To Live Hopefully

On a clear summer day, we drove to New York’s Bear Mountain State Park. Our young grandchild would visit us soon, so we checked out the park’s unique merry-go-round pavilion. A cheery, colorful mural depicted the park’s philanthropist and his family leading visitors—including a multitude of children—from New York City on a trek to the summit for a summer picnic. The title of artist Jacques Bartels’ painting? Hope. When that pavilion was dedicated in April 2001, who could have guessed that September’s dreadful events would cause New Yorkers to be in dire need of the very thing the mural sought to portray—refreshment and hope?

Lottery advertisements peddle hope daily, but considering the slim odds, it’s an illogical hope and hardly worth the price. Professional sports offer more hope and better odds for winning, if only vicariously. Unlike cricket, rugby or soccer with their World Cup tournaments every four years, each spring baseball season opens with the World Series just six months away. For baseball fans, hope doesn’t have long to wait. Whether we anticipate our team’s victory in months or years, ever-hopeful fans dream of winning, even when the chances are slim. Non-fans call such hope plain wishful thinking.

A patient adult knows that helping a young child plant and care for seeds for the first time may seem like mere wishful thinking to the tyke until the seedlings start to sprout and grow. It may be weeks before flowers are mature, but watching the transformation of a seed into a plant stimulates hope. When the child picks the flower and her deferred hope is fulfilled, she’s learned a lesson for life.

If we learn from and remember what’s happened in the past we can gain a rational hope for the future. In the days of the former Soviet occupation, Lithuanian Christians displayed symbols of hope. Outside a northern city (Siauliai), crosses appeared on a certain hill. By day, proponents of the atheistic state plowed them down; by night, believers restored crosses to the hill as a silent witness to their hope. We know who won that showdown. Today there are hundreds of thousands of crosses planted on the now famous Hill of Crosses.

Hope exhibited by common people especially encourages us. During adversity—whether from oppression, war’s devastation, imprisonment, natural disasters or other forms of suffering—determined musicians, artists, teachers, pastors and all who tenaciously hold on to beauty and truth inspire hope.

Beyond such encouragement, we can know an enduring hope based on the truth of who God is and what God says. In his book about Paul’s letter to the Romans, More than Conquerors, Milton Agnew comments, “Hope is more than just wishing for. Hope is expectation. Hope takes the promises of faith and appropriates them to oneself.” Hope in Christ and His promises stabilizes us, especially through uncertain times.

In his No Strange Land*, missionary, artist, poet and author Eddie Askew reminds us that the farmer sows in active hope as he works to secure it. It’s that way with Christian hope, too. As Peter says, we are given “…new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3).

Askew says: “And that is why our hope is real and alive—because it springs direct from the living God through whom the hope of harvest and harvest of hope are fulfilled.” He continues in verse:

I hope for hope, Lord.
The seeds of light
Sown in the darkness round your cross,
Germinate, and flower and fruit In the fallow fields of my small life.
My hope starts in your death and resurrection.
Continues in the certainty of your presence. 
Fulfills itself in the clear calm confidence of final victory.
For now, I cling to hope’s small seedling.
Vulnerable. Not yet full grown.
Measuring each day
In the new leaves of little victories.
And, help me, Lord, often in small defeats.
But still I cling to hope.
And know you walk with me.

Whether in the daily trudge or during life’s unwelcome upheavals, hope is precious and vital. Is travelling hopefully better than arriving (as Robert Louis Stevenson once suggested)? Perhaps sometimes, in the short term. But the living hope God offers us is superior for life’s daily journey, its unplanned curves and its final destination.

What Matters

Best–selling author and pastor Max Lucado talks with Editor–in–Chief Allen Satterlee about the inspiration for his upcoming book, You’ll Get Through This, which will be made available via partnership with Thomas Nelson, Inc., Salvation Army Eastern Territory and the Association for Christian Retail. One million copies of the book will be distributed as an emblem of hope to survivors of crisis situations. On September 11 the Army will hold a special event in New York City—with Lucado as keynote speaker—to honor those who have died in terrorist attacks, Hurricane Sandy and other tragedies. Here he covers a wide range of faith issues, including grace vs. performance, his own struggles with suffering and mortality and what creates true hope and change.

