve with humble thanksgiving.

4) Training hurts. Muscles burn and ache when being used in ways that they are not accustomed to. Injuries hurt. I had to work through strengthening a weak, injured knee. I had to work through letting my Achilles tendon loosen up and heal. I got an outer ear infection, probably from wearing earbuds in the rain. Working through the pain, as well as taking precautions to let injuries heal are both important for health and meeting the goal of finishing a race. Our spiritual walk, discipleship, serving others, and so on, will all involve pain. Pain from self-sacrifice. Pain from strained relationships. Pain from letting go of old habits and sins. Pain from saying no to something incredibly fun but will interfere with our goal.

5) I found listening to sermons while running was more motivating than listening to music. It was easier to keep a faster pace listening to sermons from Arron Chambers, Cam Huxford, Gene Appel, and other interesting preachers. Sorry, Caleb, I have not taken the time to search for DCC in Podcasts to subscribe to. Don’t feel left out. I plan on listening to your sermons as I continue to train after the race. There was only one occasion where listening to a sermon made running difficult. That was during a time when the speaker was getting started a little slow with the sermon and it was not interesting. Had I switched the sermon off and skipped to the next one, I would not have benefited from the rest of the sermon. I was glad I stuck through the longer than necessary beginning to get to the meatier parts later. Listening to these various speakers helped me to a little introspection on my own preaching as well as learn to give a little grace to other preachers. It also taught me as a listener that sometimes there are going to be boring parts, but I need to have self-control enough to not turn it off and wait for the parts that God wants me to hear. In other words, preaching is not always going to be high-energy, captivating, or A+ quality, but is something we need to listen to and live out.

6) We need to be challenged. I would never have gotten off the couch and tried to run a half-marathon without being challenged to do so. We might not do the things of God without being challenged to do so. If someone is not directly challenging us, we need to be in God’s word to let God challenge us. We also need to be evaluating our own lives in light of Scripture and challenging ourselves in our faith. We tend to dislike challenge because it requires us to change and move. But, we absolutely need it.

7) West Virginia is nothing but hills. It seems like I ran uphill even when running downhill.

Finally, my mind turns to 1 Corinthians 9. In this passage Paul describes the effort he went through to reach Jews and Gentiles alike. He laid down his rights, he learned important aspects of culture, he worked a trade, and became a servant of all. To summarize the reasons for his effort he wrote, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:23) In other words, he puts in all of that effort so that he could win the lost and share the blessings of Christ with them. From there he goes on to a seemingly disconnected thought.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

In reality, Paul is describing how he was able to accomplish so much for the sake of others. He saw not just his faith, but the sharing the Gospel as an athletic competition or race. He uses the self-control, discipline, sacrifice, and training that athletes endure to describe the self-control and hard work required to share the Gospel with others. He keeps himself in check by not indulging in sin or taking advantage of rights that might derail his ministry.

It is one thing to think about Paul’s analogy in the abstract, but a person receives a totally different perspective when living the truth behind the analogy. It takes a LOT of work and dedication to prepare for an athletic competition. It takes saying no to certain things and forcing yourself to get out of bed to prepare for training. There are so many times a person wants to succumb to laziness or to quit in the middle of training out of exhaustion but must press on because of the goal ahead. The same distractions, laziness, weakness, lack of motivation, and exhaustion are a part of our spiritual journal and especially that part where we must work diligently to bring the Gospel to those who need to hear it.

On The Latest Police Shootings

In the last few days the news and social media has been filled with accounts of two african americans being shot by police. The facts are still muddy, but tempers are flaring. I’ve seen some of the video footage and have read some of the accounts. Regardless of exact circumstances these are tragedies that should be mourned. Additionally, I think I should attempt to add my voice to the chaos. I will attempt to do so in the following rambling paragraphs.

People that others cared for died. People that others relied on for support, guidance, fatherhood, etc., died. They died at the hands of people who are supposed to protect and serve. We can armchair quarterback these situations until our recliners break, but that will not bring back the dead or heal the wounds of family and friends. It also cannot remove the fear that African Americans have of being unjustly shot for being black.

Beyond this, I want to say racism is terribly un-Blbical and is far from being anything like Jesus. He ministered to Gentiles himself, and guided the church into racial integration. When Jesus appeared to speak in racist tones (“I only came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel”), he was speaking of Spiritual Israel and was setting up a gentile woman to let her faith shine. We should speak against racism where it exists.

