Archives For hope

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With less than one-sixth left of 2017, unless there’s a drastic turnaround, the year likely won’t be remembered as one of the country’s best. Devastating hurricanes. Political gridlock. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The headlines have only gotten bleaker as the year has worn on. And the year’s not over yet.

A new survey on what Americans fear the most paints a picture of how the year has taken a toll on lots of people. Almost 75% of Americans are afraid or very afraid of corrupt government officials, according to Chapman University’s annual survey. That topped the list last year too, but was the only fear expressed by more than half of respondents. This year, five fears were held by a majority, including the new healthcare plan, pollution, and not having enough money for the future.

Things are difficult, and people are scared. Scanning the headlines or, more likely, scrolling through a news feed, doesn’t help either. The current climate is such that as our team brainstormed how to write about Thanksgiving this year, we couldn’t come up with much of a fresh angle. Certainly, we have a lot to be thankful for; as Americans, we know that’s true. But with the din of the constant news cycle perpetually in our ears, it can be difficult to pinpoint the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

Perhaps that’s why a Friday conversation with an Illinois pastor’s wife was so refreshing. Jane Miller and her husband, Larry, have been part of Shiloh Baptist Church in Villa Ridge for nearly 33 years. Jane answered our call that Friday afternoon for information about the church’s recent 200th anniversary, but ended up sharing some unexpected hope too.

She talked about how she and Larry have developed deep friendships with the people in their church over the years. How he has mowed yards when some of their church members haven’t been able to do it themselves. That he keeps the church refrigerator stocked with eggs from the chickens he keeps. Every off-hand reference she made to their church and their ministry told the story of people who have put down roots in a community and are committed to each other.

That’s hopeful.

So, too, is a group of kids waiting—beach towels over their arms—to be baptized at Stonefort Missionary Baptist Church.

Perhaps it’s because the year has been so murky that these bright spots, which might have been overlooked in the past, shine even brighter. As we approach a season focused on giving thanks, may we be grateful for the little things that remind us of God’s goodness and provision, in this year and every other.

-MDF

Greg Zanis.jpg

Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a Fresno pastor climbed the bell tower of the church and began pulling the rope. When he descended much later exhausted from sounding the alarm, he found the sanctuary filled with mourners, looking up to him for a hopeful word. That was on a Friday afternoon. The following Sunday churches everywhere were packed with people who needed help understanding the tragedy. It was called “the Sunday with God.”

On October 8, 2017, we had another Sunday with God.

We’ve had a lot of them, especially in the past two decades. Their names become shorthand for inexplicable tragedy: Columbine, New Town, Wedgwood, Emanuel AME, Boston Marathon, Pulse Nightclub. And the signal event in this category is clearly the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Churches were full the next Sunday and for several months afterward with people asking “Why?” and wondering how God could let this happen. And all these years later we might add—again.

In Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1, it happened again. A gunman high above an open-air concert killed 58 people with high-powered assault weapons and injured more than 500 others before turning the gun on himself. He left victim’s families, the survivors, and a nation to try to make sense of the utterly senseless.

How can we respond to what we struggle to explain—or even understand?

A retired carpenter from Aurora expressed his grief in the same way he has since his father-in-law was murdered in 1996: he built crosses. His truck loaded with 58 crosses, each with a red heart and the name of one of the 58 victims, Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. He has built such a memorial at every mass shooting since Columbine High School. His crosses are indeed welcome in places where people need to be pointed Christ-ward.

A young man who escaped the shooting told a network interviewer, “I was an agnostic going into that concert, but after what happened there, I believe in God. It’s a miracle that any of us survived.” His comment exemplifies the baseline responses to crisis: you either blame God or you embrace him; run from God or run to him.

Las Vegas pastor Vance Pittman was honest with his congregation on the Sunday morning after the killings. “The temptation of our humanness is to run from God in moments of tragedy, but the psalmist reminds us that those are the moments we should run to God.”

