Tag  |  hope

Beginning Again

After Christmas festivities conclude at the end of December, my thoughts often turn to the coming year. While my children are out of school and our daily rhythms are slow, I reflect on where the last year has brought me and where I hope the next will take me. Those reflections sometimes come with pain and regret over the mistakes I’ve made. Yet the prospect of starting a new year fills me with hope and expectancy. I feel I have the opportunity to begin again with a fresh start, no matter what the last year held.

 

My anticipation of a fresh start pales in comparison to the sense of hope the Israelites must have felt when Cyrus, the king of Persia, released them to return to their homeland in Judah after seventy long years of captivity in Babylon. The previous king, Nebuchadnezzar, had deported the Israelites from their homeland. But the Lord prompted Cyrus to send the captives home to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1:2, 3). Cyrus returned to them treasures that had been taken from the temple as well. Their lives as God’s chosen people, in the land God had appointed to them, began afresh after a long season of hardship in Babylon as a consequence for their sin.

 

No matter what lies in our past, when we confess our sin, God forgives us and gives us a fresh start. What great cause for hope!

Everlasting Hope

The week before Christmas, two months after my mom died, holiday shopping and decorating sat at the bottom of my priority list. I resisted my husband’s attempts to comfort me as I grieved the loss of our family’s faith-filled matriarch. I sulked as our son, Xavier, stretched and stapled strands of Christmas lights onto the inside walls of our home. Without a word, he plugged in the cord before he and his dad left for work.

As the colorful bulbs blinked, God gently drew me out of my darkness. No matter how painful the circumstances, my hope remained secure in the light of God’s truth, which always reveals His unchanging character.

Psalm 146 affirms what God reminded me on that difficult morning: My endless “hope is in the Lord,” my helper, my mighty and merciful God (v. 5). As Creator of all, He “remains faithful forever” (v. 6). He “upholds the cause of the oppressed,” protecting us and providing for us (v. 7). “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (v. 8). He “watches over” us, “sustains” us (v. 9), and will always be King (v. 10).

Sometimes, when Christmas rolls around, our days will overflow with joyful moments. Sometimes, we’ll face loss, experience hurt, or feel alone. But at all times, God promises to be our light in the darkness, offering us tangible help and everlasting hope.

More Than a Hero

As Star Wars fans around the world eagerly await the release of Episode 8, “The Last Jedi,” people continue to analyze the remarkable success of these films dating back to 1977. Frank Pallotta, media reporter for CNNMoney, said that Star Wars connects with many who long for “a new hope and a force of good at a time when the world needs heroes.”

At the time of Jesus’s birth, the people of Israel were oppressed and longing for their long-promised Messiah. Many anticipated a hero to deliver them from Roman tyranny, but Jesus did not come as a political or military hero. Instead, He came as baby to the town of Bethlehem. As a result, many missed who He was. The apostle John wrote, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

More than a hero, Jesus came as our Savior. He was born to bring God’s light into the darkness and to give His life so that everyone who receives Him could be forgiven and freed from the power of sin. John called Him “the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).

“To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). Indeed, Jesus is the one true hope the world needs.

Christmas at MacPherson

About 230 families and individuals live at Macpherson Gardens, Block 72 in my neighborhood. Each person has his or her own life story. On the tenth floor resides an elderly woman whose children have grown up, gotten married, and moved out. She lives by herself now. Just a few doors away from her is a young couple with two kids—a boy and a girl. And a few floors below lives a young man serving in the army. He has been to church before; maybe he will visit again on Christmas Day. I met these people last Christmas when our church went caroling in the neighborhood to spread Christmas cheer.

Every Christmas—as on the first Christmas—many people do not know that God has entered into our world as a baby whose name is Jesus (Luke 1:68; 2:11). Or they do not know the significance of that event—that it is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, race, gender, or status, Jesus came to die for us and offer us complete forgiveness so that we can be reconciled with Him and enjoy His love, joy, peace, and hope. Indeed, all people, from the woman next door to the colleagues we have lunch with, need to hear this wonderful news!

On the first Christmas, the angels were the bearers of this joyous news. Today, God desires to work through us to take the story to others.

