Sunday, December 16, 2007

HOPE SHIFTS THE FOCUS FORWARD

Read: Romans 8:18-27

Hope shifts the focus forward. Whatever we're going through at the moment, hope shifts the focus toward a future point in time. The Apostle Paul writes: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Suffering in the moment may or may not be directly connected to an anticipated future, but an anticipated future certainly has the power to change the perspective of those who suffer.

A HOPE ASTERISK (*) ON THE PRESENT. The current situation always has an asterisk (*) with it; the present is always conditioned by what is anticipated for the future. Most often we see an asterisk (*) beside someone's name or their achievements and it references us to something that happened in their past or some qualifier. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have had great baseball achievements, but it is likely their statistics will always have an asterisk beside them, indicating they used banned steroids in their achievements. But I think of a "hope asterisk" on our present situation in the way the Apostle Paul writes of it. Currently: suffering* Future: *glory.

HOPE IN MY SUFFERING. Back in June, I went off the side of a mountain bike trail bridge and fell 7 or 8 feet (I assure you, I haven't been back to measure!) directly on my back. I suffered 17 fractures, including vertebrae, shoulder blades, ribs and sternum. I am thankful it was not worse. But the pain was tremendous, especially my sternum. I dreaded a sneeze, cough, or a hick-up for months! I wore a torso brace for 8 weeks--my personal torture chamber! I would take issue with Paul's description of "our light and momentary affliction." During those months I had moments of sheer frustration with my condition. It seemed I would never get back to normal. Two things helped me: (1) prayer--your prayer for me and my own communion with God, and (2) focusing on the hopeful future that I believed would eventually be realized. I couldn't wait to get back in the pulpit and back on a bicycle--and did so as soon as I was permitted by my physician (well, actually just a bit sooner!). As for preaching, I only missed one Sunday.

"IT'S GOING BAD, BUT I SHOULDN'T GO ON THAT." I know a man who responds very honestly to the common greeting, "how's it going?" He has a mental health condition that causes him to make a very limited and exact response each time: "Oh, it's going bad, but I shouldn't go on that." Think about that in light of Paul's insight. Currently: bad situation, suffering, trouble, hardship, unsatisfactory, unfulfilled promise, in the middle, in the thick of it, in the meantime, in between, etc. "But I shouldn't go on that." Why shouldn't I go on that? Because there is something more, something else, something beyond, something that conditions the way I cope with and view the present moment. And that something is hope.

HOPE, FAITH & COPING. Sometimes, we cope with something we because we've had experience with it before. We've had a cold and we know that, by repeated experience, it will end. We don't completely freak out when a child gets chicken pox or the mumps or measles; we recognize these as common childhood conditions that 99% of the time pass without any trauma. But sometimes, we cope with tough stuff in the moment because we believe in a promised future, a fulfillment yet to occur, an assurance of peace beyond this moment. And that's where we put our faith. Faith is living out the hope we embrace. It is leaning into that hope and living as if it were a done deal. That's living in the present with a "hope asterisk."

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