Tag Archives: Hope

The Happiest Place on Earth

In a recent study (and contrary to the hopes and claims of the Disney corporation), Finland was recognized as the “happiest place on earth.” It is, incidentally, also one of the least religious places on the planet. While nominal Christianity is widespread at around 70%, only 8% of the population attends church services on a monthly (or more) basis and only 3% attend weekly.

When I began walking more closely with Christ in college, I was told that people without Jesus were, deep down inside, unhappy. It didn’t matter how easy their life was, how much money and things they possessed, or how happy they appeared on the outside. If they didn’t know Jesus, they had to be miserable. Perhaps they were dishonest about their misery, rushing to allay and cover over the existential sadness with money, sex, fame, power, experiences, and relationships. Or perhaps they were somewhat unaware of and blind to their inner turmoil, needing to be shown the bankruptcy of their life apart from a right relationship with God. Regardless, they simply couldn’t be happy without Jesus.

I believed this assessment largely because it was true in my own experience: When I wasn’t walking with God, I was deeply dissatisfied with life. The longer I’ve lived, however, the more I’ve come to realize that while there are many unhappy non-Christians in the world, there are also a fair number who appear to be genuinely happy and self-satisfied.

Does any of this fundamentally challenge the significance, truth, and power of the Christian gospel? In fact, in some ways, it reinforces it, because it demonstrates sin’s blinding power and how the world can deeply deceive those who love it and want nothing more than what it has to offer. As Lennox and Gooding point out in The Definition of Christianity, people who have worldly power, wealth, and respect have a strong vested interest in maintaining their place in this world. In short, “The world, as it [is, is] good enough for them. They [cannot] see all that much wrong with it.” This also shows how much human beings can put their hope in vain and worthless things, oblivious to or in direct denial of the dangers that await when their lives are ultimately called to account by a holy, just, and all-knowing God.

For struggling Christians, it can be easy to forget the fate of unbelievers, particularly when their lives seem filled with joy and ease, when they appear to be in control, and especially when they arrogantly and openly deny and disdain the God who made them. But as Asaph points out in Psalm 73, there is more to the story than first meets the eye. After seeking the Lord and regaining his perspective, he concludes, starting in verse twenty-five, this way: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”

To be sure, there are many unhappy pagans in the world searching high and low for something or someone greater, better, and more meaningful. May they find the one and only God who can bring true joy and satisfaction in their quest! But for those like the Finns who seem genuinely satisfied with their life apart from God, the real reckoning may not come in this life.

One day God will judge the living and the dead and inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth. All who trust in Him will know and experience the everlasting hope of being intimately loved by the One who gave Himself as a living sacrifice. Only then we will live in the fullness of joy. And only then will we realize that all other so-called felicities pale in comparison. On that day, and forevermore, we really will be living in the happiest place in heaven and on earth.

In whom or what are you hoping?

85

With the recent coronavirus outbreak, people have turned in a myriad of directions to find hope.  Some have turned to the government and medical professionals to protect them, others have turned to miracle cures available for purchase on the internet, still others have turned to superstitions and rituals to provide the defenses that they need to combat this unseen menace.

All of this illustrates that people hope in lots of different things: economic prosperity, global initiatives for solving climate change, better political leaders, educational reform, religion, meaningful friendships and romantic relationships, good food and drink, the newest diet plan, the latest entertainment options and social media platforms, better healthcare—the list is nearly endless.

Not so long ago in America, most people put their hope in a higher power, something or someone beyond themselves.  But as the world became increasingly secular and disenchanted, all people could hope in were material (economic, psychological, scientific, political) solutions for what were ultimately spiritual problems manifesting themselves in material ways.

In fact, the Bible talks a lot about hope.  But the direction of our hope is not especially material in nature—or at least it shouldn’t be.  Our hope for this life is directed to that which—or better, the One who—is beyond it.

The deep irony, of course, is that when you find your hope in something (really, Someone) beyond this world, you are more likely to live your life more fully in this world.  And when you only put your hope in the people and things of this world, you are more likely to find your hopes for this life repeatedly disappointed and unfulfilled.

Many of my non-Christian friends are putting their hope in better medicine, a new election, a new educational initiative, a new car, a new spouse, a new. . . .  And I understand that.  When you have merely material priorities, the only things you can reasonably hope in are material solutions.  What grieves me is when Christians fall into the trap of hoping in and caring more about material solutions than spiritual ones.  Yes, they are interconnected, but the amount of passion we give to our highest hopes and the direction in which they move us matter immensely.

This is especially true when a crisis like the recent virus outbreak occurs.  The world is watching to see if we truly believe, trust, and hope in God above and beyond all other possible hopes.  As Psalm 33:20-22 says, “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.  Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”  Indeed, whether we live or die, He is our one and only true hope.

In whom or what are you hoping?

