Hope of Life, Even in Death

The past couple days, I’ve written on experiences at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It’s not an easy place to visit, but I wouldn’t take a trip to Israel without spending time there. I may not want to look, listen, or touch the experiences, but the Holocaust happened. People lived it. I need to know. The least I can do is respect people’s lives and honor their memories.

I read a letter by Abramek Krzepicki: “Tomorrow we will be heading toward the Great Unknown in full awareness and at peace. If we are meant to live, all the better; and if not…” I stood beside a railway car and read about how the last car of trains was often left empty. People would die along the way, so the last car could be filled with bodies.

The letter contained hope despite the threat of death.

The train snuffed out hope with expected death.

People faced the unknown with different perspectives. We do the same. We have hope in life. Our hope often focuses on (what we determine as) positive outcomes. Our hope is in the things we want most. When life involves something else, do we lose hope?

We don’t have to lose hope in life or death, because death can include life. Death is part of life. It’s inevitable. Life conquers death.

Where is your hope? With whom do you trust your life? How does it impact your death? How is it impacting your life, today?

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)

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Share Your Perspective

The Church of Annunciation had beautiful stained glass windows that emphasized a lesson for me.

©2014 PurePurpose.org

©2014 PurePurpose.org

It was actually this particular set that made me pause.

©2014 PurePurpose.org

©2014 PurePurpose.org

I know they don’t look spectacular compared to the top photo. They didn’t fill an entire wall, floor to ceiling, and these were nearly too tall for me to capture in a photo. But the blues were so vibrant. The light filtered through them and sparkled across the floor. They seemed to invite the light into the room.

Then I stepped outside. I glanced at the outside of the windows.

©2014 PurePurpose.org

©2014 PurePurpose.org

Blah.

Same stained glass windows. Same colors. Different light.

Our light source matters. God is God no matter where we are. God is God no matter what our perspective. However, what we see can drastically differ based on where we position ourselves in relation to Him.

Life with Him might look pretty drab from the outside. You might wonder what people who follow God see in Him. They talk about how great He is and how beautiful life with Him is, but it all looks “regular” to you. Nothing spectacular, so you move on.

If you’re on the “inside,” you might be so busy soaking up God’s light that you forget there are people outside who might not see it the same way you do. You might be hesitant to leave the beauty to strike up a conversation with someone outside, which might lead to them walking with you inside to get a different perspective.

God doesn’t want you to stand and enjoy the light. He wants you to be the light to those around you. Going where there is no light is going to be drab, but the more we’re willing the share, the more we’ll see it around us and others.

The Seesaw of Unity and Harmony

11.11.14 Jericho fruit stand owner and friend

©2014 PurePurpose.org

Unity is being in agreement or becoming one. Harmony is living at peace with others. The two seem very similar, and sometimes, they are. Other times, they differ. They’re like a seesaw, where one sometimes becomes heavier than the other, but they’re connected, united through that one crossbar that holds them together.

What do you think of when you hear the words unity and harmony in the same context as Israel? Most likely, you don’t see much connection, but there is. There are many people living in harmony with each other. Sometimes, they’re united and sometimes they’re not. Some people living in harmony with each other are doing so, most likely, because they’re very similar to one another. But that’s not always the case. There are also many people living in harmony who are definitely not united. They’re not similar to each other. If they met each other on a battle field, they would face each other from different sides, but in daily life, they don’t face each other. They work and live alongside each other. They help each other.

We often draw a line between what we see as opposing groups of people. Does the opposition exist? Absolutely. Does it exist among every person in those groups? Absolutely not.

It’s not just about Israel. I’m sure you can think of several lines of opposition right around you. Or, watch the news, and you’ll recognize even more. (On second thought, don’t watch the news. You’ll likely just end up firming up the lines of opposition you already believe, perpetuating the allusion that unity and harmony don’t exist and aren’t possible.)

Sometimes we find unity without harmony. We agree on something, but we can’t seem to live at peace with each other because of the things we disagree on. Sometimes we have harmony without unity. Despite being different, we agree to respect each other. There are times we have neither unity or harmony and, rarely, we have both at the same time.

Back and forth, up and down, the seesaw goes.

Sadly, what often happens is…we reach for the ground and try to keep our end of the seesaw down, making others squirm in discomfort as they try to use their leverage to reach the ground and make us squirm instead. We struggle for control and power. If we’re in control, we can keep others in whatever position we want, or walk away and let them fall to the ground. Then blame it on them for not being prepared.

