Posts tagged ‘Hope’

The Day of the Lord

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One of the most prominent themes in Scripture is the Day of the Lord. This is the day God will reveal Himself in His power and glory. And what a day this will be. It will be a day of awe. It will be a day of fear. It will be a day of judgment. And it is a day that is near.

The prophet Obadiah describes this day thusly:

The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (Obadiah 15)

In Obadiah’s telling, the Day of the Lord will be one of recompense. What you have done – both good and evil – will boomerang back to you on this day.

For me, this sounds terrifying. I have done some good in my life – but I have also done plenty of bad. There are things I have done to others that I would not want done to me. A day of recompense, for me, would be a day of ruin.

And this is precisely what Obadiah wants his readers to worry about. He continues:

Just as you drank on My holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. (Obadiah 16)

God warns that the nations will “drink continually” – a metaphor for the pouring out of divine wrath. The wrath that God pours out on this day will be so intense and God’s destructive judgment so definitive, that it will be as if there had never been any nations.

But it does not have to be this way. In the middle of a day of inescapable divine judgment, there will be a refuge:

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. (Obadiah 17)

Zion will be a place of refuge from the judgment all around it. Jacob – that is, Israel – will receive an inheritance. But how?

A parent bequeaths an inheritance to a child for the simple reason that they are a child. It is not something that is earned – and often not even deserved, for many children are scoundrels – it is simply given out of love.

The apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:26)

This is how we are rescued from the recompense for sin that comes with the Day of Lord and, instead, given refuge in spite of our sin at the day of the Lord – through faith in Christ. Jesus is the One who turns a terrifying day into a triumphant day. He is the One who delivers us.

When the Day of the Lord comes, it will be either a day of wrath or a day of redemption in Christ. Which will it be for you?

June 27, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hope In Troubles

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Recently, in my personal devotions, I have been reading through the book of Hosea. Hosea is the first of the so-called “Minor Prophets” at the end of the Old Testament. He, like so many of the other ancient Israelites prophets, carried out his ministry during a time of great trouble and turmoil in Israel. The people had fallen prey to idolatry. They were defrauding and exploiting each other. They were engaged in all sorts of crass and harmful immorality, such as cultic sexual rituals. God raised up prophet after prophet to try to call the people back to righteousness – back to Him.

When God called Hosea, He called him not only to be a preacher, but, in some sense, a performer. Hosea is asked by God to use his life as a giant object lesson as a divine message to Israel:

The Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

So, Hosea does. And, predictably, she cheats on him. What Israel has done to God – cheating on Him by worshiping other gods – Hosea plays out in his life and marriage, at a great personal expense of suffering.

But even in the midst of much sin and pain, all is not lost. God makes a promise through Hosea to Israel:

I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Hosea 2:14-15)

God promises to restore Israel even after her faithlessness. This promise does not mean there will be no fallout from her sin. Hosea speaks of the “Valley of Achor,” which, in Hebrew, means “valley of trouble.” This is the same valley where, eight centuries earlier, a man named Achan was stoned to death for lying about stealing what belonged to God (cf. Joshua 7:24-26). Sin brings trouble.

But God reminds us that trouble does not have the last word. For, even in the Valley of Achor, God brings a “door of hope.”

Where has sin brought trouble in your life? Maybe your trouble is the result of a lie you told, a confidence you betrayed, or a boundary you breached. Then again, perhaps trouble has come to you through no fault of your own. Perhaps it is simply the result of living in a sinful, broken world. No matter what trouble you may be facing, even if God does not rescue you from the Valley of Achor, God will not abandon you in the Valley of Achor. Instead, when you are most troubled, God will give you a door – right in the midst of your valley of trouble. He will provide hope – right there in your pain.

How? Through One who has seen trouble, too – not in a valley, but on a hill called Calvary. And as this One once said:

I am the door. (John 10:7).

Jesus is our hope, no matter what our trouble.

June 6, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Say Something

First it was Buffalo. Then, last week, Uvalde. In total, 31 people lost their lives. The pictures, stories, and stunted potential of so many precious people is heart-rending.

Again and again, we ask: Why can’t we stop this? And again and again, we discover all sorts of signs were there that deadly trouble was brewing. Law enforcement referred the Buffalo shooter for psychiatric evaluation because of his macabre musings. Days before the Uvalde shooter commenced with his massacre, he sent disturbing social media messages to random teenage girls in Germany and California. So, we ask again and again: If the signs were there, why didn’t someone intervene?

When Eve falls to the twisted temptations of a talking snake to eat some divinely forbidden fruit, not only does she partake, “she also gives some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Adam was with Eve the whole time she was conversing with a snake, which, in and of itself should have been a signal to him that something was drastically amiss, but he didn’t say anything. The warning signs were there, but Adam never intervened. And the result was death as sin came into the world.

At the heart of the Christian message are people who saw something – and said something. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, explains:

We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Because these first followers of Jesus said something, the world was changed – and lives were, for eternity, saved.

