Hope is a critical attribute in life. Without hope, we’re done. It’s hope that gives us the energy to push through when things are difficult. It’s hope that helps us persevere when everything in us wants to give up. But the problem is most of what we call “hope” is not really hope at all. We live in a world that is best at “hope so” which is essentially, “this might be ok”. There is little assurance in that kind of hope. It’s all up in the air and circumstantial. It doesn’t change us it just takes our odds from 0% to 25 or 50% — but come on, how “hopeful” is that? The problem is that that is the best the world can offer us. Sure we can do things to up our odds of success, but it’s so temperamental and unstable.
We’ve all been there and will be there again…the borderlands. It’s that place between where we were and where we’d hope to be. Some may call it a season of waiting, the in between, a lonely, often frustrating place. Often the phrase that is uttered in the borderlands is, “I thought by now…” We made plans, we had aspirations and life doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Or it could be that an unexpected event threw us into the borderlands. We were progressing, things were moving forward and then all of a sudden we wonder, “how did I get here?” The issue is not how to avoid being in the borderlands. Although I do believe we can reduce the amount of times we end up there, we can’t eliminate those trips altogether. So we must wrestle with what we do when we find ourselves there.
Babylon was an ancient city dominant in its time. Daniel and his friends were part of a group of Jews who were exiled to Babylon, a culture completely foreign to the one they knew. As we’ve been working through the message series, we’ve used Babylon as a metaphor for our current culture in America. Babylon was populated by a polytheistic culture which worshipped many different gods. And because of many exiles from different cultures that were incorporated into Babylon it was also a pluralistic culture. As Daniel and his friends arrived on the scene the thought of worshipping one God was a foreign concept to the king and people of Babylon.
One of the frustrating things I feel as a pastor is when people “miss” Jesus. Sure there are bad examples and bad experiences that make people miss Jesus but that’s not what I’m talking about. The people I’m talking about thinkthey have Jesus, but are missing Him. You see, somewhere along the line we came to believe that faith is an add-on, something that people should have in their lives but don’t get too fanatical with, don’t get crazy about it – because we all know what happens when someone goes all in… they inspire people, change the status quo and make an impact… no that’s not what we think. We think those who go all in are weird, marginalized and dismissed. Plus, why go all-in when you get the same thing with little effort or priority (at least that’s what we think)? This is part of the problem. And what I see often with people who have this mindset is they honestly believe they aren’t missing anything. In fact they look around at people who are fully committed to Jesus and wonder why? Did someone not tell them they can have Jesus without commitment? Someone should tell them. This is part of what really saddens me — faith is not the same and the relationship and experience is NOT the same. It’s not just because we should be committed to Jesus but because it’s of infinite worth and value to be committed.
While it’s only 60 seconds, we all know how powerful it is. Life can change with simple news shared in a moment of time. It could be the first time you lay eyes on him or her. It could be the birth of a child. It could be a job change, promotion, firing etc. It could be a statement said in anger or an encouraging word said at the perfect time. Moments can change the trajectory of our lives. But here’s the thing with moments, we often don’t see them coming. In fact many of the “moments” that have had the most impact on our lives may not be the ones we think would. We might put a lot of emphasis on a decision like a college we attend or a job we take – but could it be much more ordinary moments that make a difference? And what if we invited God into our moments. What if we invited God not just into the big moments, the key decisions…. but what if we invited God into the everyday moments? What if we invited God into our family interactions? What if we invited God into the times of challenge and difficultly? What if we invited God to reveal to us what is really happening in our mindset and approach to life?
We are in a series called “Life is Better Together”. In it, we’re seeking to discover how God designed for us to operate: together. In fact as we saw in Genesis, the first “not good” in creation was humanity being alone. We are wired up for connection, community, togetherness. Yet the kind of community that the Bible seems to be describing seems absent or rare in most churches. This craving and its lack of fulfillment in many churches have caused many to go looking for it. I know of people who have left churches because they didn’t find it. Some who even left small groups in search of this community they long for.
I grew up in the era when the shift was being made from only the high achievers get trophies to everyone gets a trophy because we don’t want to harm any fragile self images of these kids. Self image was a big deal not only when I was in high school but when I started working with students as a youth pastor. However, I’ve found that a lot of the self image stuff was insincere and intended to make you “feel good” regardless of whether it was true or not. There was some value as focus was intended to shift from physical appearance to character etc. But for the most part, I’m not sure how truly helpful this “self image obsession” turned out to be.
Some of us are drivers. We love to press forward for the next thing. Sure, we take breaks, stop to relax a little but our focus tends to be on the next thing. And I get that there is often more to do than we have the time to do it, but there are lots of us who can use busyness as an excuse to be focused on the future. A focus on the future is important and I love pursuing goals and seeing what could be. Yet, I’m learning some things about how God wired us up to operate and pausing to reflect backwards is actually something He commands for His people. I find it incredibly interesting that when God set up the way life would be for the nation of Israel He built into their lives regular celebrations, festivals and feasts. Leviticus is full of strict guidelines for the people related to the necessity of stopping “ordinary work” (Leviticus 23) and have a feast, festival or party. Here’s what important to realize about many of those festivals and celebrations: most involved a recounting of history and the faithfulness of God. Generations of people who were not around during the passover, the rescue from Egypt and a number of other key events were called to “remember” them. This, among other things, was likely because God wanted generations to see His faithfulness and His mission. If we don’t remember what God has done, we might doubt what God can do. Here are 3 reasons God calls us to regularly stop from ordinary activity and celebrate:
There is a lot that causes us stress that can be avoided. What I’ve learned by studying and preaching a series on the topic of stress is that so much of stress falls into the category of perspective. For example I’ve seen issues that could stress one person to a point of being unbearable, barely phase another person. I wondered, how could it be that the issue was identical but in one person it buried them in stress where the other person was barely impacted by it? I also discovered that perspective is more than just optomism. Perspective is developed by a number of different factors, the most fundamental being the “premise” we live our lives by.
Stress is a reality of living on planet earth. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what stage of life you’re in, stress is present. Jesus Himself said, “in the world you will have stress…” (John 16:33). The presence of stress is not the surprise, the surprise is how some seem to weather it and some are completely immobilized by it. What makes the difference? Over the next few weeks, both at the weekend services and a special series of posts here on the blog, we will discuss some of the key factors that make the biggest difference when it comes to stress.