Q: How did your writing ministry begin?
A: When I was 20 I began my walk with Christ. Some friends and I wanted to spend a summer in Brazil to do mission work. We spent the summer in Brazil and decided that we wanted to be missionaries. To do that I located a church in Miami, Florida, to sponsor me. One of the jobs was writing an article in a church bulletin each week. I really liked doing it. Somebody said, “You ought to try and get them published.” I tried. It happened.

Q: What lasting effect came from your missionary service in Brazil?
A: Appreciating grace. I struggled, thinking the more I perform the happier God will be. As missionaries, we had to decide what our unique message was in order to have someone come and hear us preach. We examined our own lives, prayed and had some good Bible studies. We felt we had to lift up grace, God’s radical forgiveness of people. The church began to grow and we experienced it ourselves.

Q: What came from your struggle with atrial fibrillation?
A: That was a reminder of my mortality. I had always been in good health when I began having these heart problems. If you had asked me if I were mortal, I would have said yes. Sometimes you have to experience that. It caused me to lean on God a lot more, to count my days, to plan and be more appreciative. The happiest season I’ve had were those days immediately following the healing. I had surgery and when I realized I was healed, I was so grateful. Every so often I pray, “Lord, would you restore that sense of gratitude?” I got another shot at life.

Max LucadoQ: What should unbelievers understand?
A: You matter to God. Regardless of where someone is or what he or she has been through, every single person matters to God. If we can internalize that, it changes us. I had dinner with a man in our church who was a successful accountant. He was caught with child pornography and went to prison. He has been out now for two years and now has two jobs working 16 hours per day. It was a flip flop of life. He was a successful accountant but now he makes far less now than he did. But, he’s a dear friend and he’s done well trying to recover, repent and put his life back together. He said the hardest thing for him is to forgive himself. I keep telling people, just believe you matter to God. He’s not finished with you.

Q: What is your priority message to believers?
A: You matter to God. A believer needs to find worth and significance in who God is and what God says rather than in what he accomplishes. We live in a day where performance is everything, how you look and how you can make your body appear, what you can drive. This is a battle for Christians. Of all people who should never struggle with self-image, shouldn’t it be those bought by the blood of Christ?

Q: The greatest danger to the Christian church today is…
A: Self-importance, elevating ourselves, thinking that the church exists for us, that the purpose of the church is to do what Walmart does for me, and that’s to be a source of service to me. That’s the challenge that we battle in our church. On the one hand, we want to serve everybody that comes in, but we want those who come in to be servants. It’s hard to send both messages. We want everybody who walks into church to have an inspirational event, moment, encounter, find their gifts, but then we want them to serve. When are we a hospital that allows people to heal and when are we physical therapy that teaches people to run?

Q: What is the greatest opportunity for the church today?
A: The media. We have social media, internet and cable television. We have the opportunity to get the message farther, faster, and cheaper than any time in history. I can go on Twitter and send a verse of encouragement to several hundred thousand people for free. Because of the proliferation of cable television networks, it’s more affordable to have some type of ministry. You can create an online presence. That’s the unique privilege we have.

Max LucadoQ: What led you to write You’ll Get Through This?
A: That one comes out of 30 years as a pastor more than any other book. Standing in line, talking to people after church, there will be 15 people that are doing great and the 16th person’s life is in turmoil. There’s a short time to try and minister to those people that will open up other opportunities. I keep referring back to the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), because it is a classic case of a person who had everything turned against him and yet it couldn’t have come out any better. Somewhere along the way I picked up the phrase, “Now you’re going to get through this. Remember Joseph.” I saw how a little word of hope can deposit itself in someone’s heart and really change him.