That’s not unity or harmony. And it’s not respect. It’s not compassion or love. It’s not mercy, forgiveness, or grace.

But that makes sense, doesn’t it? All those things are of and from God, and when we try to take control, we’re not doing things His way. Whether or not we think we’re in control, we’re not.

If we check God’s perspective, we will realize He doesn’t expect us to always live in unity or harmony in this world. Should we strive for it? Absolutely. It honors Him when we do. But peace doesn’t come without struggle. Unity doesn’t come without acknowledging our differences and, therefore, the need for unity. Harmony doesn’t come from ignoring issues.

Look around. Take an inventory of your assumptions and prejudices. Work through them. Get to know people. Will it make you vulnerable? Probably. Will you get hurt? Perhaps. But as you reach out in God’s leading and timing, you’ll set aside your need to be right, to be in control, and in the process, you’ll hurt less people, including yourself. Let’s face it: Hurt isn’t always physical. What kind of damage are you doing to others and yourself?

Unity and harmony are difficult, but they’re worth the sacrifice, humility, and effort.

With Blessings Come Responsibility

What responsibilities do you find in these verses?

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me. For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice. (Romans 15:1-6)

responsibility5As I sat in a training in preparation to begin serving in Israel with Bridges for Peace, I heard a quick reference to Romans 15, along with the challenge, “With blessings come responsibility.” Later that day, I read through Romans 15. Just the first half dozen verses are full of blessings and the responsibilities that come along with them.

  • Are you blessed with strength? Bear the weaknesses of others.
  • And do it for them, not yourself.
  • Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, it’s really not about you at all. Follow Jesus, who didn’t do things for Himself but always for others.
  • Was something written in the past for you? (God’s Word, perhaps?) Use it as your instruction. It’s the way you’ll have hope.
  • Speaking of Scripture, because you have access to God’s Word, you have access to the endurance and encouragement you need. It’s not optional. It’s assured.
  • And that endurance and encouragement? Yes, that comes with responsibility, too. Use it to live in harmony with others.
  • Since you’ll be living in harmony with others, you will also be fulfilling your responsibility to glorify God with a united mind and voice.

No pressure.

I may have taken a few liberties, and you can explore the rest of the chapter if you want, but try not to make it too complicated. As daunting as it might seem. Stop rationalizing. Perhaps you don’t feel strong all the time. But you don’t have to feel strong to be strong. God is the source of strength. You’re never strong on your own and always strong with Him. Quit defining it your own way at your own convenience. You might not feel hopeful. You might not feel capable of endurance or encouragement. And when you claim you don’t have those things because of your feelings, you can pull back from all the responsibilities attached. After all, if you don’t have those things, how can you follow through with what is required?

Because of God…

Because of God, you have the things you don’t even realize you have.

Because of God, you can do the things you don’t think you can do.

Because of God, the instructions are there. You just have to listen and follow.

Because of God, the pressure is off you. He’s first, not you.

Because of God, the pressure is on you. You have to put Him first and choose humility.

You might see areas of your life you don’t view as blessed. Don’t be deceived. Being blessed doesn’t mean everything is working out the way you expect or want. If you’re reading this, you are literate. You are blessed. You have access to technology. You are blessed. You likely have a place to sleep and something to eat. Blessed. Blessed.

Most of all, you have access to God. I don’t know if you are engaging with Him or not, but you have access to Him. Definitely blessed.

Are you responding responsibly?

Gullible Know-It-All

As we walked through the ruins of Bethsaida, we paused near the palace.

11.3.14 Bethsaida palace (2)

©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

Use your imagination. I know it looks nothing like a palace. The footprint of the remains are larger than this photo. Plus, palace by today standards and palace by “then” standards aren’t necessarily the same.

Anyway, right next to these remains is a much smaller foundation of remains labeled “Fisherman’s House.” I have to admit I would never have thought about this without our guide pointing it out: Was it feasible that this was actually the fisherman’s house? Why would the fisherman, someone who wouldn’t have had a high position in the community, live next to the palace?  Do we just want there to be a fisherman’s house at Bethsaida, since the disciples Andrew and Simon Peter were fisherman from Bethsaida (John 1:44)?

I looked online (as if finding information online proves the truth) and found a possible answer. The remains are from different periods of time. The Fisherman’s House is from the Roman period, and the palace is from the Iron Age.

Well, that makes sense.

But is it correct?

It’s funny how gullible we can be to believe something and then become adamant about its absolute truth because we read it on a sign, heard it from a “reliable” source, or saw it (in our Facebook feed?). We think we know it all, but we haven’t stopped to really think through it. We haven’t gathered any perspectives except what supports our own. We refuse to explore additional possibilities. Our know-it-all claims make us vulnerable to pass up important information and absorb distorted truths.

