Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Many emotions run through our hearts when we’re faced with the loss of a loved one. These emotions can present themselves as questions:
Who can answer these questions? Who can provide comfort? Who can guide our hearts through the heartbreaking moments of life?
Is it not the Creator of life who can explain the end of life, even though “end” is a very human term?
100 years from now I’ll be alive and so will you. 150 and 200 years from now, I’ll be alive and so will you.
In Genesis 1:26-28, God said, “Let us create man in our own image.”
How sad and how tragic it would be to live your life with no hope! Today, I’m here to offer wonderful, comforting news, at a time where such news seems all but missing.
God loves you more than anyone else does.
Though many cry for and with you when you grieve the loss of a loved one, that love falls short of the one who expresses His love in a way that’s perfect and unfailing. You will experience feelings you may not be able to put into words, but God feels and understands them. God can walk you through them. Life doesn’t have to be impossibly tragic and void of purpose.
God created the heart, so He can heal yours. God created the mind, so He can sort yours out. God made the soul, so He can save yours. God created the body, so He can give you rest. God created the eyes, so He can wipe your tears away. God created the shoulder, but His are the only shoulders capable of bearing the weight of all those who lean on them.
“Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18).
Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.
Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.
We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).
Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.
Nadezhda Khazina was born in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. She met and married the famous poet, Osip Mandelstam, in Kiev, Ukraine, after the Russian Revolution and establishment of communism. The couple saw enough of that system of government to conclude it was destructive and harmful, so they railed against it as they had opportunity. Mandelstam had a wide audience through his poetry, and his 1934 epigram about Joseph Stalin was a work he called “his suicide note” and that has been described as his “sixteen line death sentence.” He was arrested, exiled, and died of exposure and neglect four years later. Nadezhda became even more active in crusading against the tactics used in the Soviet Union, then near the end of her life she wrote a two volume autobiography of her life and work: Hope Against Hope (1970) and Hope Abandoned (1974)(https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSkhazina.htm). What’s interesting is looking up the name “Nadezhda” or the more familiar form “Nadia”; the name means “hope.” In fact, Lois Fisher-Ruge wrote a book by that title in 1989.
Do you see the irony? Her name meant hope, but her life was full of hopes dashed and hopelessness in the midst of her struggle. But, she kept on working because of the hope she felt.
Peter writes 1 Peter to Christians who were going to see some seemingly hopeless situations in their lives. Some of them lived in Bithynia, a region whose governor, Pliny, famously bragged to the emperor Trajan at the turn of the second century about his pogrom of executing professed Christians for their faith. This was just about half a century after Peter writes this epistle warning of persecution.
Despite Peter’s warning about the testing of their faith in unfavorable circumstances, he frequently mentions not just the ultimate reward we see for faithfully serving Christ but also “hope.” Five times in the first three chapters, Peter mentions this hope. It’s a living hope caused by Christ’s resurrection (1:3), a complete hope (1:13), a hope in God (1:21; 3:5), and a reasonable hope (3:15). The world around them was hopeless; they lived without hope. They wanted to drag the Christians into that hopeless state, but Peter urges them to hold onto hope.
Our hopes are tested by times like these, by a world full of sin and iniquity. It’s easy to restrict our focus to this earth and this life. Peter’s words are for us, too! Do not be hopeless! You have Christ. Only those in Him have legitimate hope!
There’s a magic moment when a child discovers that two different paint colors combined can create an entirely different color. The possibilities seem endless! Red and yellow paints are dumped on a blank canvas and mixed to create a bright orange. That same excitement, on a whole new level, can be experienced when we discover that God mixed with “human nature” creates something far better and more beautiful. God is often the ingredient missing from our potential success as well as those goals we sometimes attempt to make alone. Consider the impact He has on our common life struggles…
1. When God is mixed with our sin – He creates forgiveness (Romans 4:7)
2. When God is mixed with our finances – He creates a healthy view of money and how to use it (Proverbs 13:11)
3. When God is mixed with our relationships – He creates a stronger and more fulfilling bond (Eph. 4:2-3)
4. When you mix God with uncertainty – He creates certainty (Romans 8:28)
5. When you include God in difficult decisions – you find direction (Prov. 3:5-6)
6. When you mix God with depression/anxiety – you discover some relief (1 Peter 5:6-7)
7. When you include God in your work – you will get the best results (1 Cor. 2:9)
8. Add God to any fear – you not only get courage, but a total removal of fear (1 John 4:18)
In short, the more yellow you add to red, the brighter the orange. The more God you add to your life, the brighter the future becomes. If you desire a vibrant life, then God is what needs to saturate your mind, heart, and decisions.
When God is in my mind my mind becomes more holy.
When God finds His way into my heart, my heart develops more purity.
