Clouds and Thick Darkness
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
A couple of weeks ago I was out in the woods doing some hunting. We were about 2 miles in and it got dark. Luckily we had a road to walk on to get back to the truck – and a flashlight! At one point in our walk in the dark I turned off the flashlight. It was dark! Very hard to see where we were going. When it is dark it is hard to move, especially when you turn off the light. It can be very disorienting and scary. I didn’t leave the light off for long before turning it back on – maybe just a step or two.
Many of us might find ourselves in the dark. We might be having great difficulty moving forward either in life in general or forward through a particular problem or season of life. In those moments who or what do you turn to for light – for direction? How do you know they are leading you in the right direction and what do you do when they are not around – when the light goes out?
What really strikes me about this Psalm is that it says God is surrounded by clouds and thick darkness. God knows what it is like to be in the dark. He is in the midst of our darkness. He is with us on that journey with us. I know we might be tempted to turn to someone or something other than Him for direction. We might even find that we have put our hope for salvation from the darkness in a human made system, a person, or even a substance. But, none of those things or people can offer what God does. They aren’t always in the darkness with you, but God is.
The last time we see God in the darkness He brings forth life (Genesis 1-2). He brings order to chaos. He declares light where there once wasn’t any. We can, and should, ask other people for help and invite others to join us in our darkness so they can help us out, but ultimately our hope should reside in God. Ultimately, He is the only one who can truly transform the darkness into light.
Your road might be pretty dark today, but know that God is right there with you. Trust Him for the light you need so you don’t get lost and can keep moving forward.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Hope is a funny thing. Without we feel like there is no reason to put one foot in front of the other. We feel alone and like there is no purpose. With it we are looking forward to what lies ahead. We have purpose and excitement. But, hope can also lead to frustration. We know better is possible. We know where we are headed is better than where we are coming from, but it is just taking so long to get there. Hope itself can sometimes be exhausting.
I think those are the moments Solomon was referring to when he wrote this proverbs. When our hope goes unfulfilled, or we have to wait a really long time for it, we do feel sick. But, at the same time it is that very hope that keeps us moving forward anyway. It seems weird to say the very thing that has caused our exhaustion is the very thing that keeps us pushing through it. But, as Solomon points out, that is exactly what happens, perhaps more times than we care to admit.
The writer of Hebrews had a similar reality to share with us. In Hebrews 11 the writer makes a long list of people we would consider heroes of the faith. In verse 13 of that chapter we are struck with the harsh reality that “all these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” Their hope was deferred beyond this life. Are we ready to hope and hope until the day we die even if we never receive the thing we are hoping for?
For us to live that hopeful of a life we will need faith. Not only did all these people have tremendous hope, they had tremendous faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” Faith gives us what hope deferred can’t – an assurance that even if we don’t see it fulfilled it is still worth hoping for. The heroes of the faith knew that if they didn’t see those promises fulfilled someone else will. They weren’t just hoping for themselves, they were hoping for everyone. Their faith wasn’t in the outcome of their hopes, but in the source of their hope – God Himself.
In this life we will experience hope deferred, but when we put our faith in the source – God, the tree of life, we can live with assurance despite our disappointment. Has your hope been deferred? That’s ok, you are in good company. Have faith, hold on to that hope, and keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfector of our faith.
I simply want to encourage you to live in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus today. His resurrection points to our resurrection and to our being transformed into true and perfect people. I know this world is hard and we are ready for it to end. But, take heart – Jesus is here, the resurrected Jesus is making all things new. The work of transformation has begun. All we have to do is look forward expectantly to the day when we get to enjoy it in full. Paul says it best:
“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. … everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. … Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. …But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:19-57
May we all live today as resurrected people with resurrection hope. Not as people just waiting for this life to pass and we move on to the next. But as people who are living in resurrected victory today – looking forward to complete and total transformation tomorrow.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Take a second and think of three things you truly hope for. What are they? Now, who or what are you depending on to see those things become reality for you? How confident are you that what you hope for will happen?
The Bible speaks of hope quite a bit. In fact Paul lists it among the three greatest gifts the Spirit gives us – faith, hope, and love. But, there is a difference between the hope the Bible speaks of and the hope we talk about. For us hope often comes off as wishful thinking. I hope I win the lottery even though I know the chances are slim to none that I actually will. That kind of hope has very little to no confidence behind it. Partly because that hope is grounded in this world and depends on someone or something from this world to make it happen.
The hope God talks about and that the Holy Spirit gives us is more than a wishful though. Biblical hope carries with it the idea of confident expectation. This kind of hope has an assurance about it. Romans 5:5 tells us the hope we get from God is a hope that does not disappoint. Now, that is the kind of hope we need. It is that kind of hope that gives life, energy, and motivation to keep striving forward.
The biggest reason for the confidence and assurance we have in this hope is that the source of this hope is beyond us. The source of this hope is trust worthy and dependable. Jesus is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). This hope doesn’t come from within us, it comes from Him. So, if we are lacking confidence in our hope the first thing we need to seriously consider is the source of our hope. Is our hope placed in the right place? Is it in Jesus?
