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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Being broken is not the same as being beyond repair.  Hold on to hope, and find a place of healing.

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In the mid-nineteen nineties a documentary film called, “Hoop Dreams” achieved a high level of critical acclaim and a notable level of financial success for a film of its genre. It told the story of two very talented, young basketball players (William Gates and Arthur Agee), from the housing projects of Chicago, who were recruited to play for the prestigious private high school “St. Joseph’s” (alma mater of basketball star – Isaiah Thomas) in nearby Westchester, Illinois.

 

As the story begins there are many reasons to believe that these young men will get the opportunity to fulfill their dream of one day playing in the NBA. Their talent is evident, their confidence is high, and they are both supported by strong, loving families, who are fully committed to them.  To say that expectations were high would be somewhat of an understatement; yet as the story unfolds the harsh realities of life begin to take their toll.  Financial struggles, academic struggles, and injuries create unexpected detours.  As the film ends, though the dream remains alive, the outlook for the future seems greatly diminished.

 

More than 20 years after the release of this film we now know that neither of these men had notable college basketball careers, nor did they go on to play in the NBA. Though both men overcame numerous obstacles and emerged from the mean streets that eventually took William’s brother (murdered in 2001) and Arthur’s father (murdered in 2004), it is hard not to feel a sense of disappointment at how this story turned out.  But shouldn’t the fact that these two young men got the opportunity to attend college, and build legitimate careers for themselves (Gates in real estate and Agee as a teacher) be cause for celebration; shouldn’t the fact that their basketball talent was sufficient enough to break them out of the destructive pattern, that consumed so many of the young men that they grew up with, warrant at least a cheer?

 

If we could view their story, apart from the expectation that they would one day play in the NBA, it would undoubtedly make it easier to see that their lives are in fact a success story. It is not really the outcome of their lives that seems so sad, it is this unfulfilled expectation that creates the sense of disappointment?

 

While we generally attribute our disappointment to bad outcomes, I would suggest that more often than not, it is really rooted in faulty expectations. While it was certainly not wrong to recognize their potential or to encourage them to pursue their lofty goals, when you factor in the odds of any high school athlete making it to the pro’s, was it really reasonable to “expect” that to happen?

 

There are few emotions in life that are as crushing as disappointment, and it is not only our own disappointments that affect us. As a husband I am acutely aware of my wife’s disappointment, and as a father I am also painfully aware of the things that cause my children to feel disappointed.  For me, their disappointment is almost harder to endure than my own.

 

As a parent I’ve found myself deflecting some of my children’s expectations by using my parent’s old favorite line, “We’ll see”. I always hated that answer when I was a kid, and I’m sure that my children don’t like it any better.  But having experienced their disappointment, I can’t help but think that at times it is wise to temper their expectations, which often seem to escalate without warning.  It’s amazing how quickly the vague hope of “maybe we can try to get to the amusement park sometime this summer” becomes the tearful disappointment of “but you promised we would go to the amusement park!”

 

While many parents would likely agree with this tempering approach, the danger in taking that too far is that it would discourage them from expecting anything and a life that is lived without some sense of expectancy is a life devoid of hope. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that hope is just as essential to our souls as water is to our bodies.  Lowering expectations just for the sake of avoiding disappointment is a lot like forfeiting a game to avoid losing.

 

As a man with a failed marriage behind me, I can understand the impulse that says, “I’m never going to let myself get hurt like that again”, but the cost of such a decision is to allow the pain of the past to dictate the future. Of course blindly repeating the same pattern and expecting the results to be different is just an alternate form of insanity.  Ultimately I think it is necessary to take a hard look at our expectations, and the way that they were formed.

 

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our expectations are driven by the things we’ve invested our hope in. When my first marriage ended I did a lot of soul-searching, and I realized that I had invested too much of my identity and hope in that relationship, which is why when it ended I was so confused about who I really was, and whether I had a viable future.  I began to realize that a lot of the devastation that I felt inside was because of my own faulty expectations about what marriage was and what it would bring to my life.

 

The popular cultural portrayal of relationships had conveyed the message that if I could just find the right person they would make me happy; but in the aftermath of a dozen years of marriage, I could see that no other person could genuinely be responsible for my happiness, and that putting that kind of burden on a relationship is a great way to destroy it. When I chose to remarry a couple of years later, that revelation alone made a huge difference in how I viewed marriage, which has ultimately made all the difference in the almost twenty years that have passed since then.

 

It can be difficult to discern what we’ve actually invested our hope in, because often what we tell ourselves (and other people) isn’t really the truth of our hearts. I believe that one of the best ways to find that deeper truth is to examine our moments of greatest disappointment, and our times of greatest anxiety about the future.  To be truly disappointed one would had to have expected some different outcome; while anxiety about the future is generally rooted in the sense of lacking something that will be essential down the road.  If we can get a clear picture of what is behind our expectations and/or what we view as “essential” for the future, we can begin to see what we’ve truly invested our hope and sense of security in.

 

As I’ve watched the value of my 401K fluctuate wildly with stock market swings, it has been tempting to be anxious about the future, but I have to ask myself – is that really what I’ve invested my security in for the future. If the answer to that question is “yes”, than the revelation of this hour is that I’ve made a bad investment (of my hope).

