A Door Of Hope
By Keith McEwan
Passing through these last few years has been what some might call a difficult season. Job loss, loss of family or friends, or just the sense of loss of community. Many have said that their faith has been put to the test and that they were discouraged.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred (postponed, delayed or withheld) makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
I recall a young man I met years ago while I was teaching at a youth conference. He too was discouraged, questioning why a good God would allow bad things to happen. I had just spoken out of Joshua 7 and stated that the Bible was God's love letter to us. But in that story in Joshua, we read how one man, Achan, had sinned by keeping some of the spoil of a battle Israel had just won. This affected Israel, as a nation and the next battle they went into they were defeated. When it was discovered what he had done, Achan, his family, all their livestock and even their tent were taken outside the camp of Israel and stoned then buried beneath a heap of stones. I asked the young man if this sounded like a love story and he replied no. Then I explained that it wasn't Achan's story but that he was only part of it. In fact, this was God's love story toward Israel as a nation, and ultimately us as well, and that He did not want any sin in them at all. So God removed the sin from their midst by destroying it and covering it over with a great heap of stones. The place where this happened was named the Valley of Achor.
I was very much like this young man in my youth. Discouraged, doubting and with no vision for a future, I lacked hope. But then I heard about Jesus and the promises of God toward me and I found my hope in Him.
I read in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.'”
John 8:32, “and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
To someone struggling, these became words of life to me, and truth that through Jesus my sin could be removed. This promise was not for me alone but to all who would hear of it. As we read the stories in the Bible we are introduced to a loving God who wants nothing else but to have a relationship with us. We learn of God's desire that “none should perish” but all would come to the understanding that we may have freedom from our sin through Jesus.
In Isaiah 65:10 we read, “Sharon shall become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for my people who have sought me.” God creates from our places of struggle and battle; places of rest when He enters in and His peace remains. Because of Achan’s sin, the Valley of Achor had been a place of shame and defeat for Israel. But because of God's compassion it is now referred to as a place of mercy.
Continuing God's love story we read in Hosea 2:14-15, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her (Israel), and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”
The Valley of Achor was a place of God's judgment and punishment for sin. But in light of the love story of Easter, it becomes a picture of Golgotha and the cross of Calvary, and of sins being removed. It is the story of God sending His Son Jesus, to take the punishment for the sin of the world on His own shoulders and dying on a cross for our sins. It becomes a tomb carved in a rock where Jesus was laid to rest, covered over with a stone. And through this door of hope we see the resurrected Jesus, the stone rolled away and an empty grave and a hope in life eternal.
The Greatest Hope
By Brian Callewaert
We’ve just been through two years that have been darker and more difficult for our global community than any that many of us have ever experienced. As we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel named “Global Pandemic,” we are emerging from the depths to see more difficulties looming: human decency seems to be a thing of the past with division and the ideology that if we do not agree, then we cannot get along; more war is breaking out across the world; mental illness and depression has gained a foothold within our society due to pandemic restrictions. The list can go on and on.
It would be very easy to get caught up in everything that is wrong in the world today. In fact, sensationalized news and social media feeds are designed to trap our minds in a cycle of feeding on these things. We begin to feel that there is no hope left to dig us out of the dark pit that we find ourselves in. Even as Christians, this is something that we are challenged with on a daily basis.
However, it is really important for us to remember that Christ died so that we may have hope. That is what the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us – yes, there will be times of darkness that feel very heavy, but there is also hope for what is coming next. This is not to say that following Jesus will always be rainbows and puppies. In fact, we are often told throughout the Bible to expect times that are difficult to navigate. Paul speaks to the hope that we have in times like these in Romans 5:2-5:
"Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Paul also shows us that suffering is not all doom and gloom. We “rejoice in our sufferings” because they are the tempering of the steel that produces a finished product. Without being squeezed, a lemon never turns into lemonade. Sometimes we need to go through a trial or a difficult ordeal in order to grow to our full potential. We often get stuck on the fact that times are trying rather than looking beyond it to see God’s long term plan. There is often more to what is happening around us than we realize.
In moments like these, we need to turn to the hope that we have in the work of Christ. It is really easy to sit here and say that when I am not in the black of the pit. It can be a totally different story when we are facing the beast in our darkest hours.