To all my white friends who are generally pro law enforcement: There are so many good cops who go above and beyond the call of duty to serve their communities. There are excellent cops who bridge racial boundaries to truly serve and protect. We know these are unjustly targeted for retaliation. People get mad that cops shot someone and they in turn either promote shooting cops or shoot cops themselves. We want to speak up for the good ones, and we should. However, there are many racist cops and police departments that are racist. Even if stereotypes are “confirmed” by local cultural issues, that is no excuse to treat people of color badly or see them in a negative light. Bad cops and racist departments need to be held accountable, while the good ones are defended.

To all people of color: I am sorry you feel like your people are being treated unjustly. I am sorry that so many of your people are killed by people we are taught to trust. I am sorry that you distrust and fear police. I am sorry for the pain you feel each time one of your people have their lives taken from them.

While I express my sorrow, can I please ask people of color a few favors? Please don’t lump all white people together in the racist category. We see many of the problems that you see. Though we sometimes disagree on the solution, we generally feel just as helpless to bring change as you. Please don’t take revenge on cops who have done nothing wrong. Revenge and retaliation is not the way. We are to love our enemies, even as we stand against injustice. As I write there news is breaking that some cops in Texas were shot during a BLM rally. Reports indicate they were shot by a sniper. This is not the way to go. The way of Jesus is.

At this point, I want to digress into personal territory. The two men who were recently shot by police were done so as a result of carrying a firearm. In the one instance Alton Sterling was a prohibited person, because he got arrested for having pot and carrying a gun, and in the other Philando Castile was a CCW permit holder. In both cases the police appear to overreact at the presence of a gun. I could understand the officers responding to Alton could be on heightened alert since they know he has a gun from the get go. But they seem to go into super freak out mode when the cop feels the gun in his pocket. The videos are unclear if the gun is reached for, but the cops starts yelling, “gun.” The cop who shot Philando had absolutely no excuse nor reason to panic. He was notified about the CCW permit and the presence of a gun. When he asked Philando to get his ID and CCW permit, the cop thought he was reaching for his gun when we was just complying with a lawful order to provide documentation.

The reason why this is personal to me is that I am a firearm owner, CCW permit holder, and I regularly carry concealed. (As long as there are bears, mean dogs, coyotes, out of state drug runners, drug addicts, terrorists, etc., I’m going to carry) I expect police to accept the fact that there are millions of legal concealed carriers in this country. Keeping and bearing arms has been a part of the DNA of our country since before we declared independence, and the infringement on that right was one of the reasons why independence was sought. People carry guns for the same reasons cops do: there are bad people in the world who wish to do us harm and we want to protect ourselves. Just because a person is carrying gun and is black does not mean the person is a criminal. They might have the same concern for their life and the lives of their family as anyone else. They probably want to protect themselves from the same thugs and drug dealers of whatever skin color as me. So, when I think of Philando, I think of myself. What if that was me in that traffic stop with that untrained, skittish cop who had a bad attitude towards people who carry guns? I know there are police and sherriff departments in WV who have a real bad attitude toward CCW holders and harass them in traffic stops. It could be me in that situation. While I can’t identify with Philando and his family based on skin color, I can identify as a person who choses to carry a weapon as an aid for defense in case evil decides to visit me or the ones I love. I can remotely identify with Alton as a person who chooses to carry a gun, even though illegal, because he is afraid of certain people in the world. A person has a right to bear arms in defense of self and others, no matter their color or economic status. A person should not be shot just because they are exercising a right that has been safeguarded by the constitution.

Photo Credit: 'Ajnagraphy' via Compfight cc

What Lies Ahead

We are on a journey with an unknown destination. We must pull up our stakes and move on, but we have no idea to where God will lead us. I almost feel like Abraham when God told him to, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1 ESV). It is not the same since He has not promised us land or to make my family into a great nation. However, the lack of knowing what lies ahead and the waiting for God to show the way is much the same.

God has shown where we are not to go. He has seemingly opened doors, only to close them. It almost feels like being trapped in a room with a multitude of doors and trying to figure out which one provides the proper exit. I know that is not what God is doing, but with each opened and closed door, God is shaping our hearts and strengthening out faith. All the while he has been faithful to provide for us in our time of waiting and spiritual refinement. There are two passages that come to mind:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

This speaks to me because these are exactly the worries that have been haunting me, especially in regards to my family. But, God has been providing just as He promised.

