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Category: Hope

When the world went strangely dim: God’s glory amidst suffering and hate

My wife and I traveled down to my sister’s house in Albany, Oregon to experience the great eclipse a couple of weeks ago. From Oregon to South Carolina, the moon blocked out the sun, casting a 70-mile-wide shadow across the United States. Albany happened to be in the path of totality. Portland would get a 99.2% showing of the eclipse.

But what a difference .8% makes.

My wife and I sat in my sister’s backyard and donned our dorky eclipse glasses.

For an hour, we watched the moon slide slowly across the surface of the sun. A show like one we have never seen was about to begin. About fifteen minutes out of totality, Albany grew darker—a strangely dim type of darkness, not quite twilight, not quite dusk. It was like looking through oddly-tinted sunglasses. read more

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Finding the hope of advent in the darkest corners of humanity

For week two of Advent, the theme is hope.

In 2016, the world seems dark and filled with conflict. War and violence are common; our hearts ache with uncertainty and loss. We take sides against each other, both literally and figuratively.

But it is in this darkness that hope shines brightest.

In the 2006 movie Children of Men, the world faces a bleak, hopeless future. For unexplained reasons, humanity has become infertile. No baby has been born in eighteen years. The world, fractured by despots and terrorists, has descended into chaos. The human species is being wiped out by attrition and war.

Then, amazingly, a woman becomes pregnant. Like the infertility, this event is unexplained.

At the climax, a fierce battle rages outside as the woman, hiding in a decrepit building, gives birth. A miracle baby is born. read more

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Why we need Advent now more than ever

5598559126_90f2e2024c_bAdvent—beginning with the first of four Sundays before Christmas—is usually my favorite time of year. I start anticipating it around June 21, when the days start getting shorter. I love the lights and colors, the smells of Christmas trees and warm fresh-baked cookies, the sounds of bells and carols, and the sight of Rudolph and Charlie Brown running across my television screen. But there’s a deeper reason for my love of Christmas.

For years, I have wrestled with my broken life, and Advent is a season to remember how God stepped into humanity’s story—my story—and lived among us for the sole purpose of saving us. Have you ever suddenly realized that you find more excitement in the days leading up to Christmas than the actual day itself? That is Advent. The “secular” Christmas season of anticipating Santa Claus is merely a shadow-like reflection of what Advent is. Advent is waiting, knowing Jesus will come. So for me, Advent is a reflection and celebration of the magnitude of Jesus’s birth, and what it means in the mess that is my life. read more

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So what is my story anyway?

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As summer ends and school begins, I’ve been in a funk, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’d hoped to make more progress on my new book manuscript before my fall teaching resumes. Maybe it’s because some of my friends are moving on to greener pastures, and I’m a bit sad. Maybe it’s because the upcoming election depresses me.

Maybe it’s because pretty soon, I’ll turn fifty.

Fifty is a landmark. My body is getting older, my pharmacy visits more regular, and the arrival of my first AARP invitation much closer (that last one really creeps me out). I’m starting to do things I never dreamed I would, like gripe about my sore back and say things like, “When I was your age…” More and more, I feel like Old Man Caruthers in the old Scooby Doo cartoons: “If it wasn’t for you darn kids!” read more

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“Hosanna!”: The presidential election, terrorism, and the state of the world

Last Saturday in Arizona, protesters tried to silence a presidential candidate while supporters retaliated with fisticuffs.

Hours later, on Palm Sunday, Christians commemorated Jesus’s kingly entrance into Jerusalem.

The next day, in Brussels, terrorist attacks killed over 30 people and injured at least 200 more.

This year has been that kind of surreal.

The elections, the unrest, the terror—all of this craziness makes me feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and afraid.

I can’t quite describe my feelings, but they include anger, horror, frustration, numbness, bewilderment and more, depending on what’s in the news each day.

I am distressed and heartbroken over the terrorism, crying out to God for the victims. But I can’t stop it. So I focus on something closer to home: election year, and how our next president might respond to terrorism and all of the other problems facing us, both here and abroad. read more

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The gifts of the star

Of all the symbols related to Christmas, the most meaningful for me is undoubtedly the star. 

The star radiates majesty and mystery. Perched high atop a roof or tree, silently overlooking the frenzy of the season, it doesn’t judge, coerce, or demand attention. It is just there, waiting patiently for the world to look up and receive its message of hope. 

sheperd_star_born_jesusMentioned in only one passage of scripture (Matthew 2:1-12), the star seems to appear with purpose and move with intelligence, almost like a living character in the story. When the promised Messiah is born, the star appears to the Magi, but it does not at first lead them to him; instead it apparently disappears or is hidden for awhile, because they have to go to Jerusalem and ask where to find “the king of the Jews” (v. 2). After they learn the prophets foretold he would be born in Bethlehem, the star reappears, to their great joy (v. 10). Matthew says it “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9).  read more

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New life in the zombie apocalypse, part 1: Waking up in the crisis

Note: I love zombie apocalypse stories because they are a great metaphor for life crises. This blog series on the topic has four parts: 1) waking up in the crisis; 2) defining “alive”; 3) abandoning self-sufficiency; and 4) spiritual weapons and sustenance. All scriptures are NIV unless otherwise noted.

In the 2010 pilot episode of AMC TV’s “The Walking Dead,” Rick (the protagonist) awakens from a coma to find his city deserted except for a horrific new reality: flesh-eating zombies. He dodges them for awhile, trying unsuccessfully to find his wife and son, but the need for safety finally drives him to seek refuge in an abandoned military tank.

In the episode’s final shot, the camera points directly down from above to show several zombies climbing around on the tank, looking for a way in. Then the camera slowly pulls back, widening the scene to reveal hundreds more zombies shuffling toward the tank from all directions. read more

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Five seconds on the journey

As daylight seems to be breaking on my long, dark night, I have been taking some moments to look back and reflect on a few things about all that has happened — my responses to the chaos, my emotional spirals, my relationship with God, and especially my trust in all things Yahweh.

Take that last one in particular. During my dark night, at times my trust in God was definitely strained, uncertain. This issue often came up in my prayers. More often than requests for justice over wrongs done to me, or for a miracle check from heaven to pay off my debts and bail me out of my circumstances (though I did pray for both of those things, believe me), my prayers leaned toward a plea to know the future. read more

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Saturday in limbo

rainAs I write this, it’s a gray Saturday morning, with the rain pounding against my window. Today is very different from yesterday, which was a sunny Friday. Specifically, it was Good Friday.

Just hours ago, I attended my church’s Good Friday service. As always, it was an unsettling time. A time to do three things: Remember Jesus’ death. Eat the elements. Go home.

There was no message about the resurrection. No announcement about Easter Sunday activities. No promise of coming hope.

Not that I’m complaining. In fact, I think Good Friday should point to the cross, not the resurrection. Because Jesus’ death is too important to forget. And it’s only bearable because in hindsight, we know it wasn’t the end. When Jesus spoke his last words – “It is finished” – he meant his work on earth in the flesh, not his whole story. read more

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Hope in the sting of loss

February is always a difficult month for me because it marks the anniversary when my doctoral dissertation died a sudden and violent death. February is the month that I flew out of England for the last time.

This February, like the last six, was not a happy time. I approached it with a sense of dread, grief and sadness, still feeling the pain of the loss of my work. This February, though–the sixth since my postgraduate research went sideways–I had the joy and thrill of a recently-signed book deal, and with it a sense of newness. It is a new chapter. Perhaps a sense of hope. Yet I continue to grieve. The loss still stings. read more

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