So, how do we really put our trust in the hope we are promised? We need to build a solid relationship with God when the sun is shining. The good times are when we need to spend time getting to know the God who has offered us so much grace, compassion, and hope. When we spend time reading the word of God and praying, we are developing that relationship – we come to learn so much more about those attributes of God that get us through the dark times. These are also the times that we get to spend with mature believers who can help us to develop that relationship.
It all starts before we even experience the darkness. Simply put, if we wait until February to prepare for the winter, we will be caught off guard. We cannot expect to be ready to face trials if we have never done anything to prepare for them.
When it begins to grow dark, we can then lean into the relationships that we have with God and other believers. Our relationship with God will provide us with good habits that will help us to remember the hope that is promised. Those relationships that we developed with others will help to provide beacons in the darkness that can keep us on course.
We have been provided with the greatest source of hope to ever be offered, but we have to choose to embrace it. If we choose to embrace it early on, hope can grow within us and provide a candlelight in the darkness. If we wait to try to seek it out while already in the darkness, it is still there, but harder for us to find and ignite. Choose hope every day, and let it ignite and catch in the lives of all those around you.
From Sorrow to Hope: The Movement of Resurrection
by Nikolas Amodeo
Last Sunday we returned to a full capacity worship service at our ACOP church in Dryden. The excitement was palpable. After many long months of adapted worship services, navigating mandates as a community, and dealing with the range of emotionally-charged and political issues related to the pandemic, it was wonderful to gather together in greater numbers for corporate worship of our Lord.
As Pentecostals we are particularly adept at joyful praise. We welcome the moving of the Spirit, and pray for spiritual renewal and refreshing as we join together each Lord’s Day.
Yet the last two years can serve us well by reminding us that our Christian hope is grounded not in our circumstances nor the latest spiritual mountaintop experience. Neither is our hope measured by our attendance, our livestream audience, or other marketing success metrics. Our hope, as it has always been, is founded in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And that Easter hope–the hope of God breaking through with his healing love, resurrection power, and redemptive grace–is a hope that first arrived in the difficult dread and sorrow of Good Friday. Our hope as Christians is not about ignoring suffering or difficulty, sadness or sorrow. Our hope is present and alive, even as we are honest about the tragedy of our lives (or the shared communal grief of the last two years).
Lamentations 3:20-24 (ESV) demonstrates that ‘movement from resurrection’ from sorrow to hope:
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations describes a faithful believer in God who is also suffering with a mental health challenge, likely even depression. The text does not say to ignore, placate or ‘think positively’ out of depression or anxiety. Rather, Scripture calls us to bring our lament before God. We need to make space for healthy lamenting in our lives individually and in our worship services corporately. Biblical spirituality is not a self-help positivity strategy, but a summons to acknowledge our brokenness before God: to ‘preach to ourselves’ about the faithfulness of God. We recall God’s mercy, his steadfast, covenantal love toward us. But such hope resonates more deeply when we also acknowledge the depth of our need of God. As we remember what is true, our soul shifts from being ‘bowed down’ in vs. 20 to gazing upward in worship once again in vs. 24.
This sort of shift isn’t always easy. It requires hearing and remembering the goodness of God. It requires recalling and being remembered (put back together) by the true story of the Gospel: that night has passed and the day lies before us. That winter has ended and spring has come. That Aslan is on the move. That the death of Good Friday is finally over, and the joy and life of Easter Sunday has dawned. We need the community of saints to speak and recall and sing and write and paint and dance and herald this hope to a weary and war-torn world. We need Christians in every sphere and sector of society–in the church, the academy, the marketplace, and the home–who can embody such a hope. Who can embody it even as they struggle. Who can say, “Yes, I’m suffering just like you. Yes, there are moments where I truly struggle. But listen: I also know that God is faithful. And my hope is not in vague optimism, but in the assurance of Christ’s resurrection, the Father’s faithful character, and the indwelling comforting presence of the Holy Spirit.”
And may this also be: that for the many of us who are weary with the mantle of church leadership, that we too would hear that resurrection summons. May we, like Mary, who find ourselves weeping in the garden of God’s new creation, hear the voice of the Gardener who knows and speaks our names: summoning us to new life–to the hope we have in the One who is making all things new.