When Death Finally Finds Me

neglected-tombstone-871282318363ZJWj

No one lives forever.  In less than a week I will be closer to 60 than 50 and am astonished at how quickly the moments of my life keep racing by.  Everyone admits we will all die someday, but “someday” always seems to be an ambiguous and nonspecific point in the distant future.  We convince ourselves that “someday” will never be this day.

But soon enough for all of us, “someday” will become “today” and we will cross that great divide and pass on into death.  And some of us, whether or not we admit it, are closer to that day than others.  Contrary to many inspirational speakers of our day, thinking about death is not an exercise in morbidity or negativity.  From a biblical perspective, it is an exercise in circumspection and wisdom.  Moses puts it this way in Psalm 90: “The years of our life are . . . soon gone, and we fly away. . . .  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Thoughts about death fundamentally change our attitude in life and the manner in which we spend the precious time God so graciously grants each of us.  The only question we must ask ourselves today—and every day God gives us life—is this: Am I letting God use me for His glory?  Am I being truly and fully faithful to Him right now?

Lord God, help me remember the brevity and transience of this life.  Give me the grace to trust in and follow You all the days of my life, starting with today, so that when “someday” finally comes, I can meet You in the glorious life that is to come free of all shame and regret.

The Longing to Be Whole

longing

The Best Years of My Life?

I was often told by well-meaning adults that the years of my youth would be the best of my life.  But in many ways, these years were anything but wonderful.  Although things at home were Christ-centered, stable, and supportive, life at school was positively miserable.  I remember vowing to remember what it was really like when I was young.  Life was full of formidable hardships and hurts.

Now that I’m older, it is much clearer that every life-stage is filled with tests, trials, and tribulations. They are inherent to the fabric of life within a fallen world.  For many, however, it is all too easy to see the past through rose-colored glasses, only recalling the joys and few, if any, of the sorrows.  In retrospect, the years of youth particularly seem like a time filled with wonder, strength, and beauty.  We long to be young again.

The Price of Wisdom

Part of this longing, I think, is produced by the physical reality of aging.  Herein lies a study in contrast.  On the one hand, with age comes wisdom.  And for this reason, I would not want to return to the foolish naiveté of youth for anything.  But wisdom comes with an unavoidable price—the price of both physical and emotional injury.  And while the emotional toll is immensely important, it is to the physical my thoughts have turned lately.

With time comes decay. Eventually, our bodies wear out and stop working well.  Ever since the fall, physical pain and death are an inevitable part of life.  In some way, shape, or form, we all experience the debilitating effects of sin and our bodies start “giving up the ghost.”  For some, that relinquishing comes sooner and exacts a greater cost.

Properly understood, this can help us contemplate the fleeting and fragile nature of material existence.  My early-onset deafness and chronic back and neck pain (for example) have forced me to face my mortality.

The Longing to Be Whole

In the midst of it all, we often find ourselves longing for the bodies of our youth when we heard and saw with unaided clarity, when we woke up without a morning backache and aching joints, when we had rock-hard stomachs and baby-soft skin.  In short, we long to be strong and young and whole again.

The world also has this God-given longing, but without any real prospects for a permanent reformation. The best they can hope for are more painkillers, a shot of cortisone, a botox injection, a tummy tuck, and a facelift.

The Source of Real Hope

In blessed contrast, believers are given “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . ., an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved [for us] in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  There, we will see without glasses, hear without microcircuits and air-zinc batteries, and live without pain.  There will be no more death, agony, or aging.  Thank God, we will finally and unceasingly be whole.

What happened to you? Facebook After Thirty

2000px-Facebook_New_Logo_(2015).svg

Since joining Facebook, I discovered something unanticipated.  When I left high school and college, I unconsciously retained mental snapshots of my old friends and classmates.  In short, I thought I knew what they looked like.

Friending “old” friends on Facebook demonstrated—sometimes very starkly—something I knew in theory but never fully grasped in reality: somewhere over the past thirty-plus years, we all became genuinely old.  Looking at the profile pictures, I sometimes found myself silently asking, “What happened to you?”  Even more telling was the next logical query: “What happened to me?”

Sure, some of the guys still had most of their hair and others managed to keep most of the weight off, but thirty-plus years had taken a tremendous toll on us all.  It’s a helpful reminder, really, of something too easily forgotten or ignored.  When you are young and strong and beautiful, every new day seems a lot like the day before. You may have made some stupid and immoral decisions yesterday, but youth often enables you to bounce back rather quickly and with minimal effort.  However, after more than three decades, all that bouncing has left behind an increasingly weighty list of aches, pains, scars, wrinkles, and regrets.

While contemplating this, I came across Isaiah 56:12 which says, “Come, . . . let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.”  The attitude is essentially this: we can fill each day with drunkenness and strong drink because tomorrow will be just like today—another day to party and have a good time.  It will always be like this.  Life will never catch up to us.