The other passage was penned by James:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 2:1-4

Thus, in our current trial, we are trying to keep the joy knowing that in the end our faith will be strong.

Word Made Flesh

We all get things wrong. It’s time to get over it and move on. According to my high school chemistry teacher, who had a PH.D. in brain studies, we retain knowledge better if we get it wrong and later correct ourselves. The connections between our neurons is strengthened from the revision of our knowledge. So man, when you in a fight with your wife and are proved to be wrong, don’t be resentful. Be joyful that she helped you get less dumb and made your brain stronger.

The apostle John wrote an account of Jesus’ life in order to convince people of who Jesus is and clearly show the path to eternal life. To begin his gospel, he picked up on a concept that both Jews and Greeks got horribly wrong. They both had some concept of “The Word” but were both equally wrong. For the Greeks, “The Word” was Reason, and for the Jews, “The Word” was Wisdom. Both groups saw The Word as a teaching, philosophical concept, or immaterial structure to the universe. John specifically used this word to catch their attention and reveal the truth behind The Truth. He used something they got wrong to show them what was right.

But John quickly pointed out that The Word is not some vague concept or impersonal force.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV)

The Word is that part of the exalted God who took on flesh and dwelt with humanity. It is the very Son of God who has always existed and participated in the creation of the universe. This Word Made Flesh was not a mere shadow of God’s glory or a veiled presence, but is the full view of God’s glory brought to humanity. Those who walked, talked, and ate with Jesus did so as if they were hanging out with God in the Holy of Holies. When John wrote the word “dwelt” it is the word for “to pitch a tent with,” evoking the imagery of the Tabernacle of the Old Testament and God’s presence in that tent. Instead of creating a barrier between God and man, the tent that Jesus pitched brought man in full communion with God.

This idea of “The Word” taking on flesh was have been insanity to Jews and Greeks, at least those who were not receptive to God’s truth. But reagarding those who were willing to accept this insanity as truth John wrote,

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16 (ESV)

This grace upon grace is first evident in the forgiveness of sins that is granted to those who accept Jesus’s gift of salvation. This grace continues to flow in the life of the believer. It flows as Jesus continues to forgive us when we repent. It flows when we are in need and God provides for us. It flows when the indwelling Spirit provides grace and comfort. It flows as we find ourselves lacking God’s wisdom but receive it when we ask. It flows as the Spirit reminds us of the future glory when Jesus comes to make all things new.

My challenge is this: don’t think you fully understand Jesus or the grace he offers. Continue to seek him and keep working to apply his will to your life. Allow him to revise your understanding of who he is through your study of Scripture and the conviction of the Spirit. Don’t fall into the trap that the Jews and Gentiles fell into by thinking you have The Word figured out.

Idols and Repentance

Last Sunday, I preached on Jeremiah 10:6-10. This passage provides a wonderful reminder of God’s greatness. It also points out the sheer stupidity of following anything or anyone besides Him. These verses form a song of praise that welled up in Jeremiah as he reflected on God’s message and actions. The powerlessness and literal stupidity of idols made Jeremiah praise the greatness of God. God’s ability to work His will among His people despite their utter lack of repentance compelled Jeremiah to praise His sovereignty.

The verse that most strikes a chord with me is verse 10,

10 But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.

In contrast to the lifeless idols, God is living. More than that He gives life. He is also King over all creation and will never stop being so. Judah needed to remember this. As her people strove to control their own destiny and tried to avert the impending crisis of a Babylonian invasion, God had other plans for them that no one could thwart. These plans included total defeat and exile of their people. God poured out on Judah both His wrath for their failure to repent and His grace to preserve those who heeded His warning and trusted Him.

This verse captivates me in part because I have been reading the book during my devotional time. As a result, I followed the story from God’s condemnation of Judah for their idolatry to the fulfillment of His warnings of conquest by the Babylonians. I saw the stubbornness of the people of Judah and her leaders and their refusal to let go of their idols and self-sufficiency. I read about their total unwillingness to repent no matter what God said to them. I observed them doing the opposite what God, through Jeremiah, told them to do. When God says “surrender”, they fight. When God says, “Don’t flee to Egypt,” they flee to Egypt. When God says, “stop worshipping idols” they insist on keeping their vows to “the queen of heaven.” I just want to shout at them, “LOOK AT WHAT GOD HAS DONE. LOOK AT WHAT GOD IS DOING. YOU ARE FACING OBLITERATION AND YOU JUST DON’T GIVE UP YOUR SIN. REPENT AND LIVE!”

