Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Share your source of hope and be specific about it

Everybody has bad days once in a while. But some people seem to have it worse than others. Have you ever met someone who just seems to encounter sorrow after sorrow with no break? I have. And most of the time, these folks who suffer so much are often dedicated Christ followers, and the fact that they should be falling apart doesn’t even occur to them. They’re so focused on following Christ that a few hiccups along the way, no matter how inconvenient, don’t bother them at all.

Those people are my heroes.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians is arguably my favorite book in the Bible. It’s right up there with Psalms. So encouraging, so uplifting, so practical and full of down-to-earth teaching, Philippians is one of my go-to books.

As I was reading, I stopped on these verses. Paul is addressing the Church at Philippi in this letter, and in a number of places Paul hints at the troubles he’s had along the way. But then you come to this set of verses where he reassures the Philippian believers that everything has happened for a reason and that God is already working out the details of his current imprisonment.

How many of us can say that?

And I’m not talking about being in prison. Not literally. Paul was literally in prison, but this was a different era. But he had definitely gone through some frustrating circumstances, and while I may not be in prison, I can identify with situations in my life going nuts. I can identify with struggling to get through a day. I can understand what it’s like to feel trapped by events in my life.

And because I believe in Christ, I usually don’t have a problem being cheerful about the struggles I’m facing. Actually, I’m known for my cheerfulness. Everyone at my office thinks I’m the most positive person they’ve ever met. And that great.

But what good is being cheerful or positive if no one knows it’s for Christ?

You can be cheerful and positive and encouraging all day long without once mentioning the reason you have hope. And more often than not, that’s where I am. I’m rarely specific, and I just let my coworkers come to their own conclusions. Granted, many times this has still led to deeper, more specific conversations because they all come to me and ask advice or opinion. But it’s rare for me to quote Scripture. It’s rare for me to state out loud why I can be cheerful when everything around me is falling apart.

And that’s wrong.

Paul could say that every person around him knew why he was suffering and why he had hope.

I don’t know if I can say the same. Yes, my believer friends know. Yes, people I’m very comfortable with know. But other people? The ones who I have more of a professional relationship with? They assume I’m “religious.” They know I go to church. They know I read the Bible. They know I live by it. But is that enough?

It’s good to say I believe and live the Bible. But what good does that do when the person I’m talking to has no idea what’s even in the Bible? That statement is just as confusing as any religious dogma.

So my intent is to start being less generic and more specific when it comes to addressing the reason for my hope. Because while cheerfulness alone in difficult circumstances may indicate that you have faith, it isn’t going to help anyone else until they understand the source of your hope.

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The Old Schoolhouse

Making the grade

When I was still in school, I liked tests. I liked them because I got to show off how much I knew. I used to look forward to the standardized state tests too because it was an opportunity to prove how much I had learned in a year. I was a weird kid.

But when I finished school, I thought that meant the tests were over. I thought that tests were something I would only have to deal with in school, but that’s not true at all. Tests are something we will deal with for our entire life. We just won’t always get a grade.

The Old Schoolhouse

The Old Schoolhouse - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:12.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

In school, you have to take tests to prove to your teachers that you have learned (or you haven’t learned) the lesson they were teaching. In life, tests may come just because the world is broken. And in life’s tests, there is no grading on the curve, and in many cases there is no A+ grade and sometimes not even an F grade. Sometimes there’s no grade at all. Sometimes the tests will last for years, and it’s all you can do just to get through one.

So what do you do when you encounter a test that lasts for an extended period of time? When you get sick or when someone you love gets sick or when you lose your job or when you lose your house? How is that a test? Is it multiple choice?

I’ve always thought that the tests God gives us are true/false tests. Either that or yes/no questions. We either say yes to Him or no. Yes to the world or no. And that always seems easier to me when I run into a difficult situation I have to endure.

We can either say yes to God and answer the questions that come our way based on what we know from the Bible. Or we can ignore what God says and try to answer the questions life throws at us using our own wisdom or our own experiences to light the way.

There’s nothing wrong with using your own experience to help guide you, but trusting in your own experience will only get you as far as your own experience has reached. So what happens when you encounter a test about something you haven’t experienced? Then you’re just making up answers. I’ve been there and done that (it was called General Biology my sophomore year of college at Wichita State, and I had to make up every answer I put down on those tests because I didn’t understand anything).

But when you use what God says in Scripture to answer the questions that life throws your way, you’ll pass the test. It may not always feel like you passed the test. But you will. Because the Bible deals with situations and circumstances and answers to questions that we have already experienced and have not experienced yet. And it applies to everyone. And it’s relevant to everyone.

I remember taking tests that seemed to last forever. And sometimes life tests are that way too. And sometimes we have to choose to keep going even though we don’t know the answer for sure. Sometimes we have to answer the way Scripture tells us without knowing if it’s going to work or not, and we have to just hold on and pray that it does. (And it will; just saying.) But having patience is the hardest part for me. The waiting is the most difficult aspect of taking a test for me because I want to know if I passed or not. I want to know the results right away. And that’s not realistic, not in a classroom and not in life either.

But if we can endure tests with patience, then the Bible says we’re happy. Because if you can stick with God throughout testing and trials, if you can stay loyal to God, according to the Message paraphrase the same verse says, “the reward is life and more life.”

Everyone will go through times of testing and temptation. Everyone. Because the world is broken, but if we endure and answer life’s challenges the way God has told us in the Bible, it will be worth it because God will bless us. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take blessing over a grade any day.