Q: Why do you want to work with The Salvation Army to share this book?
A: What organization better symbolizes concern for people who are passing through tragedy than The Salvation Army? From my perspective, The Salvation Army has the purest mission statement of any Christian organization. You exist to help people who are passing through times of difficulty in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m tremendously honored to have even small participation with it. I may write about “You’ll get through this,” but The Salvation Army has been living it, telling people this for 150 years now. It’s pretty amazing.

Who Am I?

My friend, Sheila had only been a Christian a short time when presented with the opportunity to teach a Sunday school class of ninth grade girls. Opportunity might not be the best way to say it, for everyone in the church knew of those girls. “I’ve never done ministry on my own before,” Sheila wondered. “How can I teach them anything?”

Although Sheila had no formal Christian training, she was asked to create and teach lessons each week. For girls. Starting high school. The very ones wrestling with their identity and trying to find their place in the world. A stay-at-home mother of young children, my friend could barely answer those questions for herself, let alone teach them to others. “How can I ever be of any assistance to them? Who am I to do this?”

Have you felt the same? Maybe the circumstances were different, but the question was the same: Who am I? It’s a question most of us ask when called to something far beyond our means. How could I possibly help people with HIV/AIDS? I don’t know anything about what it’s like to be homeless, so how can I witness to people that are? Who am I to demonstrate Christ’s love to my children day in and day out when I’m just so tired? Who am I?

Hello My Name Is WhoExodus 3 gives us an incredible answer. You’re probably familiar with the context, the story of the burning bush, but if you’re anything like me you might not have noticed how it addresses this fundamental inquiry. As soon as God asked Moses to return to Egypt, Moses replied, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Who am I? It wasn’t a matter of self-esteem or identity. It was a simple realization that the task at hand completely surpassed the qualifications of the one being called.

God could have told Moses how He created him in His image, that he was His workmanship. He could have told him how all the experiences in his life up to that point were preparing him for that moment. Or He could have just as easily answered with the more unsightly parts of Moses’ character: murderer, one to flee when times got tough, a leader of nothing but sheep. But He didn’t. Instead God simply said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

God’s answer sounds like a diversion, shifting from the question of Moses’ qualifications to one of who would accompany him. My heart goes out to Moses. Here he was, called to one of the greatest challenges in history, but looking at his ineptitude. And God seemed to misunderstand. Doesn’t provide much confidence, does it?

Or maybe it does. God answers the real question, the one that was never asked and probably not even considered. You see, the real issue at hand wasn’t about the capacity of the person being sent. It had nothing to do with Moses and everything to do with the one calling him, the very One who promised to go with him.

I love what happened next. It’s as if Moses is saying, “Um, you say you’ll go with me, but who are you?” Of course he asked more tactfully: “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14).

I AM. Not I am a businessman, a wife, a writer or whatever various labels we have. I AM. English professors would balk over that sentence, claiming it is missing the noun, yet only through the fullness of God is it complete.

Who am I ran smack into I AM. Remarkable, isn’t it?

Moses’ response, once he knew God would go with him, wasn’t all that impressive. Instead, he listed one excuse after another as to why he wasn’t the man for the job. He even said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). Sound familiar? It sure does in my life. I AM might say He’ll go with me, while I keep asking “Who am I?”

Here’s what’s incredible: in the end, Moses went. In fact, with time he came to savor God’s presence more than anything else. The Lord said to Moses, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3). Moses couldn’t help but cry out, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). The Promised Land held no promise without God’s presence.

Only when we recognize our complete inability to do anything of a supernatural nature on our own can we begin to let God fully work in and through us. Oswald Chambers writes, “When we have come to the end of ourselves, not in imagination but reality, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit.”

Moses alone couldn’t have convinced Pharaoh to let God’s people go, nor could he have performed the many miracles and plagues necessary to cause their release. On their own, Joshua and his followers couldn’t have made the walls of Jericho fall simply by marching and blowing trumpets. Noah couldn’t have gotten two of every kind of animal to board his boat. And without God being with her, my friend Sheila never would have grown to love the group of rowdy Sunday school girls so much that they begged her to disciple them four years longer than she originally planned.