Sometimes we grow frustrated in our hope because of what we are hoping for. Hoping to win the lottery is always going to be frustrating. So, what should we hope for? Should we hope for better? Should we hope for heaven? Absolutely. Jesus said, in Revelation 21, that He is making all things new. That is what we can hope for – better and new things! It is resurrection hope!
If you are feeling hopeless today, know you don’t have to stay that way. Trust Jesus – He will give you hope!
Renewed Hope: A New Story
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
I started watching a new series on Netflix a while back and it wasn’t long before I got bored with it and started to look for something else to watch. It was such a good show I can’t even remember what the name of it was! Has that ever happened to you? You start reading a book or watching a show and you find yourself bored or frustrated with it and you never finish it – you look for something different, something new? I feel like life gets like that, we find ourselves living in this story that is not going the way we want. We might even find ourselves wishing for a new story. Do you want a new story?
That’s one of the things Jesus Christ offers us in salvation. He offers us a new story. Isaiah tells Judah that our of the old root will come a new branch. Consider that old root your life, our tired world. Out of that old will come something new. Out of that tired will come something exciting. Out of that old root will come a new branch and with that new branch will come fresh fruit. It’s time for a new story! Jesus has brought that story for us and invited us to be a part of it.
Read Isaiah 11 carefully and check out the story we are invited to be a part of. It is a story with all kinds of characters – lions, lambs, children, wolves, bears, ox, and even snakes. All of them living together in peace and safety. All of them being welcomed despite the reputations they bring. This story Jesus brings with him is one of inclusive diversity. You don’t have to become someone you are not to join this story. The lion can still be a lion and the lamb can still be a lamb. You get to be you in this story!
Things in this story are different though. While the lion can still be a lion and the lamb can still be a lamb – their relationship has changed. The lion is no longer trying to kill and eat the lamb, they are living together. The lion, instead, is eating grass like the cow. Somewhere along the way the lion was changed. This story is one of transformation. In this story God makes us fully us, the us we were intended to be – the good us. The kind of us that can live in a story of peace and safety. It is a pretty amazing story – I really hope you will join.
Renewed Hope: Gospel Of Peace
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.
Peace is a wonderful and much needed thing. A lack of peace can often keep us from seeing the good (and the hope) God has for us. When we live our lives without much peace we will grow tried and weary. The more tired we get, the less peace we experience, the more hopeless we become. Isaiah was talking to a pretty tired Judah when he spoke these words. This message was to instill in them hope and to help them see the good God had for them. The best is yet to come!
We are living in a time when many people find themselves absolutely exhausted and longing for peace. We need just a moment of fresh air, just a minute to get our heads above water so we can catch our breath and find hope. It is good to hope for a peaceful eternity but we cannot forget that Jesus has also made it possible for us to have a peaceful present and live in a peaceful community. He challenges us all throughout His teachings to be a people of peace, to seek reconciliation, to love, and to forgive. This peace He is talking about isn’t just for individuals, it is for all of society.
John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” In those moments when you are feeling tired and weary we need to look to Christ and rest in His peace. Peace is something we will experience perfectly in eternity, but it can also be something we rest in presently, thanks to Christ. Do not let yourself be swept away in despair – accept the peace Jesus is offering and live in it. By doing so we might just change our world!
Renewed HOpe: Rally Cry
In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.
I read an article on Forbes the other day that was titled, “Death of a City, The Portland Story?” It was about how near “death” Portland is because of bad policies, violence, crime, homelessness, and drugs. It painted a pretty bleak picture of our city. It got me thinking, is it really that hopeless? Is it really that bad? Sure, there are problems, but our entire country has problems. What can we do? What is the Church supposed to do? We hope, that is what the Church always does.
Isaiah was tasked with a very difficult mission – to go and prophecy to a very stubborn people and tell them to repent and turn back to God. In his message to them he tells them one day Jesus will come, peace will arrive, and the land will be a glorious place. This, of course, was a “not yet” word to them. It was something they could look forward to and reassurance that God had not forgotten them.
When we read this same word, we generally take it to mean “not yet” as well, even though we know Jesus has come. I want to argue that this prophetic word from Isaiah, for us, is not just a “not yet” word but also an “already” word. Jesus has already come. He has already brought His Kingdom. He has already set His plan of redemption in motion. Jesus has already given us hope for today and hope for tomorrow. He will, one day, complete it and we will experience His peace to the full. But, in the meantime we can experience His peace right now.
While we live in a world that has it’s fair share of darkness, pain, and brokenness we don’t have to settle for that. We can hope for more. We should hope for better. Why? Because Jesus is here and Isaiah said where Jesus is the land will be a glorious place. We need to have hope in the present and the future. The Good News of Jesus is that He came to heal us now, free us now, and assure us of a better future that starts today.
If you are a follower of Jesus you have a responsibility – not to run from the darkness but to take hope there. We, as the Church, are supposed to be the ones living in (and being an example of) God’s Kingdom today. But, maybe before we can do that, we should ask God to renew our hope too.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.