finding hope amid broken dreams

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Morning. Your eyes open. The previous night’s whispers fade into the shadows. It’s a new day. Slowly, you rise, raise the blinds, and survey the field of broken dreams which litter your horizon. It feels like a sucker punch all over again.

The job that went sideways. The relationship that exposed the darkest parts of your heart. The bills that seem to pile up, demanding a piece of your soul, your future. The feelings of utter isolation in the midst of urban cacophony.

But one thing burns brightly from the deepest places of your heart: hope.

It’s what keeps you from diving off the precipice. And it’s not a vague notion; it’s far more potent and real than that. You may have a clear idea of what it is. A name might be lingering on your tongue even now. Or you may be wondering what obscure, impotent panacea I am about to unveil.

I assure you, it’s nothing and no one obscure or impotent or abstract. Perhaps the words below will explain what I mean. As you read them, please ask yourself, “What broken areas of my life is God wanting to begin healing today?”

1. My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Refrain:
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

2. When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
(Refrain)

3. His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.
(Refrain)

4. When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!
(Refrain)

My Hope Is Built

Text: Edward Mote, 1797-1874
Music: William B. Bradbury, 1816-1868
Tune: THE SOLID ROCK, Meter: LM with Refrain

thirty years later

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I’m sitting in Shari’s Restaurant in Newberg, Oregon. The Salmon dinner with rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables was delicious. Thank you for asking.

Looking out the window, I see sights both familiar and poignant. And I remember.

I remember vaguely the late night conversation with a high school friend nearly thirty years ago. It was the day of my high school graduation. I had just received my diploma. What a sense of relief that the thirteen year ordeal was over. Yea, I did first grade twice. Such is the legacy of early childhood scholarship.

Now, all these years later, I reflect back on the things which happened. The hopes, the fears, the struggle to survive emotionally and financially. I aimed high and attained many of my goals, to be sure. I just have to remind myself occasionally, completist and perfectionist that I am when it comes to fulfilling what I have set out to do.

Learned my Hebrew and Greek, plus a few source languages? Check.

Earned two masters degrees, with a doctorate thrown in just for kicks? Check.

Got married and had a gaggle of ki—(scratch that; some goals are never meant to be pursued).

Found a calling and purpose in life? Yes, but not without continual revising as life progresses.

So much is the same; so much is different, vastly so. Not just in the culture, both ecclesially and otherwise, but also in me personally. Sitting here at Shari’s drives this point home. The facility still has its trademark octagonal shape so as to offer increased window seating. Yet it also offers wifi, a technology which did not exist in my youth. It is the same and different.

I feel this tension in my own life. I’m the same Glen as the young man who chose to enjoy late night conversation here on graduation night, rather than participate in the mostly unsavory activities chosen by some of my peers. But I’m also older. The jury is still out whether I’m wiser, but I have no doubt I am far more jaded than my younger self.

Yet, there is a kernel of youthful hope which lingers in my heart. It desperately yearns to encounter God in the dark places, the mundane routines, and the ordinary conversations within my church family, throughout the city, and especially in the margins where I’m learning to ditch ambition in favor of ordinary friendships so that Jesus may be made known.

I didn’t originally intend to dine here on this occasion. Yet providence offered the opportunity. And I am glad for it. A delicious meal, a moment for reflection on the years which have passed, and a grateful heart as I slowly begin to figure out that maybe God isn’t finished with me yet.

So for now, I take my leave in order to enjoy my nephew’s concert. Maybe I’ll return in another thirty years if God, in his wisdom and providence, ordains it.

empathy

I approached the counter of the vendor as I had previously done on countless other occasions, ready to engage in friendly, but witty banter. She seemed quiet, however. Withdrawn. So I internally tamed my wit and simply conducted business, after greeting her kindly. Turns out her friend had just died. She had no obligation to share that information with me, but chose to do so anyway. I expressed my sincere sympathy.

Everyday I encounter people in the midst of their daily struggles. So do you. The professional veneer that most maintain belies what is going on beneath the surface. It reminds me that the grace I hope to receive likewise is my responsibility to offer.

Who knows what heartache others bear as they respond too harshly to situations? Am I willing to demonstrate empathy? Compassion? Even in the face of anger and mistreatment? Too often, no. I’ve become far too adept at parrying their barbs with my own witty ripostes.

Sometimes the most helpful response is that of quiet and empathy. The silence speaks volumes out of a heart of compassion, but harsh words exploit tender places of the heart with the aim of inflicting injury.

palatable spirituality

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

There is nothing more refreshing than a glass of ice cold water on a hot day, or a cup of steaming hot chocolate on a cold day. But on any day, a tepid beverage is unappetizing. To partake of such a drink while expecting something cold or hot is to invite its immediate expulsion from your mouth. Gross!

Such is the piercing message that God inspired John to write to the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). Despite earlier written admonishments and encouragements from Paul via his Letter to the church of Colossae, Laodicea had become self-absorbed, seemingly self-sufficient, and unjustifiably self-satisfied.