No meaningful and lasting change can be accomplished by sheer willpower and determination— if those two things are not mixed with an all-powerful God.
If you’re remotely religious, you’re familiar with the word “gospel.” It has a wide semantic range, describing everything from a genre of music (and a few sub-genres) to the trustworthiness of a statement (“gospel truth”) to an all-encompassing description of religious doctrine.
The word literally means, “God’s good news to humans,” from εὐαγγέλιον. It is mostly about the life and times of Jesus and the spiritual rewards we have when we accept that hope and follow God’s plan of salvation. It is so common and familiar to many of us that we sometimes overlook its importance.
We often hear about “spiritual blessings,” but the definitions we are given of them are sometimes (if not often) frustratingly ambiguous. Colossians 1:3-12 gives us a beautiful description of those blessings. One of them is the gospel! Here’s why:
1. The Gospel is Hope
A phenomenon so common to my generation (it’s immortalized in more than a few memes) is the idea of existential crisis. We ask questions like, “What am I doing? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why am I working this dead-end job?” We don’t like to think of where we’ll be in 20 years because that’s downright depressing. Will it be more of the same? The crushing weight of a meaningless existence is at the forefront of so many minds.
The good news we have is described in Colossians 1:5 as, “…the hope reserved for you in heaven…” That’s purpose! What kind of hope? What are we looking for? We have been given the means to live a life with purpose. It won’t be easy, but it guarantees a perfect existence after we’re gone. This hope for heaven is central to the gospel.
2. The Gospel Makes Us Better People
Once the Colossian Christians changed their lives, were immersed, and changed their lifestyles, they had a great love for each other and all of the other Christians (1:4). We can be friendly to others (even complete strangers), but Christianity promotes unconditional love for others. The world tries to achieve this artificially, but Christianity accomplishes this through unity and self-sacrifice based on guidance from scripture.
If we are as dedicated as we should be, it also gives us endurance and patience when we deal with difficulty (1:11, 12). Those who follow God’s will and are dedicated to serving Him are guaranteed a perfect and meaningful existence after this life (Colossians 1:5, 12).
We are confronted with our own mortality more often than we’d like (especially today). This has a whole lot of people questioning their purpose and their destiny. Christianity offers the greatest gift ever given: purpose and destiny. God has told us how to have both of those things; we can live a meaningful life here, no matter how difficult, and we can have a perfect life there. If you are looking for meaning and purpose in this life, look no further than the gospel – it is how we can be pure here, living a purposeful life with perfect hope for the next.
Have you ever been afraid of your imagination? At times that fear can be so convincing that you truly believe that the worst case scenario is somehow inevitable. Try and make that opening question relevant to your life. Think about a specific event or experience where you were afraid of something that never came to fruition. The grip of anxiety can be debilitating as you wait for your medical test results to come in. You agonize over the poor quality of life you might have if there is ever an unexpected economic collapse. Your hairline might rapidly recede as you stress over the outcome of the war our nation is still involved in, and do I even need to mention the new global pandemic? You’re robbed of sleep as you imagine the potential horrible outcomes that may never happen. These things may never happen because the Lord could come. They may never happen because whatever you’re afraid of— it’s simply worse in your own mind. It may never happen because God has proven Himself to be one who calms the storm instead of letting you perish.
I believe we would all benefit from recalling those occasions in our past where fear proved unnecessary and we worked ourselves up for nothing! If the fear in your life has a big appetite and it’s devouring all your time and peace, maybe it’s time to feed something else. Sitting Bull once said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good. They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, ‘the one I feed the most.’” How vividly this illustrates a daily struggle for so many. Fear and faith will scrap with one another until we decide which one will win. Do you think our faith would emerge victorious every day if we could physically witness God’s power, but in a miraculous way? If my own eyes could witness Jesus bring the dead back from the grave, cast out a demon, or walk on stormy waters, then I would never worry again. Or would I? Seeing Jesus perform miracles never made anyone perfect. His disciples were far from perfect and they stood feet from the Savior while He did things only God could do.
On one occasion, which was hinted at earlier, Jesus calms the storm after being abruptly awakened by His terrified followers (Mark 4). There are some details about this account that will help us feed our faith when fear threatens to win the day.
First, our cries to God, even in the desperate times, are heard. The disciples exclaim, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Following this fearful plea, Jesus will demonstrate a fraction of His awesome power. After all, what is calming a stormy sea to the One who spoke every drop of water into existence?
Second, excessive fear of anything in this world is a foolish mistake. God is bigger and greater than our worries.
Third, God is not asleep. It may seem like He is when we don’t feel optimistic about the future, but it’s when we recognize that He’s the only answer to our peace that He will calm our storm.
Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:
–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?