 

While it’s not wrong to save for the future, God never intended for our security to be wrapped up in our investment portfolio; nor did He intend for our identity to be wrapped up in our job; nor did He intend for our sense of value to come from how we look, or what others might be thinking about us. Ultimately our sense of purpose, provision, value, well-being, fulfillment, and security are all things that He’s reserved for Himself.  To the degree that we have invested those things in something other than Him, we are sure to be disappointed.  Though it doesn’t feel like a blessing, it is a measure of His grace when circumstances come along which reveal the counterfeit nature of these things.

 

It is easy enough to tell whether we’ve invested ourselves in the things of this world, because our lives will be a continuous rollercoaster of highs and lows. Like little children, we’ll be overly excited about new things and then crushingly disappointed when they don’t live up to our inflated expectations.

 

The scripture teaches that we prepare the way of the Lord by making straight pathways; bringing the valleys up and the mountains low. I would suggest that this is a picture of someone who has invested their whole being in the person of Jesus Christ; who is never changing and everlasting.  Investing in anything else is precarious at best, and in this case, diversification isn’t a viable hedge against loss.

 

In the era we live in, we’re seeing things, we once thought of as cornerstones, crumble before our eyes (e.g. the institution of marriage), as the darkness seems to be on the offensive. It is a people who are fully invested in Christ that carry the hope of His Glory being manifest on the earth, and thus, all of creation continues to wait in the eager expectation of those children being revealed.

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Hope can be both a powerful and precarious thing.  When invested in the right things, it can be life sustaining; but when invested in the wrong things, it can become a seed for crushing disappointment.

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Last night, our daughter spent hours trying to convince one of her classmates not to end their life.  I wish I could say that this is a first, but all of our kids have been pulled into this sort of thing before.  It was late, and the situation was far from settled when I finally forced her off the phone.  This morning, she woke up troubled and exhausted.  As I sensed her emotional state, I was impressed to write it down.  Please pray for our young people, these are difficult times and their struggles are real.

 

Are You Still Here?

*

As my eyes reluctantly crack open, I can see that it’s still dark

And I wonder whether you’re still here

*

It was another night of tears and prayers

And words that seemed to fall to the ground

*

I tried everything I could think of

But eventually, I ran out of things to say

*

You seemed to have a counterpoint for every encouragement

And ultimately I could not carry you to a place you refused to go

*

When we hung up the phone, I cried out to God

But I knew that He wouldn’t force Himself on you

*

I know that you’re looking for someone who will take away the pain

But you’ve grown immune to the love that’s already around you

*

No one has the strength to pry the hurt from your clinched fists

No one else can provide you with the desire to go on

*

Hope can be an elusive thing

But it’s not because it’s complicated

*

You don’t necessarily need to believe that things will get better

But you have to be open to the possibility that they could

*

For whatever it’s worth, I really do love you

And it’s hard not to feel as though I’ve let you down

*

I keep searching for a remedy

But the shelves of the medicine chest look empty

*

So I lay here in the pre-dawn hours of the morning

And I wonder whether you’re still here

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When I was a child, I was very sensitive and emotional; which kind of sounds funny since I don’t suppose that I’ve ever stopped being those things.  But somewhere along the way I figured out that wearing my heart on my sleeve and allowing everything to penetrate my soul, was not the most expedient way to live.  The first step was suppressing the urge to express every thought that came into my head and eventually I began to develop my mind as a way of heading off those powerful emotions.  I learned to anticipate situations and to think my way through them as a defense against getting overwhelmed by circumstances.

 

It is interesting how dramatically that changed the face of who I was.  As a child I was driven by the winds of my feelings, while as an adult I have largely been driven by pragmatism and my own sense of what is “reasonable”.  Though I doubt many men would express it this way, I would guess that most have gone through some sort of similar process.  If you’re ever around little boys, you’ll find that most start out as emotional, expressive and affectionate; while grown men generally exhibit limited evidence that this was ever the case.

 

At the point I became serious about living for the Lord, I immediately found Him pushing me back towards this sensitivity.  I felt as though He said that this was part of how He designed me; that my gifts were wrapped up in that sensitivity and that a childlike heart was the only way I’d experience His kingdom.  While I understand that He doesn’t want me to be driven by my emotions, I have found that He is equally dissatisfied with idea that I would be guided by my rational thoughts.

 

God and His kingdom far exceed the bounds of my natural mind’s ability to understand them and to rely on my thoughts as a guide greatly diminishes the influence He means to have in my life.  To that end, He has graciously given us His Holy Spirit, that we might have the mind of Christ and the heart of the Father.

 

As I ponder all of this, I am reminded of some things my mother taught us as children.  At a very early age she began to play card games with us.  She used this as a way to help us with our number recognition, counting and learning simple arithmetic.  It was very effective.  She started with simple games like “War”, in which we learned that an eight was greater than a seven and that a king beat a jack.  We went on to “Go Fish”, where we learned how to match pairs together.  As she taught us more complex games, we eventually came to the place where we needed to learn the concept of “trump”.  Many card games include the use of a trump suit, which is when one suit usurps the power of all the others (e.g. Spades).