As debates continue to rage over the police response in Uvalde and over how to address and prevent these mass shootings more generally on the local, state, and national levels, on a personal level, if we see something, we need to say something. And we need to remind others to do the same. What we say might just be what saves a life – or many lives.

For those who are grieving because they have lost loved ones in these depraved shootings, here is a promise: the God who sees them and loves them will say something. And what He says will be life-restoring:

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:15)

The losses we have endured are unspeakably evil, but they do not have the last word. This is the last word: Christ is risen – and so will they.

May 30, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Resurrection Trouble

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Easter is hopeful and scandalous all at the same time. It is scandalous because its message insists that what we think we know about death – that it is inescapable – has been escaped by Jesus. It is hopeful because there is something about death’s demise that strikes in us a chord of longing.

Sadly, the message of Easter – that Christ has risen in space and in time and in His body – has often been reduced to little more than a message about general hope for tomorrow and a slightly more spiritual-sounding non-descript existence after death. But it was not this way in the beginning. As N.T. Wright explains:

Death is the last weapon of the tyrant, and the point of the resurrection, despite much misunderstanding, is that death has been defeated. Resurrection is not the redescription of death; it is its overthrow and, with that, the overthrow of those whose power depends on it. Despite the sneers and slurs of some contemporary scholars, it was those who believed in the bodily resurrection who were burned at the stake and thrown to the lions. Resurrection was never a way of settling down and becoming respectable.

The resurrection caused trouble in that world – and it can still cause trouble in this world.

To the tyrant who murders to secure your power – the resurrection will destroy you.

To the disease that saps and sucks the life out of bodies – the resurrection will undo you.

To the hopelessness and helplessness and grief that can set in when a loved one dies – the resurrection will conquer you.

To the devil himself – the resurrection has already defeated you.

This is what we mean when we declare, “Christ is risen.”

And He has, indeed. Alleluia.   

April 18, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Thorny Lies

Satan loves to send malicious messages. This was something the apostle Paul struggled with. When writing to the church he planted in Corinth, he admits:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul struggled with a thorn. Exactly what this “thorn” was, we don’t know. Some people think it was a physical malady like a loss of sight while others conjecture that he battled some spiritual temptation. Whatever it was, Satan used this thorn as his messenger to torment Paul.

Satan does the same thing with us, too. When we struggle with and suffer from life’s thorns, Satan loves to say:

        “This thorn is because God is angry at you for a sin.”

        “This thorn means God does not care for you.”

        “This thorn proves you are unworthy of others’ love.”

        “This thorn will never end. You’ll be miserable forever.”

Have you ever struggled with thoughts that sound something like these? Satan is tormenting you with his malevolent messages.

Do not believe them. Do not believe him.

Paul certainly doesn’t. Because at the same time Satan is seeking to torment Paul with his deceptive messages, God is speaking loving words to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God responds to Satan’s lies of human worthlessness with the truth of His worthiness, which He gladly and freely shares with us out of His grace. When Satan tells us we are insufficient, God reminds us that His grace is wonderfully sufficient.

Satan may try to speak to us through thorns, but these thorns, instead of destroying us, are taken for us. They’ve all landed on Jesus’ head. And, in exchange, He gives us grace.

Believe that. Believe Him.

April 4, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A New Genesis

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The Old Testament opens with these famous words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

In Greek, one word for “beginning” is genesis, which is why we call the first book of the Bible “Genesis.” It is a book about humanity’s beginning.

The New Testament opens with these words:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)

In Greek, the word for “genealogy” is genesis. Matthew opens with a genealogy that describes Jesus from the beginning, which echoes the beginning described in Genesis 1:1 because, as John notes, Jesus “was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2). In other words, there was never a time – even in the very beginning – when Jesus was not.

But there’s more.

A little later in Genesis, we read:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)

What follows is a genealogy of Adam’s descendants, just like in Matthew we get a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors. And the Greek word behind “generations” is again genesis.

But by Genesis 5, there is a problem. Adam has fallen into sin and has reaped the consequences of sin, including pain, struggle, and death. In other words, Adam’s beginning is now marching toward a tragic end. He will perish.

The story of Scripture, then, is that of a struggle and search for a new beginning that will not inevitably end in pain, struggle, and death. And in Matthew 1, the Scriptures show us that ever since the beginning of Genesis 1, God has been planning to give us a new beginning in Jesus Christ. Genesis 1 is not the only genesis we have. We have a new genesis in Jesus.

So, where do you need a fresh start? A second chance? A new beginning? What has tragically ended for you in this life? A relationship? A hope? A dream?

Christ takes your first beginning – the one we have in Adam – and nails it to a cross and exchanges it for another beginning that will not end. No ending in this life can stop what will endure eternally in the next life.

Now that’s the kind of new beginning we all need.

The end.