Pittman, who founded Hope Church in the city 17 years ago, admitted his own wrestling with the massacre. “Anyone who didn’t simply isn’t human,” he told the crowd in the packed sanctuary. “It’s OK to ask God some hard questions…He can handle it.”

He then pointed to Psalm 62. “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” Pittman asked. “He’s right there in the midst with us… ‘God is my refuge.’” He cited the experience of two police officers. One said to the pastor, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that more people were not killed. It’s almost like someone spread their wings over that crowd and protected them.”

A thoroughly biblical response to events such as this must address the role of evil, “an act of pure evil,” as President Trump described it two days later in Las Vegas. God created a perfect world, but willful humans introduced sin. Taken to its natural ends, man inflicts that sin on others. Such monstrous evil may seem beyond us, but in all honesty it’s not. Only God restrains lawlessness in any of us. While at times he may not intervene in the ways we wish, God is still on the scene, in the business of saving humanity. In this world where evil is rampant—be it war, massacre, or the aftermath of disaster—God is still working his purpose out.

“Nowhere is this seen more clearly than looking at the cross,” Pittman said to his searching crowd. “The cross of Jesus is the single greatest act of evil and injustice in this world, and yet God—in his sovereignty—has caused it to be now seen as the greatest demonstration of love and goodness the world has ever experienced.”

– Eric Reed (with thanks for quotes from The Las Vegas Journal-Review, CNN, and Baptist Press)

Open empty tomb. Watercolor painting

The day of Jesus’ resurrection has always been an orienting point for Christians. From the beginning, it was the day for their weekly gatherings. Later it became a pivotal day in the annual Christian calendar.

Prior to Easter each year, we reflect on Jesus’ perfect submission — from His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness to His ultimate act of obedience on the cross. We examine our own devotion and deal intentionally with the temptations and distractions that keep us from full obedience.

Then, on Easter, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection pivots us from contemplating the humility of the suffering Lamb to celebrating the power of the risen Lamb; from identifying with the crucified Servant to exalting the victorious Savior.

This shift is rooted in the events that occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with the question posed to the women who went to His tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

It is true that the question had something to do with their location at the tomb. Luke reports, however, that the women had “inclined their faces to the ground” and that this posture prompted the messengers’ question. Why? Because early Christians knew they lived in a world governed by the words of Genesis 3:19: “You will eat food by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust.” The women’s posture that morning was entirely reasonable in light of these words. Each and every body laid in a tomb would return to the ground, the dust.

A change had occurred that morning, however, that the women’s posture did not reflect. Jesus’ resurrection had brought about a new posture. The women should not be inclined toward the ground looking for Jesus but standing and facing Him as their risen Lord.

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

Forty days prior to Easter, some Christians have ash placed on their foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They are reminded of the brevity of life and the urgency of present obedience.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

If you have been to a funeral this past year, you don’t need an ashen symbol to remind you of the brevity of life or that death still grips creation. As you inclined your face toward the body that was to be placed in the ground, you were confronted with the fact that this is not how God created that person. The eulogies testified to the fact that there is no one in the world who spoke, sang, laughed or loved like the one whose body lay in the casket.

It is at just this point where the women’s lesson is vital for us because the Easter posture is a posture of hope. Death results in the body returning to the ground — for now. Sorrow and grief are real — for now. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, however, we can stand and face our future with hope. The apostle Paul says it this way: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Are you struggling to face your future? Maybe you have experienced a great tragedy in your life: the death of a friend or family member, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Maybe the loss of someone or something that has provided security has shaken your confidence in the future: the betrayal of a close friend or spouse, the loss of a job. Maybe anxiety is just your persistent struggle; you struggle to face the future even in the absence of crises.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

Allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to give you the confidence to face your future. With His resurrection in mind, stand up and face your future with hope.

Christopher Graham is assistant professor of theology at Criswell College and its program director for the master of divinity degree and master of arts in theological and biblical studies. This article is adapted from the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Jesus is our great hero

ib2newseditor —  April 14, 2017

Hero

All of my life, I have looked for heroes whom I could love, respect, and follow. There is an old photo of me as a small boy with my brother, standing in the backyard with towels pinned around our necks. We were trying to be like Superman, ready to fight against the bad guys and fight for justice. He was probably the first hero we had as children.