The same is true for you. On your own, you can’t finish whatever God-sized task lies ahead of you. But the real question isn’t “Who are you to complete it?” Rather, it is “Who is it that will go with you?”

By Stacy Voss

Our Dwelling Place

If ever there was a man who thought he had no sure place to call his own, it was Moses. He lived forty years as a foreigner in Pharaoh’s family. Then for forty years he hid away in the backyard of nowhere, a fugitive from the law. Except for a brief reentry into Egypt, he concluded his life in the wide-open, uncivilized space of the wilderness. He may not have had a piece of land to call his own, but he was sure of his dwelling place. Moses learned that with God we are always at home because God has a home in our hearts. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1, 2)

It seemed like the might of Egypt would dominate the world forever, but the children of Israel had seen that great nation brought to its knees by such unimaginable weapons as frogs and lice and darkness. In contrast, the Lord provides His shelter “from everlasting to everlasting.” Moses knew what the mountains were to the ancient peoples, representing that which was most ageless. They were also considered by non-Jews as the birthplace of the gods. Moses spoke of the earth, thought then to be the center of the universe. But he reminds God’s people that even mountains, which seem most unaffected by age, are but another part of God’s creation. When the last of the mountains are blown away as random dust, God remains untouched by the millennia.

After considering God who stands above time, mountains and the crumbling of mighty Egypt, Moses is struck by how fragile, how transient are we of the human race. “You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’ A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered” (vs. 3-6).

Moses seems to have been haunted by his smallness. When he showed himself brave, he went too far and committed murder (Exodus 2:11-15). Despite his favored status as a member of Pharaoh’s household, he fled for his life, hiding away as a shepherd. There this man who sought a place for himself was left to chase sheep around trackless mountains. When the time came to lead the children of Israel, he was petrified to even speak to the ruling Pharaoh. He sought to hide behind his brother Aaron, feeling unequal to the task. And though he stood tall, he had to struggle continually with feeling overwhelmed. And who wouldn’t feel anxious, with two million people behind him, the emptiness of a harsh wilderness before him and enemies lurking on his flanks to destroy both him and his people if ever they betrayed a moment of weakness?

How could he manage? Emerging from his ant-like feeling in a land of redwoods, he found comfort. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (vs. 13-17).

How can a solitary man stand when every difficulty seems insurmountable, when walking to a destination is done on enemy ground? By remembering that this God who is worshipped is one who satisfies His child with “unfailing love.” It is that which causes the weary heart to sing, that which causes the tired limbs to find strength, that which makes the fearful soldier take his sword and face the battle.

Moses closed his psalm by asking the Lord to “establish the work of our hands.” That request can only be made when we are confident that our work is God’s work. It need not be formal ministry as done by ordained clergy. Rather, it is to take the raw materials presented in the form of each new day to craft a work that delights our loving Father whose smile reflects the warmth of sunshine back on us.

By Major Allen Satterlee

Companions in Hope

My Son John sent me a rainbow via email: there it was, so lovely on my computer screen, the arc from one side to the other, brilliant colors seen through sparkling raindrops splashed on the windshield. He’d noticed the rainbow while driving to work and taken the photograph from inside his pickup truck.

It’s the same rainbow that my parents saw together that morning. My Mom told me that Dad had seen it while walking down the driveway to get the newspaper, and he’d called her to come outside. They’d stood in the drizzly rain on the 29th day of February, 84 year old companions in hope, probably holding hands and thinking about the uncertain future – what with Mom’s illness and the cancer spreading to her lungs – but facing it with faith, as if they were holding “fast to the hope that lies before us,” knowing it to be “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm” (Hebrews 6:18-19).

I see the rainbow in my mind now, as I sit in the hospital emergency room with Mom.

She’s having trouble breathing; fluid has built up in her lungs. “The cancer as turned nasty,” she tells the nurse.

Mom has already seen the doctor, and the procedure to drain the fluid is being arranged. I sit beside her bed in a curtained-in space. We’re surrounded by other beds and other patients.

