Hope Eternal

I stood there with tears streaming down my face.  The door to the past was closed.  The future uncertain.  Trust was at its lowest.  Fear loomed large.  I cried out to my God.  Please show me hope.  Show me hope today.

Later that morning, as I stood in the rain with my dog, I looked over and saw signs of spring.  Purple hyacinths were popping their heads out of the green.  The yellow of daffodils was opening.  The leaves of the bleeding hearts were rising from the ground.  Peonies were poking through the soil.  I saw hope.  Even in the rain, hope was around me.  Hope of better days.  Hope of new beginnings.  Hope of building trust again.

I saw hope on another day.  Male cardinals vying for the female’s attention.  Loud chirping.  Swooping tails in flight.  Chasing each other through the branches.  I saw hope.  Hope for rebirth.  Hope for renewal.  Hope for dreams fulfilled.

Perhaps there was hope for me.  A phone call.  An encouraging text.  A lunch and movie.  Time with friends.  Renewal.  Rest.  Reset.  Hope.


But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.  For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  Isaiah 43:18-19


The Israelites had been mistreated for far too long.  They were waiting for a savior.  One to rescue them.  One to right their wrongs.  Oh.  Their suffering became worse before it ended.  Perhaps hope did wane.  Discouragement can cloud hope when it seems as if God isn’t listening.

But God was listening.  He heard their cries.  God offered hope when He sent Moses to deliver them.  And God delivered His people in a mighty way.  Miracle after miracle flowed from his fingertips into their lives.  God proved with his mighty hand that he was in control every step of the way.  God destroyed their enemy in front of their very eyes.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”  Exodus 5:22-61 NRSV

This is Easter Week.  Holy Week.  Just the name implies hope.  But in order to see that hope appear, horrible events took place.  The sentencing of an innocent man.  Sentenced to death on a cross.

When Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him, I wonder if God turned to him and said.  Now you shall see what I will do by my mighty hand. 

Did Jesus see hope as he was dying on the cross?  Did he see hope for you?  For me?

Oh.  Two days later as he left the tomb very much alive, hope came in a bright light.  Hope rolled the stone away from his tomb.  Hope breathed life into his torn body. Hope shown through him as he appeared to Mary Magdalene.  Hope appeared as he showed his scarred hands to Thomas.

This was a different hope. This was a new hope.  This was hope eternal. Everlasting hope.

Today the daffodil bloomed.

When It Seems God Is Failing

In Exodus 3, God called Moses to return to Egypt to deliver his people.  The Israelites.  Moses fought the call.  Who am I to do such a thing?  He didn’t think he was good enough.  He didn’t think he was a good speaker.  He didn’t think he could make the Egyptian leaders believe him.  Even when God allowed Aaron to speak so Moses could perform the miracles, Moses resisted.  Even when God gave him clear instructions, Moses still wavered.  God reminded him that his people’s misery and oppression had been seen.  His people’s cries for mercy had been heard.  Moses was to go.  That was God’s clear command.  And God promised to lead Moses and his people to a land that was flowing with milk and honey.

So Moses went to Pharaoh.  Aaron spoke God’s words and Moses performed God’s miracles before Pharaoh.  But Pharaoh refused to give in to God and caused greater suffering for the Israelites.

Even with God’s promise, the Israelite’s suffering worsened before they were delivered.  They had done no wrong, but their workload was increased.  They were beaten.  They were abused.  They were threatened.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”  Exodus 5:22-23 NRSV

Could this have been the same cry that rang out from Jesus’ lips as he hung on that cross?  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus was in agony.  He felt abandoned by his Father.   Had God left him all alone on that cross?  Not only was the physical pain of being nailed to the cross unbearable, but he was bearing the weight of the entire world’s sins on his shoulders.

Death by crucifixion was barbaric.  It brought immense physical suffering.  It was cruel.  It was painful.  Nails were hammered into his hands and feet.  His breathing was ragged.  He had severe blood loss.  Broken ribs.  Collapsed lungs.  Exhausted thighs.  Shoulders pulled from their sockets.  A slow agonizing death.

Yes, there are times when life doesn’t make sense.  When things are going wrong.  Horribly wrong.  Others make decisions that impact innocent lives.  We feel abandoned.  We may feel that we’re in exile with no way of escape.  It would seem that God is failing.


Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  John 16:33


The thing is.  I’ve said some of those same words.  I’m not good enough.  I can’t do this.  God, why am I going through this situation?  When will it end?  God, where are you?  God, why have you forsaken me?  God, why have you done nothing to deliver me?

When it seems that those you trusted have failed you, there is One who never fails.  God is not slow.  He is patient.  He is working behind the scenes.  Putting everything in place.  Oh.  It may seem as if he hasn’t heard the prayers.  It may seem as if he hasn’t seen our plight.  It may seem as if he doesn’t care.  He has said that we will have trouble in this life.  We will suffer.  We will face trials and deep sorrows.

But God has given us a promise that we must hold to as long as we have breath.  He will right our wrongs.  Oh.  Not necessarily as we would like, but in His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-present way.  God does not fail.  He is in control.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”  Jeremiah 29:11-14

God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.

 

Coward

Pilate.  Pilate.  You thought the man innocent.  Not guilty.  But you bowed to peer pressure.  Both you and Herod found him innocent.  Yet you couldn’t let him go.  You valued your life over his.  You even claimed a friend that day.  Herod, the man who was once your enemy became a friend.  For what?  Because you both agreed about this man?  You both found him innocent but couldn’t free him.  What kind of leader are you?

So you listened to the crowd.  You had the opportunity to free a man sentenced to death.  You could have released Jesus.  An innocent man.  Yet you released a murderer.  You released a man charged with insurrection.  A troublemaker.  A rioter.  Were you afraid of a riot if you let Jesus go free?  Do you always lead with double standards?  Were you afraid for your life that day?