They boasted in their material affluence and consequent influence.  Spiritual blinders veiled their glaring poverty and shameful nakedness, their proud self-congratulatory attitude with no awareness of their desperate need.

No commendations were in order for this church. None. Only rebuke and a call to repentance. Out of love.

We do well to pay attention to this episode, both corporately as local expressions of ecclesial community and privately as individuals prone to opt for paths of least resistance in our faith journeys.

I tend to be self-absorbed with my own hobbies, interests, problems, and thoughts, too often leading me astray into patterns of sin. Don’t look at me that way. Your sinful patterns may be different, but they are no better.

I tend to take pride in my ingenuity and ability to meet my own needs as well as contributing to helping others to such an extent that I adopt an attitude of self-sufficiency. Of course I pay lip service to trusting Jesus as my source of provision, but it is often only when my back is against the wall that I truly cry out to him for help.

I tend to become self-satisfied, resting on my apparent accomplishments, forgetting that without Jesus’s supreme accomplishment, I am hopelessly lost to sin and it’s consequences.

So, he reminds me to repent and to become hot or cold–tepid no more. He stands at the door knocking, hoping that the church–indeed, that I–will open it and let him in so that we may celebrate in his presence, focused on his person and work, trusting in his all-sufficient power, and resting in the contentment that come from a posture of ongoing worship.

He calls us all out of a tepid spirituality marked by unfaithfulness into a palatable spirituality (to his taste, not ours) which refreshingly honors him, trusts him, and finds full contentment in him alone.

the filters we bypass

We all have them in some form. Filters. For our air and water, both in the natural and designed by people. Also for our fuel, homes, cameras, aquariums, pools, computers (both virtual and hardware), and so on. They share a common general purpose. They are designed to strain out impurities. We take them for granted until they are compromised. Unless we are the ones doing the compromising.

“A little here. A little there. Not a big deal. After all, I am human right? I’ll get my act together soon. But just one more time enjoying this indulgent thought, or that outwardly appearing innocent slip. We all make mistakes,”

Said the man enslaved by pornography.  

Said the woman enslaved by a love for money.

Or vice versa. You get the idea.

It begins with filters being bypassed. Only slightly at first. Then gradually more. Until the filters are disabled, removed, and thrown into the trash heap.

I’m in the process of repairing and restoring my filters, relying on God to help me by his Holy Spirit. How about you? If you think the question does not apply to you, then you better be alarmed. A filter is out of order and requires your immediate attention. Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (NRSV).

Ministry Dreams: Spread Your Wings or Clip Them?

The path leading to the realization of long-held life and ministry dreams is amazing, exhilarating even. Ideas flow. Sketches, etchings, scribbles on napkins, tweets in the stillness of night, and prayers uttered when no one but God is listening. That’s how it starts.

Photograph by Glen Alan Woods.

They begin to creep in to your daily conversations without you even consciously intending it. You know what I’m talking about. You might even be there now. And then you make your decision. You activate God’s plans that he has birthed in you. As press in, you begin the sprint toward the goal….

Photograph by Glen Alan Woods

Maybe other voices safely perched on the protective handrails begin to voice their criticism, cheerfully bickering over the futility of your dreams despite a complete lack of understanding over your journey before and during its implementation. And for a moment, you hesitate. Rather than taking wing and soaring, you stop. You listen. You even…

Photograph by Glen Alan Woods

…look down. And doubt. You begin to wonder what you had been thinking. The first hints of despair murmur deep within the hidden places of your heart. It is a strange thing being on that precipice of doubt and hope, quitting and engaging, clipping your God-given ministry wings and soaring as God intended; a strange thing, indeed. What will you do? Listen to the internal doubts and external naysayers? Or listen to God who by his Spirit and through his Word, and through wise godly counselors, whispers affirmation to your heart? Listen to what God said to Joshua, his choice to succeed Moses, more than once: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9; cf. Joshua 1:6-7, 18; 10:25 NRSV) Was Joshua equipped in the natural to take on this uniquely challenging role? To a certain degree, it could be argued in the affirmative. But he knew, as God certainly did, that he needed God’s favor, his courage, and his intervention.

Are we any different? So, take flight in God’s plans for you. Be courageous, knowing that it will cost you more than you can possibly imagine, but not more than what God’s grace will supply for your need. And give God all the glory.

scarred hands

Each day of work exacts a price on my body. The toil of labor is like that and it should come as no surprise, given God’s judgment on Adam subsequent to his fall. This is particularly evident when considering my hands, calloused and scarred from years of manual labor. Often they become cracked and bleed. They hurt. So I seek ways to help them heal.

It calls to mind the nail scars on Jesus’ hands and feet, and his pierced side. My hands hurt because of my chosen profession. Jesus’ hands were scarred because of my chosen sins. Through his suffering I find healing which encompasses the whole of who I am, giving me reason to rejoice in my salvation and dance with joy for my deliverance out of the bondage of sin. So, do not despair concerning the scars your work produces. Allow them to remind you of God’s surpassing love which he demonstrated through Jesus’ suffering and death.