The One Who Understands

John Babler is the chaplain for the police and fire departments in his Texas community. During a 22-week sabbatical from his job, he attended police academy training so that he could better understand the situations law enforcement officers face. Through spending time with the other cadets and learning about the intense challenges of the profession, Babler gained a new sense of humility and empathy. In the future, he hopes to be more effective as he counsels police officers who struggle with emotional stress, fatigue, and loss.

We know that God understands the situations we face because He made us and sees everything that happens to us. We also know He understands because He has been to earth and experienced life as a human being. “He became flesh and dwelt among us” as the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

Jesus’s earthly life included a wide range of difficulty. He felt the searing heat of the sun, the pain of an empty stomach, and the uncertainty of homelessness. Emotionally, He endured the tension of disagreements, the burn of betrayal, and the ongoing threat of violence.

Jesus experienced the joys of friendship and family love, as well as the worst problems that we face here on earth. He provides hope. He is the Wonderful Counselor who patiently listens to our concerns with insight and care (Isaiah 9:6). He is the One who can say, “I’ve been through that. I understand.”

Nozomi Hope

In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake and a resulting tsunami took nearly 19,000 lives and destroyed 230,000 homes in the region northeast of Tokyo. In its aftermath, The Nozomi Project, named for the Japanese word for “hope,” was born to provide sustainable income, community, dignity, and hope in a God who provides.

Nozomi women sift through the rubble of homes and furnishings to discover broken china shards that they sand and insert in fittings to form jewelry. The jewelry is sold around the world, providing a livelihood for the women while sharing symbols of their faith in Christ.

In New Testament times, it was customary to hide valuables in the unlikely vessels of simple clay pots. Paul describes how the treasure of the gospel is contained in the human frailty of followers of Christ: jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4:7. He suggests that the meager—and even at times broken—vessels of our lives actually can reveal God’s power in contrast to our imperfections.

When God inhabits the imperfect and broken pieces in our lives, the healing hope of His power is often more visible to others. Yes, His repair work in our hearts often leaves the cracks of scars. But perhaps those lines from our learning are the etchings in our beings that make His character more visible to others.

A “New Man”

 

As a group of teenagers visited a home for the elderly in Montego Bay, Jamaica, one young woman noticed a lonely looking man at the end of the room. He appeared to have little left in this world but a bed to sleep on—a bed from which he could not move because of his disability.

The teen began right away to share the story of God’s love for us and read some Bible passages to him. “As I shared with him,” she would say later, “I started to feel his eagerness to hear more.” Responding to his interest, she explained the wonder of Jesus’s sacrificial death for us. “It was hard for this man, who had no hope and no family,” she recalled, “to understand that Someone he’s never met would love him enough to die on the cross for his sins.”

She told him more about Jesus—and then about the promise of heaven (including a new body) for all who believe. He asked her, “Will you dance with me up there?” She saw him begin to imagine himself free of his worn-out body and crippling limitations.

When he said he wanted to trust Jesus as his Savior, she helped him pray a prayer of forgiveness and faith. When she asked him if she could get a picture with him, he replied, “If you help me sit up. I’m a new man.”

Praise God for the life-changing, hope-giving, available-to-all gospel of Jesus Christ! It offers new life for all who trust Him (Col. 1:5, 23).

Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Singing with Violet

An elderly woman named Violet sat on her bed in a Jamaican infirmary and smiled as some teenagers stopped to visit with her. The hot, sticky, midday air came into her little group home unabated, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she began wracking her mind for a song to sing. Then a huge smile appeared and she sang, “I am running, skipping, jumping, praising the Lord!” As she sang, she swung her arms back and forth as if she were running. Tears came to those around her, for Violet had no legs. She was singing because, she said, “Jesus loves me—and in heaven I will have legs to run with.”

Violet’s joy and hopeful anticipation of heaven give new vibrancy to Paul’s words in Philippians 1 when he referred to life-and-death issues. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me,” he said. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (vv. 22–23).

Each of us faces tough times that may cause us to long for the promise of heavenly relief. But as Violet showed us joy despite her current circumstances, we too can keep “running, skipping, praising the Lord”—both for the abundant life He gives us here and for the ultimate joy that awaits us.