During my teenage years, I played the guitar and wrote songs, so my heroes became famous musicians who displayed their lyric artistry in recordings and concerts. When I entered the ministry, I turned to those pastors and authors whose words had profoundly shaped me. They became my heroes to admire and emulate. Later, when I became a classroom teacher, I loved to read stories about the great teachers and their influence on students.

It seems that no matter what stage of life I was in, I was constantly looking for and looking up to heroes.

I know I am not alone in my search for heroes. It’s something we all do throughout our lives. But what is more intriguing is that no one ever instructs us on the need to find and emulate heroes. In addition, no one ever explains to us the characteristics our heroes should have. We seem to be wired to look for men and women whose lives display something good, beautiful, and noble — something that tastes of glory. Think about the heroes you have admired, and you will see something of those same qualities.

Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost.

But there is something else even more intriguing. We have all engaged in something that can best be described as hero worship. It’s not just that we love, honor, and respect our heroes. We do something to them akin to worship, putting them on a pedestal and expecting things from them that they cannot possibly give. The disappointment that comes is inevitable, yet we keep hoping for heroes to come and save the day, whether it’s the new church pastor, the new government official, or the new company boss. Our search for and disappointment with our heroes can generate enormous confusion. I know it has for me.

The Bible shines a unique and penetrating light on this confusion. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, CSB). The idea of falling short is that we are missing something and are now destitute and lacking. What are we missing? The glory of God. We were meant to bathe in that glory and then radiate it out as His image-bearers, but in turning away from Him, we lost the glory and now live in sin and shame. Yet, the longing for glory never leaves us, so when we sense a glimmer of that glory in someone else, however faintly, the draw is magnetic.

Without deliberation or hesitation, we immediately know that this is what humans were meant to be like, what we, in fact, were meant to be like. Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost. But the Bible’s story of glory doesn’t end there.

He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

Enter Jesus. John states that he saw the glory of Jesus, the glory of being God’s unique Son, the glory that took on flesh and came to dwell among us. (See John 1:14.) And how did that glory dwell among us? As the hero we have all longed for. Everything Jesus did was heroic.

He spoke the truth, even when it made Him enemies.

He did good works wherever He went, healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, and preaching a message of hope. He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

And in the end, Jesus gave His life away for the sake of the entire world. He chose to take our place by bearing our sin and shame so that we could be set free. He did everything we ask of a hero and so much more. He is not only the King of kings and Lord of lords, but truly the Hero of heroes.

What should our response be to the Savior of our soul? Our misdirected hero worship should rightly reside and remain on Him. He is the great Hero we have all been looking for, the One who perfectly lived in the Father’s glory and radiated it out to all. Our hearts long to find someone to respect, honor, adore, and love. Because of Christ’s defeat over death and sin, we can now place that longing on Him and never again be disappointed. Yet, in the end, He will do something even more marvelous, something with eternal significance: He will turn us into creatures filled with glory like Himself. We will one day feel again the glory we tragically lost — the glory that will move us to our purest worship of Jesus, our Great Hero.

Bill Delvaux, author of Landmarks (B&H) and Divided (Thomas Nelson), leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and spiritual director. This article first appeared in Mature Living, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

O, Death

ib2newseditor —  April 10, 2017

Rolled away stone.

Several years ago, my father died on the first of April, just a few days before Easter. And so each year now, April and Easter roll in and bring me an emotional mixture of grief yet hope, sadness yet joy. At this time of year, I acutely feel both the promise of life, and the inevitability of death.

When I returned home from my dad’s funeral, the church I was serving as interim pastor sensitively asked if I would be ready to preach as soon as Easter Sunday. I assured them I wanted to. I believed, deeply, in resurrection and eternal life, and I was eager to declare that boldly from the pulpit, both for the congregation and for myself. I wanted to publicly join the Apostle Paul in defiantly asking death where its victory and sting are, now that Jesus has conquered it.

