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Archive for October, 2012

Once more I am departing from the normal subject of this blog. I hope you will indulge me, and if this turns you off, just ignore it.

Monday evening President Obama and Governor Romney will engage in their final debate. I offer a suggestion for you to consider; something different upon which to focus.

If you choose to watch the debate, try this simple exercise. While you are cheering on the candidate you support, more than likely agreeing with everything he says, why not take a break and do one more thing. When the other candidate speaks, instead of focusing on how you disagree with his position, why not listen for some aspect with which you might sympathize.  While you will probably still disagree with this candidate’s solution, try to find an issue which you might acknowledge needs to be recognized as we seek an equitable solution.

I have become convinced that the major differences between the two parties have to do primarily with how they focus on solutions. Now if you currently support a particular candidate, obviously you agree with that person’s overall philosophy of government. At the same time, we as a nation have become so polarized that we can unconsciously come to feel that our candidate is 100% right about every issue, and the other candidate has no concerns which I need to address. I have lived long enough to be on the receiving end of issues which I now understand that both the left and the right need to acknowledge.

Very likely, you will not come out of the debate with a totally different philosophy. You will still believe your candidate’s performance was better than the other. So be it. But you just might also recognize that the other candidate has legitimate concerns which deserve to be heard. If we all did that, real compromise (as opposed to political compromise) just might go further to resolving our problems than the stalemate which seems to characterize our current leaders.

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A Parable about Hope

Planting Sugar Maple Oct. 12, 2012

This is a follow-up on yesterday’s post about hope. Today my wife and I planted a sugar maple in our front yard. Perhaps it’s stretching “hope” to expect that we will be around long enough to see this small tree grow to maturity. But that’s not really the point. We do expect to see some growth, and that will be pleasant to watch. We planted the tree in hope, believing that it will grow and mature whether we are around to observe it or not.

You see, each one of us is planting. Some plant flowers to add beauty and enjoyment to life. Others plant trees to provide strength and substance. Still others seem intent on planting weeds, choking out the flowers and trees, because they have nothing to add.

Remember, whatever you plant will grow. What did you plant today? Even more important, what will you plant tomorrow?

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Hope can be an elusive virtue. Depending on one’s belief system, it may not even be perceived as a virtue. From a Christian perspective, just what should hope be? Some non-Christians view the hope Christians profess as a pie-in-the-sky belief that if I am a Christian, nothing really bad can happen to me. Unfortunately, there are enough Christians who profess that view to provide evidence for the skeptics, and one does not have to look further than some of the TV evangelists to find it presented, along with its destructive sibling, the “health and wealth” gospel. But this concept of hope does not come from the Bible. Indeed, the New Testament itself, as well as the experience of countless Christians throughout the centuries, should convince us that this Pollyanna definition of hope simply will not hold up to the realities of life. One need only take a moment to envision the thousands of Christians in the past who have given their lives rather than abandon their faith.  Obviously they did not subscribe to the idea that if one is a Christian, nothing bad will happen. It is time to consider a mature view of hope.

A few weeks ago the teacher in our Sunday morning class asked us to spend some time thinking about the question, “Why do I have hope in Christ?” For some reason the question caused me to seek an answer to a question I had never consciously considered. Today I am presenting my response to you. I have rewritten portions of it to reflect the differences in audience, but it is essentially what I originally wrote. It will become obvious that this is a very personal view. Your response would likely be vastly different. Here is how I have come to view hope.

For me hope is not a longing for some unfulfilled reward, nor does it reflect a vague desire for some kind of miraculous intervention that will make my life worry free. Rather hope is a confidence in the future grounded in what I have experienced in the past.

As I was growing up hope was essentially a reflection of what I had been taught both at home and in Sunday School. It centered around a powerful God and how He would or not respond to me. I hoped God would save me, but I was never very sure about it. Heavy subject for an adult, much less a child.

By the time I reached my later teens, I had already abandoned this view of God, but I was struggling to find something to replace it with. During this period, I’m not sure I had anything concrete that could be described by the word “hope.”

One constant I have found in my life is that growth only seems to occur during trials, and so it was early on. One of the first trials I remember was being sent to Vietnam. The experience perhaps generated more questions than answers, but one irrefutable fact became clear. The view of God I had inherited from childhood was not adequate. I needed to believe that God would be more directly involved in the daily struggles of my life. At that time, hope became very specific, as it often does during times of uncertainty.

Other struggles have come over the years, and hope has been essential to our getting through them. Perhaps the most trying expression of that hope has been attempting to raise a family under difficult circumstances for which my wife and I have never felt adequate. This challenge began when we were informed that our child (at that time our only child) would be mentally retarded. And in one moment, all our hopes and dreams for that child vanished to be replaced by a devastating present and an unknown and fearful future. So where is hope in that? It did not come overnight. Rather it developed over the years. Hope for us was not just a mental or emotional belief. Over the years we were to experience numerous challenges, only to find that resources presented themselves just at the moment they were most needed. We saw God at work, helping us not only survive the trials that came, but actually grow through the experience.

Last year my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and hope once again took on a definite form. I still remember about a week after her diagnosis wondering where we would be in a year. Once again, the Lord got us through that struggle, due in no small part to the willingness of the members of our church family to be His hands and feet in literally hundreds of ways. Right now my wife is cancer free. We can look back at the struggle that came out of those dark days with the assurance that we were not alone.

As I have grown older, I have seen evidences of God working in my life, and there can be no doubt that it was God’s hand that guided me through many circumstances. Now those experiences with God provide a basis for hope for tomorrow. Recently my wife has been in Georgia, caring for her 91-year-old father during his failing health. The time will come when I will likely face similar challenges myself, and at 66 those challenges may come sooner than I like to consider. But just as God has gotten me to this point in my life, my hope for his continued grace is just as comforting.

My hope is not a vague grasping at straws, nor is it a product of wishful thinking. Even less is it a naive belief that my life will be without struggle or tragedy. Instead hope is the assurance that the future is as secure as the past, because it is in the hands of the One who has promised to be with me “even to the end of the age,” and has proven Himself faithful for almost 67 years.

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