Pilate.  You sat on the judgment seat.  The power was in your hands.  Even your wife knew you should free Jesus.  She had a nightmare.  She knew.  She begged you to let him go.  But you didn’t listen.  You were too concerned for yourself.  Coward.  Spineless.  Yourself a troublemaker.  You couldn’t stand up for an innocent man.  So you traded his life for that of a murderer.  Your claim to fame is the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

How does it feel to sentence an innocent man to death?  Oh.  You came to the right conclusion.  Both you and Herod.  Jesus was innocent.  No crime was committed.  Yet you bowed.  But you were the leader.  The governor.  You were the one with the power.  And you were afraid.  You had a choice.  Do the right thing or do the popular thing.  Yes.  We know what you chose.


Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” Mark 15:12


You thought that washing your hands in a bowl of water would cleanse you from guilt.  There is not enough soap to wash away that guilt.  The only thing that would cleanse you was the man you put on that cross.  Sometimes the things we try to run from continue to haunt us long after the deed is done.  Sometimes you can’t run far enough or fast enough.  And it doesn’t matter if someone else says they’ll take the blame.  It was you who freed the wrong man.  You’re the one who has to live with that.

There are stories that tell how you had a history of executing prisoners before their trial.  You were violent.  Greedy.  Stubborn.  Cruel.  Yes.  That’s the way history paints you.  So killing another innocent man wasn’t new to you.  But this prisoner was different.  You knew this man was innocent.

I wonder, Pilate, if Jesus’ words had begun to sink in.  When you asked if he was king of the Jews, did you believe he was?  I can see how his words of truth would prick your heart and create the stirrings of belief.  You were frightened by his words.  I believe you knew that you were dealing with someone not of this world.

You had him flogged with a lead-tipped whip.  Then you ordered your men to put a crown of thorns on his head.  You dressed him in a purple robe.  Perhaps deep down you knew.  He really was King of the Jews.  But you couldn’t say it to the crowd.  Or you might have been the one on the cross.

Here’s the thing.  Pontius Pilate.  You couldn’t change your mind.  Your decision was part of God’s plan for his only Son.  Jesus was born to die on that cross. God knew there would be those warring against him.  You were placed in that role for this very part.  Oh.  Yours wasn’t a starring role.  But it was powerful.  It was shameful.  It was tragic.  But you did the job.  Your decision set Jesus up to be the Savior of the world.  He died for you, Pilate.

 

Petty Tyrannies

Her words do me in.  They are sharp.  Cutting.  Unpredictable yet predictable.  Unpredictable because I never know when she will strike.  Predictable because it’s happening too often lately.

She says we’re not the target.  It’s the situation that causes her to be this way.  But those around her are the victims.  Easy prey.

I’ve tried to quietly analyze her.  What causes her to strike?  What is happening in her life that makes her so stressed?  Why is she so tightly wound?  Do I even want to know?

The thing is.  Others notice.  Others hear the words.  Others avoid her.  Her reputation precedes her.

Stress causes people to act out, speak out and mistreat others when it is never their intention.  Our differences will divide us.  If we let them.  We can choose to work and live together in harmony.  Give each other space.  Help each other out.


Free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.  Romans 14:9 (MSG)


I’m the peacemaker of the group.  Usually.  But sometimes I find myself striking back when the words are too cutting.  I find that my sharp words come out when I’ve been wounded.  Hoping to inflict as much damage as I’ve received.  Even if I’m not the intended target.  A person can only take so much.  I tell myself.

But does that really give me the right to strike back?  Does that make it right?  Is getting even ever justifiable?

I’ve begun to realize that I’m prone to getting even when backed in a corner.  I say words that I will later regret.  My thoughts have a bent toward retaliation.  Even though that’s not the way I choose to live or treat people.

I don’t think of myself as evil.  I’m protecting myself.  That’s what I tell myself.  I’m making sure that I’m not walked on.  Not trampled on.  Not chewed up and spit out.

I want to think I’m better than that. I want others to think I’m better than that. I want to think that others don’t see the real me.  I want them to see the good in me.  I want them to believe in me.  I want them to trust me. I want my reputation to be honorable.

If I have to justify my petty tyrannies to others, then I know I’m doing wrong.  Why don’t I repent and choose to do better, be better instead of continually explaining away my shortcomings?

I remember Jesus in the garden when Judas Iscariot betrayed him with a kiss.  When Jesus was arrested, he went quietly.

I remember Jesus was put on trial.  Listening to the lies.  The false charges brought against him.  He stood there quietly.

I remember someone shoved a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head.  He was beaten and stripped of his clothes.  He didn’t fight.  He didn’t try to escape.

I remember Jesus was ordered to carry the cross that he would die on.  He carried that cross up the hill with the little strength he had left.  He was nailed to that cross.  He knew he was going to die.  I wonder if he wished he was already dead.  So he wouldn’t have to suffer more.

He had no strength left to fight, yet he was willing to die so he could save everyone fighting against him.  He could have called on heavenly forces to save himself, but he died alone so everyone else could live.

I remember Jesus on the cross.  A soldier slit his side.  A thief on one cross insulted him.  Another thief recognized Jesus and asked for forgiveness.  In his dying moments, Jesus forgave him.  He told the second thief they would be together in heaven later that day.


 Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.  Romans 15:2-6 MSG


I see a pattern in my life that doesn’t match up to Jesus’ example.  If I’m going to be like him, I need to think like him.  I need to act like him.  I need to embrace his willingness to forgive at all cost.  I need to love others as he did. I need to ask how I can help.  I want him to look at me and tell me that he’ll see me in heaven when my time comes.