Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hope, Peace & Joy

The week before last I missed peace. I mean how can you write about peace when thoughts jab about inside poking holes and the peace keeps leaking out everywhere? I really don't remember when the holes were repaired with promise and hope, but they were and a peace washed over me. And now for joy. Joy seems to be a stabilizer in the midst of difficult days; it rounds up promises to hold onto when we think life just might be giving us too much to handle. There were a couple of days last week when joy ran dry. I was tired, “all given out” and couldn't find a thread to grab hold of to untangle my emotional mess and find joy.

Proverbs 12:20 tells us there is “joy for those who promote peace.” How can I promote peace when it drains out of me like flour through a sifter? When I came across this verse in Proverbs I was encouraged by the strong link between joy and peace. This is no paper chain counting days in hopes of an event or waiting in survival to get past something. Romans 15:13 (NASB) supports the strong link of peace to joy and more. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It is through the power of His Spirit I can promote peace. What will this look like today? In my home? With my clients? In my family? In my heart?

When “the God of hope fills you with all peace and joy” then we “abound in hope.” How can this be? Again, through the power of the Holy Spirit I can experience peace and joy no matter what this day looks like on the outside. Now while I am busy wrapping up stuff to give to people who have no need for more stuff, here are three incredible, necessary gifts I struggle to wrap my mind around. Aren't these the gifts we all long for and need: Hope, Peace and Joy? And yet He graciously holds out His hand and says, “Take this. I am filling you with peace and joy, therefore you will abound in hope.” He gives. Am I receiving?

Now again I am looking in Proverbs and in Romans how joy comes after peace. Maybe there is no real correlation, but in my life I can see how I miss the joy if I am not first peaceful. Peace comes when we trust Him and let Him take control. He gives peace when we give it all to Him and stop trying to control things. Then I am free to embrace joy.

Several years ago in in the midst of heart wrenching pain my mother reminded me over and over, “Don't let this steal your joy.” I was arm wrestling with the enemy and he was winning until I was reminded I get to keep joy. Why? Joy is a gift. But first I had to give up the fight, the anger and the desire to make things fair. Then I rested in the truth that joy isn't dependent on fair, or on perfect or on me; joy is a gift from the Father and comes to me when I believe in Him and trust Him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy . . .” (1 Peter 1:8, NASB)

Hebrews 12:2 puts it this way, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

Charles Stanley writes in response to this verse: “Jesus endured the pain, scorn, sorrow, rejection, and betrayal of the Cross for the joy set before Him. . . . What was this overcoming joy? Us. Jesus looked forward to fulfilling the purpose for which He came, which was to restore our relationship with Himself.”

I am stunned! He experienced joy in the suffering for a bunch of ungrateful sinners. How can this be? If Jesus can experience joy in paying the excruciating cost for our sins, then He can fill me with joy amidst the unfair frustrations of my little life. And joy is linked to peace and hope. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we exult in our tribulation . . .” (Romans 5:1-3a, NASB). James tell us: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3, NASB) No, joy is not a paper chain link but an eternally strong link to the hope and faith we have in God the Father, His perfect eternal plan and His Son Jesus.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Living Hope

In her book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, Kimberlee Conway Ireton writes this about Advent:

Hope_Ellie_IG3In Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope. (Thus translators can render 'Wait for the Lord' as 'Hope in the Lord' with equal accuracy.) The linguistic equation of wait with hope means that, for Jesus, immersed as he was in the language of the Hebrew Bible, there is no conceptual differentiation between waiting and hoping. They are one and the same activity. This melding is especially apropos during Advent, when we wait in hopeful expectation for the return of Christ.”

One of my favorite hope-filled verses follows Paul's list of produce: suffering produces perseverance, then perseverance produces character and character hope. Paul bookends suffering and its produce with hope. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2b, NIV) “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV)

I love these words: “And hope does not disappoint us.” I wrap my heart around them and squeeze so tightly hope goes flying everywhere. At least I want to be that person who believes so strongly in this unremitting hope it bursts forth from me and rains all over everyone like confetti at a parade. My hope is increased the more time I spend with the Father and in His Word; and the more my hope increases, the greater the desire grows to helps others look up and believe in the “hope [that] does not disappoint us.”

How can such a hope exist in a day and age when we have no idea when or where the next terrorist attack will be? How can it be that hope will not disappoint us when all over the news there is nothing but suffering, tragedy and narcissism? Daily trust is being undermined by leaders of countries and corporations. I know people who marinate in the media's dark and slanted version of what is going on in the world, and it scares them. Lots of frightening things are happening, but “hope does not disappoint us” because, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .” (1 Peter 1:3b, NIV)

Morris A. Weigelt & E. Dee Freeborn writers of Living The Lord's Prayer put it this way:

Jesus taught us that Kingdom people are not destroyed by the terrors of the end time. These will not control the person who prays for the Kingdom. The new long-range perspective enables us to deal with the chaos without being overwhelmed. . . . People who pray with the Kingdom in view know that evil does not have the last word – and that knowledge profoundly shapes their lives. Praying for the breakthrough of God's kingdom frees us from the fatalism that sucks the hope and life out of us. We recognize that God can use life's crushing experiences to shape us into redemptive vessels He can use. We know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is in charge.”

Why? Because we have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.” Living! This hope is active and alive. In the midst of a world full of dark deeds, deeds darker than some of us care to ever know or imagine, we have a living hope. And in this broken, sinful world followers of Jesus have every reason to live suspended in a place of hopeful waiting, suspended above despair – waiting for the return of Jesus. I want to believe in the living hope so completely I can rise above the despair of this world's tragedy. I do not want to look away or be void of compassion, but to be able to know and help others see that this is not the end of the story. We will not be disappointed, this story has the best sort of ending ever. This is our eternal hope.

P.S. My husband took the photo of the yellow gladiolas; he says yellow is the color of hope.