Joyful in Hope 5

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

I remember quite clearly when my father died more than 25 years ago. Our family, especially my mother, fell into incredible despair at his sudden passing. Those were dark days, a time when we felt abandoned and alone. We grieved for some time.

But eventually time moved on and we were able to go about life as best we could. In time I became aware that there was indeed a hope that we could all share. Although gone from this mortal life, my father had passed into an immortal life with Christ.

This passage from the first letter to the church at Thessalonica offers hope to those who may grieve or despair. What is the purpose of this writing? What do we as Christians believe?

I find it interesting that the comment is made that this proclamation of faith is intended to dispel any ignorance. Those who do not know Jesus are ignorant of the hope that we can all have.

The comment is made that we should not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” It does not say that we should not grieve. Grief, sorrow, sadness, times of depression are part of life and when we suffer a loss or are in distress we are going to experience this pain and sadness.

But our grief should not be a hopeless grief. Our grief should be a temporary state from which we rise with a hope. That hope is in the knowledge that Jesus died and rose again. And it follows, then, that if Jesus died and rose again, all who believe in him will also rise again, rise into an eternal life with God.

And that hope applies to all our worries and distress. We may need to spend some time being concerned over what is happening around us. We can feel discouraged by the financial turmoil of our society. We may be distressed over the attitudes and behaviors of people we see. We may even be experiencing the sorrows of losing a loved one.

But we must remember this feeling can be overcome. Our distress and troubles are overcome by the mercy and love of God. And that should present us with hope.

Having such hope should turn our sorrows and our worries into joy. It may be difficult to achieve, but we should be joyful because our hope is based on the firm, unshakable truth that we are loved by God and we are beneficiaries of Christ’s great mercy and sacrifice.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How might you still have hope even as you grieve?

Joyful in Hope 4

John 11:25-26

The television show “The Soup” once featured a clip from a children’s program. In the program they were talking about eating dried apple chips as a healthy snack. Then one of the children said, “Dried apples? What are they?”

How do you answer a question with such an obvious answer?

I feel the same way about people who aren’t sure who Jesus is. “Jesus? Who is he?”

This passage is part of the story of Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus has died and his sisters are grieving their loss. Who is Jesus? What promise is offered to those who believe in Jesus? What is the question Jesus asks?

The story of Lazarus is important. It is important because in it Jesus clearly demonstrates his power to raise the dead into an everlasting life. But it is also significant because the story shows that not every challenge or hurtful thing can be avoided. Lazarus died. There was no stopping it. The family had to go through the pain and sorrow of a loss.

But Jesus was there in the end to raise him back up. Jesus was also there to grieve with the sisters, to share in their sadness and sorrows.

There are so many who do not know who Jesus Christ is and was. There are even those who are familiar with Jesus, those who are part of the church, who do not realize precisely who Jesus is. And yet, Jesus himself is very clear on who he is.

Jesus is the one who can give us eternal life, life that goes on forever, even after our mortal bodies have ceased. If we truly believe in Christ as the Son of God then it doesn’t matter what happens to us. We will receive eternal life through the Savior.

This fact is what we must hold to. This belief is what we must stand firm in. And this belief can give us the joy of hope even in difficult times. We have the hope of Christ’s promise of eternity, but we also have the hope of Christ’s presence with us as we go through the challenges of life.

And it is this hope that will give us joy. The question Jesus asked Martha is asked of us. “Do you believe this?”

DAILY CHALLENGE: How would you describe who Jesus is?

Joyful in Hope 3

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17

An early memory of mine is from a day in grade school where the whole class was working on a sheet of math problems. One after another students asked the teacher about fractions in the answers. I had completed most of my paper and didn’t have a single fraction in my answers, so I began to worry. I reviewed all my answers and pressed on, completing the assignment. Still no fractions.

After a second review, convinced I was correct, I told the teacher that I had not come up with any fractions in my answers. “None of the answers are supposed to have fractions,” she said.

Fortunately for me I was convinced I was right and held on to what I believed. That same attitude needs to be applied to our faith.

In this letter to the Thessalonians what encouragement is offered in verse 15? What is offered in verse 17?

It can be very disheartening to watch the news reports on television or to open the daily paper. Story after story tells of the problems with our current economy, failing lending institutions and falling stock values. It is easy to get caught up in the despair that many people feel.