And then God causes me to examine myself. What about the things that I hold on to and refuse to repent of? What about the actions and attitudes of my heart that I stubbornly cling to but God has told me to let go of time after time? What about the things I absolutely refuse to do for Him and His kingdom due to my stubborn nature? Maybe God is also shouting at me, “REPENT AND LIVE!”

Where have I been?

I have pretty much let my website and blog go by the wayside. I have been far to pre-occupied with adjusting to a new culture and ministry setting. Instead of wiring blog posts that no one will read I have been spending time with family, doing quite a bit of hunting, and working. It is my plan to re-work this site into a blog where I can rant and rave about things that interest me, irritate me, or might otherwise stir up trouble. So, stay tuned.

Around the Table

Today, I gave a farewell communion meditation at Jefferson Street Christian Church. It was our last time to worship and gather around the Lord’s Table with them before moving onto the next phase in our walk with Christ. Next Sunday will mark the beginning of our service at Henshaw Christian Church.

We will dearly miss those that we have come close to at JeffStreet and in Lincoln.

For anyone who might want benefit from the words I shared this morning, I am posting the manuscript form of the meditation. It omits off the cuff remarks about almost getting sucked into the Lincoln black hole and the stupidity of preaching the day after we arrive. The whole thing can be watched on JeffStreet’s uStream feed.

Without further delay:

Mi wife, Sarah and I have been attending JeffStreet for about 5.5 years. We came to Lincoln in 2007 so I could attend Seminary and be further equipped for ministry. We eventually settled in at JeffStreet and started being integrated into the life of the congregation.

During our stay here we have been blessed by preaching, well crafted worship services, children’s ministry, and the relationships we have formed. We have had people in this congregation bless us when we were in need, people who have given us guidance and support, and people who have prayed that we would be blessed with a ministry and move on from this place.

That day has come, this is our last Sunday at JeffStreet. This is our last Sunday to share in the Lord’s supper as a part of this body. Next sunday, I will be preaching my first sermon as the minister at Henshaw Christian Church in Kentucky. Though we are excited about the wonderful things God will do with us and through us in the next phase out our lives, we are grieved that we must say goodbye to you, at least for now. Our mutual hope in Christ informs us that we will meet again.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,
28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29)

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he sorrowfully informed his closest friends and followers that this was the last time they would share the fruit of the vine together on the earth, the last time they would feast here on earth in celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from death. But, it was not the last time they would feast. He pointed them to a greater, more glorious and more significant feast. One that would not be limited to a cramped upper room with a small number of people.

There is coming a day when God will conquer all of his and all of our enemies. All sin, idolatry, sadness, pain, and death will be done away with. On that day there will be a grand celebration when Christ comes to claim his bride.

6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:6-9)

Today, as we partake of the Lord’s supper, let us keep in mind that it is just a prelude to an even greater feast when Christ returns. Let us be reminded that though we may be separated by distance, death, or hardship, we will be reunited around His table when the Kingdom of God is fully established. Though today is the last day with which I get to commune with you on earth, it is not the last time we will meet around the table together.

Living Memorials

You have been waiting a long time for the promises of God to come true in your life. You and your fellow countrymen have been sentenced to a life of wandering in the desert for the last 40 years as punishment for not trusting God. Moses has died and his protégé, Joshua, has been put in charge. God is beginning to move. His hand is becoming apparent. Everyone is filled with hope as Joshua makes preparations for Israel to take possession of the Promised Land. The camp is buzzing with excitement while the tents are broken down, packed away, and the fires from the morning manna roast are quenched.

The multitude of nomads make their way to the Jordan river. The priests carry the Ark of the Covenant several thousand feet ahead. God is moving before his people and will lead them to victory. He is the captain of the army, the fiercest warrior marching first in battle.

As the priests proceed, you look beyond them and in the distance you see it. The great barrier between your people and the Land– The Jordan river– is there, taunting your passage. Your heart drops. You see the promises of God begin to slip away. You wonder, “How are we going to cross that?” You might be tempted to swim across in normal conditions, but there is no way for the women and children to make it, nor the priests carrying that massive ark. But, these are not normal conditions. The river is at flood stage and even the most experienced swimmer, of which there are none in this group of desert nomads, would not dare cross. God has certainly failed. Our enemies will see our quandary and will squash us like locusts.