Mom, impatient and anxious to be breathing better, wants the nurse to call someone but worries that they don’t understand or won’t be able to do it now. But phone calls are made, steps taken. “Mom, it’s happening…it’s in process,” I tell her.

I think about the rainbows and all of the songs about the mystery of what’s on the other side of the rainbow. At this moment, Mom’s “over-the-rainbow” is relief, easier breathing.

In the bed across from us, the patient, who’s been lying still as stone, starts to come to life after a crowd of nurses and doctors had been gathered around. She is a middle-aged black woman, her hair tousled and tattoos on her arms. Restless, she sits up and calls out to the woman in bed beside her and to all of us: “I saw a tunnel of white light – swear to God. I’m not doing no drugs any more!

A doctor goes over to her, and we hear him saying: “Jackie, you need to get clean, no more drugs.” He reminds her of what happened today: she’s a meth addict, but came in not breathing because of a heroin overdose.

Now left alone again, she yells: “Nurse, I want ice chips! Nurse, I’m cold!” – startling us all.

Mom, dozing, with a look of hopeful peace settled on her thin, pale face, jerks awake.

And I still see this rainbow. It is such a gentle place to look back on – I am so grateful for this rainbow. I think about Jackie: her “tunnel and white light” might be her heavenly over-the-rainbow, while her intent to not “do drugs” could be her earthly one, her best hope for life.

An elderly, obese man in the bed next to us is receiving physical therapy instruction; he’s being sent home with a wheeled walker. “This will be great for him,” the therapist tells the man’s wife. “And you won’t have to strain yourself.” He shows her how to support the man’s walking by lightly holding on to his belt.

I wouldn’t worry,” he says. “Everything’s going to be OK.”

And this, I think, is another glimpse of what’s over-the-rainbow.

While Mom waits, I open the book of spiritual writing I’ve brought along. Here’s a poem called “The Day Continues Lovely,” by C.K. Williams. A man awakes on a June morning just after sparkling daybreak and he’s wondering why he’s not praying. He’s looking at his grandsons asleep on their mats in his study: “shining,” he says, “all three, more golden than gold, and I’m still not. Not praying.”

I put down the book and wonder why I don’t pray more, why I’m not praying right now. Really, in the emergency room there is such a need for prayer.

And so I pray to God – for everyone here, for every single body and soul need, for the patients, the staff, and the families hovering near. And I feel the rainbow even closer now, over us all.

There is a rush of activity around the bed on one side of us. I hear a nurse giving a report, her voice hurried: “Fifty-five year old man, had a seizure, then his heart stopped. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital his heart began to beat again.” And now, here he is and I hear the man’s voice responding as nurses ask questions.

I pray again. And the rainbow stays.

I read some more. Here’s another poem: “The Search,” by Kate Farrell. A woman, waking on a moonlit night sees the beautiful bright glow from outside and feels peace and relief from her restlessness. She decides that from now on she will try to “see things only in the light love throws.”

And I think, this is the rainbow mode, this is what the rainbow holds: the light that love us all – as bright as the splash of colors sparkling in the sky. A promise, fierce and true and forever – as forever as over-the-rainbow – Jesus’ words: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

His promise, His presence, His love – for always.

Our “anchor of the soul, sure and firm” – for always.

I go to the cafeteria while Mom has her treatment. I sit beside a window and watch the rain pouring down outside while I eat a ham sandwich and sip hot tea. There are only dark clouds in the sky, no sign of sun breaking through.

When we return home, Mom sits on the sofa drinking coffee, eating the other half of my sandwich – eating steadily, without appetite, but knowing that this is what she has to do…to keep going.

Now it is late afternoon, getting darker, still raining, but Mom is sitting in soft lamp light, breathing easier, thank God.

And the rainbow is still close to us: for here in the light of love throws there is never-ending hope, and there is prayer – prayers that we are always praying with every holy breath we take.

By Kristina M. Santos