March 21, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Not Much Lasts Forever

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Whenever I was encountering a tough time as a child, my mother used to remind me, “Not much lasts forever.” Though it was hard for me to believe or see at the time, she was right. The problems that seemed to be such a big deal when I was in grade school, middle school, or high school are now just distant memories – and, in many cases, not even memories at all. I have forgotten about most of the things I was once upon a time so upset about.

Perhaps the most famous story in the Bible of a tough time belongs to a man named Job. His story opens with him as the richest man around, but then, through a series of Satanic-inspired calamities, he loses his wealth, his family, and his health. He wonders out loud if he will even lose his life:

A man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so he lies down and does not rise. (Job 14:10-12)

As Job ponders death, he, at first, indicates that death would be a tough time that would last forever. When a person dies, after all, “he breathes his last and is no more” and “he lies down and does not rise.” Death, Job seemingly indicates, is permanent.

But Job is not quite done yet. After Job speaks of how a man, in death, “lies down and does not rise,” he continues:

…till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep. (Job 14:12)

Death, Job says, comes with a “till.” Death will last “till” the heavens are no more. But what about after the heavens are no more? The apostle Peter helps us:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10, 13)

After the heavens disappear, Peter promises that there will be a new heavens and a new earth – along with a new us. We will be raised from death. For, as my mother reminded me, not much lasts forever – not even death.

Job asks:

If someone dies, will they live again? (Job 14:14)

Peter answers Job’s question with a resounding, “Yes.”

November 8, 2021 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Hope in the Psalms

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Recently, life seems to have been a series of calamities.

COVID continues to ravage the world.

Those still struggling to leave Afghanistan are terrified for their very lives.

Countless communities are struggling to clean up after Ida.

Burnout, hopelessness, and despair feel like they’re everywhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a way forward from all of this. But such a way seems elusive – at least right now.

Of course, calamity in life is nothing new, nor is it anything avoidable.

Theologians have noted that within the book of Psalms, there are different genres of Psalms:

There are Psalms of Praise that honor God for who He is.

There are Wisdom Psalms that offer guidance for and through life.

There are Royal Psalms that give thanks for the ancient kings of Israel and yearn for a coming king, sent by God, who can rule the world.

There are Psalms of Thanksgiving that reflect on the good things God has done.

And there are Psalms of Lament that shed tears when life does its worst to us.

It is, of course, not surprising to read of tears and fears when the Psalmist is lamenting some tragedy. What is surprising, however, is that in even many of the sunny Psalms, there are still notes of melancholy.

For example, Psalm 40 is a Psalm of Praise, but the Psalmist praises God because He has rescued him from a terrifyingly terrible time:

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. (Psalm 40:1-2)

Psalm 104 also praises God, but nevertheless says of God:

When You hide Your face, Your creatures are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Psalm 104:29)

Though the Psalter has a few purely positive Psalms scattered throughout, for the most part, even the happiest of Psalms are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness.

That is, until you get to the end of the book. The final Psalm sings:

Praise the LORD. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 150:1-6)

Here is sheer praise – sheer joy. But it comes at the end of the book.

Though we may have moments in this life of pure joy, like the Psalms, for the most part, our lives are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness. But the End is on its way when we – yes, even we who have lost our breath in death – will have our breath restored and we will praise the Lord.

As we continue to encounter calamity, may we look forward to that day when we praise God everlastingly.

September 13, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Lamechs

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A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Too Young To Die

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One of my most sobering tasks as a pastor is participating in funerals. Every funeral is weighty, but those that are for someone who we would say “died too early” carry with them a unique set of challenges. A young child who passes away, for instance, leaves behind intensely grieving parents. A husband or wife who dies in the prime of life leaves behind a devastated spouse.

One of the starkest portraits of life and death comes to us in Genesis 5, which is a genealogy of the first humans. There is a refrain that comes up again and again as each person is listed, beginning with Adam:

Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:5)

Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:8)

Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:11)

Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:14)

Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:17)

Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:20)

Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:23-24)

Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:27)

Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:31)

The phrase “and then he died” evinces an inescapable reality: ever since humanity’s fall into sin, people die.

There is, however, a hiccup in this genealogy’s refrain with Enoch. The end of Enoch’s life is not characterized as “death,” but as being “no more” because God took him away (Genesis 5:24). His lifespan is also notable – 365 years. This is by far the shortest lifespan of anyone in this genealogy. Compared with lifespans as long as these, Enoch could easily be said to have been taken from this world too early. And yet, as C. John Collins reminds us in his book Reading Genesis Well in his comments on Enoch:

Apparently, there are higher values and rewards than simply length of days, and the text assumes that there lies something worthwhile beyond the grave for the faithful.

We can sometimes wonder why God takes certain people from us “early.” But, as Enoch reminds us, God taking someone is not an indication of a curse. It can be an indication of a blessing. This reality does not remove the severe sting of a person who passes young, but it does offer hope. What happened with Enoch can happen for them, too. They may be apart from us, but they are with the Lord. And anytime is a good time to be with Him.

July 5, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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