Thirty years and the Facebook time-warp has rather unceremoniously ripped off the illusory mask. Tomorrow keeps on coming.  Sooner or later, tomorrow is no longer just “like this day.”  Today’s tomorrows become weeks, months, years, and decades.  The daily choices we make—good, bad, and neutral—exact a small but growing (and ultimately measurable) price.  It’s more obvious than ever: none of us will live forever.  Each today is decidedly not the same as yesterday.

In light of our increasingly evident mortality, I thank God that each tomorrow will not be “like this day.”  No matter how wonderful or awful any given day is, some undisclosed future “today” will bring it all to a blessed end.  Death will finally find me.  And on that glorious day, I will finally see my Savior, Jesus, face-to-face.  That’s when, for all eternity, every tomorrow will not be like this day, but ever and always an even better day than the one before.  I can hardly wait!

Thirty Years in Ministry: A Reflection

96889_0

When I joined Cru in July of 1987, I intended to be a “lifer” with the organization.  Looking back, I had no clue what that might actually look like over the long haul.  In many ways, it was little more than a romantic dream, a well-intentioned but poorly-understood commitment to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth and back, no matter what the cost.

More than thirty years later, reality looks a lot different than the dream.  I wanted to do great things for God, be known for exceptional devotion to and love for Him, give my all for the sake of the gospel.  In retrospect, my heart for and obedience to the Lord has often wavered, sometimes reaching embarrassingly low levels of commitment.

Back then, I thought that being in ministry for thirty years would have forged in me a more Christ-like character and provided me with some wonderful words of wisdom to share with those coming behind.  Truth be told, I do not feel especially righteous, sagacious, or qualified to offer others a stellar example or share anything truly compelling or profound.  The milestone came and went without much fanfare or notice.  Before and after, the mundane tasks of everyday life in ministry remain strangely familiar.  Nothing stands out as fundamentally different than before.

What is most noticeable is not my extraordinary commitment or growing resemblance (or lack thereof) to Jesus over the past thirty years.  Rather, it is the immense and inexorable faithfulness of God.  As 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  Above all else, God has been faithful, and His faithfulness continues to evoke gratitude and hope.

Gratitude comes from reflecting on the ongoing opportunities and graces, all undeserved, which God has granted and continues to give.  I’ve had the privilege of serving Him all over the world, of journeying through life with a beautiful, godly, loving, and loyal wife, of enjoying the joys and trials of parenting three wonderful children, of seeing God continually supply our every need, of being used to bring about eternal life change in numerous Christian leaders, and of experiencing the profound presence of God in ways I never dreamed possible.

Hope comes from knowing that no matter how far and repeatedly I fall short of His ideal, no matter much earthly time God grants me, He remains ever faithful, patient, and kind.  I am secure in His love and in the riches poured out upon me through the goodness of Christ, and will enjoy these unmerited benefits for all eternity.

I am reminded of some words from a beautiful hymn written by Keith and Kristyn Getty, “My Worth Is Not in What I Own.”

As summer flowers, we fade and die

Fame, youth and beauty hurry by

But life eternal calls to us at the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might

Or human wisdom’s fleeting light

But I will boast in knowing Christ at the cross

Two wonders here that I confess

My worth and my unworthiness

My value fixed, my ransom paid at the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer

Greatest treasure

Wellspring of my soul

I will trust in Him, no other

My soul is satisfied in Him alone

Thank You, Lord, for the immense privilege of serving with You for more than thirty years, and for continually demonstrating Your faithful lovingkindness.

Home Forevermore

hqdefault (1)

I said goodbye yesterday to some friends we met on sabbatical.  Sometimes it feels like my life is one continuous goodbye.  Of course there are constants for which I am profoundly grateful.  God is always with me and Barbara has been my ever-faithful life companion through these past 26 years of marriage, but in some seasons of life, the goodbyes seem to engulf the greetings.  As we prepare for our return to Singapore, it feels like this is one of those seasons.

We are saying goodbye to our children, a new son and daughter-in-law, extended family, friends old and new, and so much more.  Of course, new beginnings bring new hellos and new opportunities, but the pain of saying goodbye is still very real and takes time to work through and move beyond.  If I’m honest, there is sadness in excitement and sorrow in anticipation.

In reflecting on these feelings, part of the longing to never again have to say goodbye is rooted in the great hope of heaven where we will finally find ourselves face-to-face with God and join in the sweet communion of the saints in a way we have never known before.  It will never be goodbye again.  It will only be an exultant, spectacular, and unending reunion.

I am reminded of the words from an old Degarmo and Key song:

“It’s gonna be a family reunion when we see the Lord

At the family reunion we’ll be home forevermore . . . home forevermore”

Whenever God calls, I’m ready to be home forevermore and never have to say goodbye again.