If we are going to maintain a positive outlook on life and continue believing that God is watching over us and can provide for our needs, then we are likely to go against popular belief. It can be difficult to keep the faith when so many problems surround us.

It is unlikely that our economy is going to rebound over night. The return to financial and economic stability will, no doubt, require time and work. And it is very possible that we will never return to exactly where we were. The economic landscape may become something completely different.

But this time of uncertainty is no time to abandon our faith or belief in God and His mercy. Rather, this is the time for us to renew our strength in our faith and to draw even nearer to God. Just as the church in Thessalonica was urged to stand firm, so we should take courage and stand firm in the shifting tides of our times.

We can take courage that the blessing for Thessalonica can also apply to us. Jesus Christ and God, the Father, can give us eternal encouragement and good hope. With the blessings and grace of God even in uncertain times, we can continue in good deeds and good words.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you stand firm in your faith?

Joyful in Hope 2

Isaiah 60:19-20

A common comfort that many people have and many others offer when there is a death is that the loved one we have lost is now in a better place. As Christians we believe that. In fact, we know it to be true and can indeed find comfort in knowing that the one we have lost is in a better place.

This passage from Isaiah is an image of that “better place.” What surprising image is first presented in verse 19? From whom will we receive light? What comfort is offered in verse 20?

We can all have a vision of what the eternal will hold for us. We can all have a hope for an end to suffering and conflict. The idea of God as our everlasting light and of heaven as a place without sorrow can bring great comfort.

But I would like to suggest two things. The hope of God’s eternal peace should not be thought of only in times of death. As we face the fears and uncertainties of today’s society, the marketplace, the government, our changing culture and shifting value systems, we can take comfort in knowing that God is an everlasting God who has a place of peace for us all. In that knowledge, in that confidence, we should be able to find hope in a world that seems to offer little hope. In these uncertain times we can find joy in the hope of an unchanging God.

The second observation would be that I believe the peace and comfort promised in this passage is not just waiting for us at the end of days. I believe that when we trust in our Lord, when we believe in Christ and obey the teachings of Jesus, we are spared much of the worries and turmoil of life. By having strong faith in God we can make the Lord our everlasting light in the here and now. By trusting in the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father we can see the glory of the Lord in our lifetime. By living in the sheltering arms of God our days of sorrow will end.

In all of this we should place our hope. And the confidence of knowing that our hopes will be realized should bring us joy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to make God your everlasting light now?

Joyful in Hope 1

Romans 12:9-13

Times are troubled right now. You need only open up a newspaper or turn on any TV channel that offers news reports to see that the economy in America is uncertain. Our political landscape is also uncertain. We are facing an election, a change in the leadership of our nation, and the different parties seem deeply divided.

Our very lives may seem uncertain. This coming Saturday is “All Saints Day,” the day that we remember the loved ones we have lost in the past year. This can be a time of incredible grief for many.

All of these issues can cause stress and discomfort. All of these factors can unsettle us. But we need to remember who we are and what we believe.

We are Christians. We believe in the power and grace of a loving God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. We can look at Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and find encouragement and comfort, as well as guidance for our faith.

What is Paul’s first instruction? What other instructions does he offer in verses 9 through 11? What guidance is given in verse 12? Verse 13?

I doubt that any of us can say without question what will happen in the future. We can never be absolutely certain how matters will turn out. But one thing we can be certain about is how we are to face the problems and challenges of life. Verse 12 gives a three-step approach to our faith and how we deal with adversity.

We need to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. These three attitudes can strengthen us as we work through the uncertainty of life.

Remaining joyful in hope may be the most difficult to do. When facing the loss of one we love very much our grief can be very strong. How, then, can we be joyful? The key word is “hope.”

In spite of our setbacks and our sorrows, in spite of our grief and pain, we need to have hope. As Christians we should hold firm to the hope of the resurrection promised by Jesus Christ. As obedient children of God we should hold firm to the hope of the Lord’s mercy.

Christ has promised that those who mourn will be comforted. Our losses and sadness can not be avoided, but our comfort is guaranteed. And Christ has paved the way, opened the door to everlasting life through his own death and resurrection.

In this we have hope, and that hope should be the source of joy we feel in spite of the troubles and pain of life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Which part of your life right now needs hope?