Okay, neither you nor I are Israelites. And barring that either of us are time travelers or time lords, we are not among the Israelites venturing out to take possession of the Promised Land. No, our inheritance is much greater and worth far more than a tract of land.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1:3-4

Our inheritance is waiting for us in heaven. Such a vague concept; I wonder what it is? Thankfully, Peter does not leave us in the dark but goes on to tell us what our inheritance is: the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9). We are still on our journey to possess it. And with the Israelites, countless obstacles get in our way. We may suffer deep loss, face debilitating circumstances, be ensnared in temptation, or have our faith obliterated by doubt. People, circumstances, and our own choices get in the way.

But God does the amazing. He stops the Jordan river at flood stage and makes the riverbed dry as the priests bearing the ark step into the water (Josh. 3:14-17). The barrier is removed and their faith renewed. To make sure the people never forget this day God commands Joshua and the people construct a memorial.

And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” Joshua 4:5-7

We too have experienced God’s removal of some great obstacle. None of us have erected a stone altar to commemorate that event. Our neighbors would think us all the more crazy. We may have certain places or people that serve as a constant reminder of God’s provision in our lives. But the truth of the matter is that each and every one of us, those of us who have Jesus as our savior, are living memorials. We are living memorials of God’s presence, his power, and majesty. We are constant reminders that God forgives, heals, empowers, and sends. We are constant reminders that Jesus has come, the He died, that He rose from the dead, that He works through his people to restore the world to himself, and that He will return. Consider these verses:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matt. 5:14

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law… Galatians 5:22-23

Here is where it gets tough: because we are living memorials, we had better actually be living memorials. That means that we follow the Spirit and allow Him to mold us into the image of Christ. That even when we stumble, we demonstrate God’s love, grace, compassion and discipline. That we stop acting, thinking, and breathing like the world. And it means that when we again face some impassible obstacle, we can look back over our own lives and have no doubts that God will get us through our trials because he has proved himself time and again. We are living memorials to the world and to ourselves that God is at work and that Jesus will come again to bring fulfillment to all he has promised.

*All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version

Vanishing Hope

Everything that you had known has been obliterated. It is the third day since the guy you were convinced was the Messiah was brutally killed. You left your job and spent most of the last three years apart from your family. But the miracles you witnessed and the teaching that contained so much authority convinced you that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the promised savior of Israel.

That was until the Jewish leaders arrested him and had him murdered by the Romans. Hopes of a restored nation– gone. Hopes of a restored creation– gone. Hope of a restored relationship with God– gone. In fact, the hope that propelled you through the last few years has been transformed into fear. Fear that the jewish leaders will find you and put you through the same torturous death. Has God failed? If so, can there be hope?

We can look back and get a taste of the bitter disappointment and devastation that Jesus’ disciples experienced. We can never now exactly how devastated they were, but we can identify with them as we reflect on the devastations faced in our own lives. All of us have experienced painful devastation, instances where all hope in God has been obliterated. We remember that God has performed wonders in our past, but when hope is overshadowed by despair those wonders seem but fairy tales.

But, as the disciples soon discovered, when hope appears to vanish it pushes forth and once again we are overwhelmed by God’s glory. For them, the image of Jesus’ lifeless body was replaced with the presence of the Risen Lord. Jesus’ promise that he would be raised on the third day had been fulfilled (John 2:19). Through his triumph over the grave Jesus was proved to be the genuine article. He is the Son of God. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. He is with us until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). He has sent the Spirit (John 14:16) to be our comforter and guide. He is the one who is coming again to bring justice to this broken world (Rev 22:12).

When you find yourself in a place of dark despair having your hope diminished, remember the Resurrection. It is the ultimate guarantee that Jesus is who he says it is. It is the reminder that despite the horror of a moment, Jesus is with you as a co-sufferer, and will help you overcome because he is the Victor. More important than this, the resurrection points to a new life to come for those who have trusted and been obedient to Him. It points to the time when all tears, sorrow, sin, brokenness, and shame will be destroyed and replaced with the wholeness that comes from being in the eternal presence of God (Rev 21).

When you find yourself in darkness, look to the light of the Resurrection and be lifted into the joy of hope.