But I was also still feeling immersed in the reality and pain of my dad’s death, and my sermon outline showed it. My first three points were simple, and somber. Death is definite. Death is designed. Death is difficult. I preached those first three points through the misty eyes of fresh grief.

If I could get through this sermon, maybe, just maybe I’d find hope.

Of course, I was working my way to a fourth point, and a hope-filled conclusion. Yes, death is definite, and designed, and difficult. But death is also defeated! I knew that to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate promise, the ultimate miracle. Yet during those painful days, it was as if I needed to admit those first three points as much as I needed the assurance of the fourth.

I needed to acknowledge, in fact to proclaim, the inescapability of death. Everyone needs to understand that everyone dies. I also needed to place the providential plan of death squarely at God’s feet. Because of our sin, it is God’s good and merciful design that everyone dies. And I needed, from my own deeply personal experience that year, to acknowledge how terribly painful death is, especially for those who lose someone they dearly love. If we do not have a sound theology of death, we will not have a sound theology of eternal life.

I learned that year that death is like a terrible, dark canvass, but a necessary one on which the story of resurrection and life can be brightly and beautifully painted. Without the reality and severity of death, the promise of resurrection and new life means very little. It is the depth, and finality, and “no exceptions” nature of our mortality that makes resurrected life so supremely valuable.

In other words, I had never valued Jesus’ resurrection more profoundly than when my dad died. The true victory and joy of Sunday is for those who have experienced the loss and despair of Friday.

So if you are entering April or Easter this year with a fresh experience of death, don’t be afraid to feel that pain deeply, with a holy grief. Only through death could Jesus remove the penalty of our sin. Only through death to our old selves can we be raised to a new and abundant life. And only through the death of our earthly bodies can we receive our new heavenly bodies.

As I learned eleven years ago in a profound new way, Easter is of necessity a matter of both life, and death. But because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can stare death right in the face and ask where its victory and sting are. Death is simply a role player in the Easter story, a story that ends with the greatest victory in all of history—victory in Jesus.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

We all matter to God

As Americans we look forward to summer with excitement and nostalgia for summers’ past. For many, the summer of 2016 will be one they’ll most likely want to forget.

So far we’ve seen multiple terrorist attacks overseas and even in our own country, with the killing of 49 Americans in Orlando, FL in June. In the most recent attack in Nice, France, at least three Americans, including a father and son, were among the 84 people killed.

Our own country is also being torn apart from within by racial strife. The killings of two black men, one in Baton Rouge, LA, the other near Minneapolis, MN, by police. In seeming retaliation, five police officers were assassinated in Dallas, TX, followed just more than a week later, by the assassinations of three officers in Baton Rouge.

One of the Baton Rouge officers slain was Montrell Jackson, a 32-year-old who had been married only a few years and recently become a father. Jackson was also black.

The Washington Post reported his sister, Joycelyn Jackson, learned of her younger brother’s death while sitting in a Sunday worship service at her church. According to the Post, “She understands the anger behind the movement Black Lives Matter but that ‘God gives nobody the right to kill and take another person’s life…It’s coming to the point where no lives matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or whatever.’”

Jackson is expressing what many feel. As a society we argue over the semantics of whose lives matter, while the killing continues. It should hardly be a surprise that life has so little value in a culture where more than 56 million infants have been aborted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that tightened abortion clinic standards. The ruling, which made access to abortion clinics in that state and others with similar laws even easier, was celebrated by many Americans.

As summer temperatures heat up, so are tensions. A spirit of evil and chaos seems to have taken hold. But we need not despair, God is with us and he is merciful and just.

Joycelyn Jackson knows this and so should we.  When the Post asked Jackson what she would say to her brother’s killer or anyone considering violence, she replied, “If I could say anything to anyone, it is to get their lives right with God. Hell is a horrible, horrible place to be.”

– LMS

HEARTLAND | 1 Peter 1: 3-19 (ESV)

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, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perished though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels now long to look.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.