I don’t know whether or not those stacks of stones are a fisherman’s house, palace, or something completely different. I could get my degree in archeology and research it with a lot more insight, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I think I’ll just admit I’m not sure and take away the lesson that I need to ask good questions, pay attention to my sources, and be humble in what I think I know.

I don’t need to know it all. But I always need to be willing to learn.

Recipient vs. Participant

How well do we provide for others?

For those who “do” ministry, we can struggle from time to time with this one. We want people to get involved, to participate, but there are so many who seem to be content to receive. We want to be generous. We want to be loving. We want to be giving. But, really? Can’t people step up and take responsibility?

Well, yes, they can. It’s not a simple if/then equation, but we need to consider what we’re doing that fosters people to receive instead of participate.

helpIt’s not just about church attendance. In fact, lets widen the circle for a moment and consider how well we serve people in need. I’m not talking about our numbers or programs, the how much and what of our service. What about the how well?

I have had this conversation multiple times at ministry events, especially among churches and organizations who are especially known for their focus on identifying and meeting needs in both short-term crises and ongoing support. But what are we supporting? Are we simply providing without equipping? Are we giving stuff and time but taking away something even more important, like dignity?

Let’s get a bit more personal. When you give away clothes or furniture because someone needs it, what is your attitude? Do you give away your best? Do you engage the person? Do you listen to their story? Do you insist on receiving nothing in return even when they really want to give something to you? Do you follow up? Do you care? Do you invest?

We like to solve problems, so if we have something or can buy something someone needs, we feel good about our generosity. We’re helping, and who doesn’t get warm fuzzies by helping others? But are we sure our giving is the best option? Have we even explored the options? Do we know the situation well enough to explore the options?

Let’s broaden the circle even wider. When we become aware of a need in another country, we often begin collecting what we think will solve the problem. We often avoid thinking about how our solutions might create more problems. For example, clean water. We want everyone to have it, right? Let’s pay for and install water pumps in every village so people have access to clean water. Sounds great, right? What if no one local is trained to fix the water pump? What if parts are not easily, affordably available? Are there other, better, longer-lasting options?

What if we donate all kinds of things because we have easy access to them, but in the process, we eliminate someone’s only way to make money in that community? For example, when we send cases of new shoes, what happens to the man who has repaired every person’s shoes for decades? I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate and provide, but I think it’s important to think through the how well of our service.

We accomplish something when we give and someone receives. But what if we focus on developing participants instead of recipients? What if we give dignity, ownership, and responsibility with our service? After all, it’s not really about us. If we care that much to invest in others, we need to make sure our how well is our best for God.

Impressed with a Snapshot

While traveling, we had to delay our plans one day because of the weather, so we took a drive to a nearby town along the shores of Lake Superior. The rain was steady, and I didn’t realize how close we were until a wall of wind hit us. I looked to the right of the truck and saw a lot of standing water. It was almost up to the road and clearly higher than normal. A dock was nearly completely submerged. A fishing boat rocked from side to side as the wind blew. I made a comment about the effects of the storm, then I glanced to the left truck window and realized what I was seeing was only a snapshot. We we right beside Lake Superior, and the effects of the storm were much more dramatic on it.

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I focused on a snapshot, while all I had to do is shift my perspective to see the bigger picture. Even then, my perspective was limited. I wondered,

How many times does God make a broader perspective available to me, but I don’t realize it because of my focus, distractions, laziness, or stubbornness?

I know we can’t fully have God’s perspective. I could shift from seeing pooling, overflowing water to the massive water and waves of a large lake, but I couldn’t see all of the lake, all the the Great Lakes, the weather patterns across the U.S., and so on. I’m limited. But there’s a difference between my limitations because of what I can and can’t process and my limitations because I’m not willing to process.

Sometimes I like when God broadens my perspective…when I experience it as positive, because I get a bigger glimpse of His beauty, comfort, peace, and provision. But when God broadens my perspective to see overwhelming needs, hurt, potential pain, and loss, I’m not as willing to ask Him for the panoramic view. However, just as I saw His power, presence, and provision through the big view of the water that day, I can see Him in every panoramic view, whether I experience it as positive and negative. Because of who He is and His investment in life, I can see all panoramic views as positive in the sense that I get to see Him. I may not understand or enjoy every view, but as long as He’s in it, it is good. Good by His definition, not mine.