 

At first it seemed a strange concept; after all, we’d just come to understand that a king was greater than a ten, and now we had to grasp that if that ten was a trump card, it nullified the king’s power.   I believe that as we mature as Believers there is a similar adjustment that God means to make in our thinking.

 

As the simple games of our childhood taught us the patterns of counting and arithmetic, so our life experiences give us a sense of the world and how it works.  Unconsciously, we’ve learned these patterns and they’ve formed boundaries within our thought processes as to what is sane, rational, reasonable or even possible.  Maybe we’ve consciously studied things like science, psychology or philosophy, to come to some greater understanding of what the boundaries for man and mankind are, but I’d submit that whatever we might have learned has given us only a small view of a picture that is greater than we can comprehend.

 

As we come into relationship with God, we find that despite all the patterns that life has taught us, He has given us some trump cards, which have the ability to usurp the power of whatever hand we’ve been dealt.  As I prayed I sensed that the three trump cards He’s given us are faith, hope and love, and that the application of any one of these into our situation has the potential to overcome what our mind has concluded to be the natural order of things.

 

As we study the scriptures, we find the power of faith, hope and love, both implicitly and explicitly expressed.  Repeatedly God reminds us of the limitations of our natural mind and exhorts us towards faith as the pathway to cross these borders.  He tells us not to lean on our own understanding; that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours; and that He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever imagine or hope for.

 

He warns us that knowledge puffs a man up; and He offers both a peace that surpasses understanding and a love that surpasses knowledge.  He tells us that the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.  Yet, despite these exhortations, it seems that much of Western Christianity is often more rooted in psychology than in the word of God.  Psychology can only study the pattern of human behavior as it has been, but it cannot hope to reach the possibilities of what we were created to be.  Only the Creator can show us that.

 

Much of the well-intentioned, self-help mentality within the church keeps us bound to finite worldly thinking and at the mercy of the world’s system.  Paul warned us against this when he said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ”.  Jesus told us that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, that we’d be able to overcome the things that we consider to be the “laws of nature”.

 

Peter further states that love has the power to overcome a multitude of sins and Paul adds that we can possess every spiritual gift, but that if we have not love, we have and are “nothing”.  We must understand that the love they’re speaking of is God’s love and not the self-seeking human strain, which is of little value to the kingdom.  God’s love “always protectsalways trustsalways hopes and always perseveres”.

 

As we look at the apostles, we see how these forces came to bear in their lives.  When Herod imprisoned Peter, he was guarded by four squads of four soldiers; with a soldier constantly chained to each side of him.  Our natural minds would say that there was no hope for Peter, but the scripture tells us “the church was earnestly praying to God for him”.  This seems a marked contrast to how the modern western church might handle such a scenario.  We’d likely call a lawyer from the Center for Law and Justice, to defend Peter in court; circulate petitions via the internet, demanding Peter’s release; and maybe even set up a picket at Herod’s palace.

 

We seem to have forgotten that our battle is not against flesh and blood, and that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal in nature.  The early church asserted their faith and appealed to the power that was higher than any natural law and as Peter slept, an angel came, woke him up and walked Him out of the prison.  Our natural minds cannot comprehend this, but the nature of a miracle is that it cannot be explained and is beyond what we believe to be reasonable.

 

We must understand that God’s reality is much higher than ours.  As the church prayed, they invited God and all His resources into the situation; which changed everything.  How often have we failed to invite God into our situation because we felt bound to the world system, and that the outcome was somehow inevitable?  The Lord said that we have not because we ask not.

 

We see examples of this intervention in Paul’s life as well; like the time he and Silas were praising the Lord in prison.  In so doing, they asserted their hope and faith into the situation and the Lord literally shook the earth to free them.  He is no respecter of persons, so it holds true that He will do the same for us.

 

I am certainly not advocating an empty headed walk with the Lord, but we must realize that there is a huge chasm between worldly knowledge and the knowledge of God.  Inherent in the knowledge of God is relationship with Him.  The Pharisees had devoted their life to the study of scripture, but were still unable to recognize the manifestation of truth when it stood before them.  They knew about Him, but they didn’t know Him.

 

God did not leave us to our own resources in this; He gave us His Holy Spirit to be the “Counselor”, the “Comforter” and to “teach us all things”.  He placed at our disposal all the resources of heaven, but in the church today those resources remain largely untapped.  When our natural minds come against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, they tend to default to fear and discouragement; but God wants the hearts of His children to default to faith, hope and love.

 

When we don’t have the answers for people, He wants us to default to loving them where they’re at.  When situations look negative and hopeless, He wants us to default to placing our hope in Him and to assert our faith in prayer, by inviting Him into the situation.  He is a God who delights in making a way where there seems to be no way.

 

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your minds in Christ Jesus”.  He also said that one day “fire will test the quality of each man’s work” and I believe when that test is done, all that will remain are those things done out of faith, hope and love.

 

While those without Christ are left only to play “War” with the world, hoping that the cards will fall their way; every child of God possesses these trump cards, which are able to overpower any cards that the world may deal.

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