How Do I Hold This?

On my way to an appointment yesterday, I got a text message from my wife with an update on the father of one of my son’s friend’s dad. Any time I hear the words, “It’s not good,” I always feel like a boulder gets firmly planted in my gut. My shoulders sag, my heart aches, and I do my best to keep the waterworks from starting. Tears seem inevitable, yet I still try to contain them.

There’s so much hurt, pain, and brokenness. I get so frustrated with those false prophets who say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That’s a load of garbage. I can’t find one place in the Bible where it even remotely says that. In fact, I think it says the opposite, that in this world you will find trouble and that if you choose to follow after Jesus, pain will be part of the journey.

As I sit here feeling the weight of all the stuff swirling around me, I keep asking myself, “How do I hold this?” How do I hold onto hope while standing in the face of turmoil?

I’ve always struggled with those who consider themselves Christians and who talk about an absolute assurance with no doubt. My speculation and cynicism makes me think that they’ve never really experienced anything significantly difficult in their lives to be able to hold to that. I’m not saying that I doubt God, but I certainly wonder about his ways at times.

When you’ve seen a godly man like my father who served God for years as a pastor come to a place of brokenness and defeat in his final years and months, it’s hard to have such bulletproof assurance. Again, hear what I am saying, I still believe, but like the man in Mark 9, I continue to ask God to help my unbelief.

I honestly don’t know how people do it without hope and without faith. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” It’s a heartbreaking read of a father’s letter to his son. But that father has no hope and without hope, it’s hard to just know what to do about the future. What are we sailing towards if we lack hope? How do we step with one foot in front of the other without hope?

In the words of the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The problem is, sometimes I wish that my hope could be founded in something that I could see and even touch. Sometimes I wish that I could get a little glimpse of that hope for myself rather than having to hold onto God’s promises. It’s not that I don’t think that they’re true, it’s just that sometimes you want something a little bit more tangible.

After hearing of some more difficult news this morning, I almost told my friends that I think it’s time for a prayer meeting. What else is there to do?

While it might seem that I am in despair, I’m not. There’s a difference between discouragement and despair. Despair happens when we lose hope, and I haven’t lost it.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk in the Bible. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances surrounding him, he still maintained his hope in the Lord when he wrote the following:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

My circumstances and the circumstances of the people around me don’t need to dictate my response to them. If those things bring me to my knees, then they draw me closer to the One who holds all these things in his hand…..so that I don’t have to.

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Reclaiming Hope – A Book Review

reclaiming hopeIn the introduction of “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Wear writes, “If we are to reclaim hope, we must understand our nation’s political life and our role in it. Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do so if it will get them votes. The state of our politics is a reflection of the state of our souls.” So begins his chronicling of his journey with President Obama and his administration as part of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Reclaiming Hope” reads more like a memoir as Wear recalls his experience in the midst of the Obama administration. Along the way, he paints a compelling picture of President Obama. Multiple times, I stopped reading to soak in just what this young millennial was saying about the now former President of the United States. His youthful idealism seemed to have gotten the better of him on more than one occasion. Wear seems to maintain a significant amount of hope and faith in his fellow man, even if that fellow man is a politician.

Wear explains his unease with a party (the Democratic party) that at times seems to buck up against the very foundation of evangelical Christianity. As he explains his own viewpoint, he was honest about the choice that politics gives the individual between “imperfect options.” At the same time, his own coming to Christianity in his formative years led him to identify with so many people who saw the Republican party as unswervingly connected to evangelical Christianity and, therefore, something of which to be suspicious.

Obama’s own faith is presented by Wear as a faith that seeks to “express itself in deeds.” Through President Obama’s words, both in his books as well as interviews and speeches, Wear adamantly defends the former president’s Christian faith. His apologetic for the president can sometimes come across as the wide-eyed wonder and youthful idealism rather than sincere and objective critique, but Wear is honest in his admiration for Obama as well as his criticism of him.

Wear clearly criticizes the former president and his administration when he writes, – “…it should be clear that President Obama and his administration made concrete policy and political decisions that directly fueled partisanship, polarization, and the culture wars.” In his criticism, Wear is explicit as well, not simply lobbing bombs but bringing clear and specific instances when he thought that the former president either missed an opportunity or assuaged to the majority of his supporters.

Even in the midst of talking about the same-sex marriage debate which resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country, Wear’s point has weight when he writes, “What is the value of a legal or political victory to affirm what marriage is if the culture does not embrace that definition? What good is a law on such an issue if it does not reflect Americans’ convictions? You can legislate morality – every law has moral grounds – but what does it mean if that law does not represent a moral consensus?” Whether or not you agree with the legislation or Wear’s take, it’s hard to not take pause to contemplate these words.

Wear’s total experience throughout both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns also gives him a valuable perspective. Specifically as it relates to diversity, Wear writes, “In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to expel dissent.” Despite his youthfulness and, at times, idealism, Wear is honest and blunt in his true assessment of the political landscape, even in his own party.

The dividing line in our country seems more pronounced than ever, but Wear warns Christians that withdrawal from politics or from political parties is not the answer. He reminds Christians that there have always been those in the Bible who found themselves at odds with prevailing ideological and political systems of their day. That did not give them cause to run and hide but instead to represent and stand above the crowds as an example. Inconsistent protestations don’t do anything but hurt Christians and the Christian witness in the world.

Wear reminds his reader that putting hope in political figures will lead to disappointment. He points the reader to the hope that we find in Jesus Christ. He reminds us that God is at work in all things and that Christian hope can be advanced even through non-Christian sources. He challenges Christians to be involved and work towards those Christian hopes and for the good of all people rather than simply circling up the wagons and waiting for Jesus to return. Isolation and separation from society and politics will not do anything to advance the Kingdom of God.

I was constantly surprised while reading “Reclaiming Hope” that Michael Wear is as young as he is. His insights and challenges were full of wisdom gained in a lifetime of experience accumulated in a short period of time. He is honest and fair and never comes across as pompous or knowing it all. In reading this book, I find myself with a different perspective, having had my eyes (and possibly my heart) opened a little bit more to see political parties and ideology as less “black and white” than I’ve been used to seeing them.

While I’m not sure that this will make an Obama fan of the most furious opponent of the former president, reading this book with an open mind may give a different perspective on a president who was often vilified by those on the political and ideological right. “Reclaiming Hope” was not what I had expected that it would be, but I think that’s a good thing. It was an important read for me and I think it is for anyone who legitimately wants to ask questions about the future of our country, especially those who are evangelical Christians.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Grace Is Greater – A Book Review

The word “grace” is thrown around so often that it hardly seems amazing, writes Kyle Idleman. When a word has been around for as long as “grace” and when it has been abused and misused, it’s important to try to breathe new life into it and remember just what it means.grace-is-greater 

In “Grace Is Greater” author and pastor Kyle Idleman reminds people of the importance of grace. As followers of Christ, when we go about doing things without grace, we can easily suck the life from those things. We need to remember just how much grace we have received in order to be reminded of just how much grace we should be extending to others. 

Idleman shares from his own personal experiences and expounds on some accounts within the gospels to speak the message of grace that we all need to hear. We all live with guilt, shame, and regrets, but we can give all of those up when we remember the grace that we receive through Jesus Christ.` 

While a large part of grace is accepting it ourselves despite the things that we have done, Idleman also reminds us that we need to extend that grace to others. That’s easier said than done when we’ve been hurt and wounded by others. We want to see justice, we want to see someone pay for our pain, but we need to move past that, not demeaning the significance of what was done to us but realizing that holding onto things reaps bitterness and does more damage to us than it does to the person that we are supposedly hurting. 

“We are never more like God than when we forgive,” Idleman writes. A true statement and a reminder as we are on this journey of transformation. Forgiveness is not optional, it’s required of us. Idleman shares stories of people who have moved beyond their own bitterness and desire for vengeance and embraced the love, forgiveness, and grace of God. That grace transformed them to be able to do unthinkable things, forgiving people who didn’t seem deserving of forgiveness.

He reminds us that when we hold back our forgiveness, we are forgetting just what we have received ourselves. While we may be expecting a certain level of repentance from people, we can’t forget that our own level of repentance doesn’t match the level of our offense against God.

As Idleman writes, “we’re able to receive God’s grace only to the extent we’re able to recognize our need for it.” We need to examine just how deep our sin goes in order to fully appreciate how desperately we need grace. We may always want to have answers to our circumstances and situations, but there are times when answers won’t be given. We need to look past the lack of answers to see what God has in store for us.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Idleman has written a few others books that have been popular. I missed them and may even have purposely avoided them. Given the opportunity to read “Grace Is Greater,” I seized it and I was not disappointed at all. “Grace is Greater” is a reminder again of just what I deserve, what I don’t deserve, and what I have been given. It stands as a challenge and conviction to move past my hang-ups to a place where I see my own need for grace and in doing so, see my need to extend that grace to others as well. 

“Grace Is Greater” isn’t full of deep theological ideas, but then again, it’s often the simpler ideas that can be the hardest ones for us to grasp or accept. Give this book a try if you need a reminder of just how much you have been forgiven. You’ll never look at grace the same again.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)