Friday, December 4, 2020

Trouble to Hope

Have you ever been in despair? I have, and I caused much of it myself. It is like the time of post-exilic Israel when they fell away from “their first love”-God. Israel wandered in the desert wilderness for 40-years because of disobedience and hard-heartedness. Pride and resistance to Moses leadership caused a short trip to the Promised Land to be one that would take the lives of a whole generation as a consequence. They disobeyed and forgot about God’s faithfulness and salvation or rescue from slavery in Egypt.

The Prophet Hosea takes up this theme using harlotry and unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people. He describes Hosea’s wife, a whore, as a symbol of the falling away and straying from God and His law. A very compromised life is described in detail. Then in the midst of this mess, God brings an unexpected promise. “I will transform the Valley of Trouble into the Gateway of Hope”  (Hosea 2:15).

God was speaking of restoration from sin and idolatry. He was speaking of His salvation or transformation. He was and still is offering a “Gateway of Hope” from a life of trouble or chaos and sin. Greed is a specific sin that is addressed in this passage. The “Valley of Trouble” is more accurately translated from “the “Valley of (Achor) Achan.” Achan was the Israelite who stole silver and gold idols forbidden by God as booty from the Battle of Jericho. As a result, “sin at Jericho became defeat at Ai” (Joshua 7).  There were and still are consequences to greed and disobedience. Achan was put to death. Israel was cleansed and went on to defeat the enemy. It is a very simple yet dramatic story of sin and truth.

Most of us need to learn it more than once sadly, even if we do not literally lose our lives in the process. “Chose to sin, chose to suffer,” is a much-used truth most are slow to learn. But God is faithful, for when we are tested or tempted He will also provide a way out or through so we can stand up under whatever it is as 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us. He won’t give us more than we can handle if we trust in Him and not ourselves. 

For my first 40-years, I trusted in men and chariots as Psalms 20:7 warns. But we are to trust in the Lord our God. I did not really understand Scripture truths growing up, as my family didn’t have time to teach me or show me where to find them. I knew that the Bible was important, but I had no real of understanding why. It is the inerrant Word of God and it will never return void, but will accomplish it purposes.

I lived in an accomplishments matter, not so much character matters, home life. Now I did not follow the fast crowd in high school thankfully, but I certainly did not follow the righteous one either. Drinking alcohol early became part of my life as my family had been and continued to be alcoholic. My mother particularly started early when alone with her first son while my father was away for years fighting Hitler in WWII Africa and Europe. The pressure was great and she became dependent. He returned fully disabled fro a war wound, which added to the trial. I started mixing her drinks when I was about 12 years old. This led to experimentation and a college life as an athlete who drank too much. Sounds like an oxymoron and it was. I still struggle with this dangerous legacy. Occasionally I am reminded by my wife or God that this is not pleasing, particularly for a Chaplain/Teacher. In fact I was told that my personality changes when I drink. This has convicted me deeply.

So why the Valley of Trouble business? Because we all have a troubled area or more in our lives, can I get a witness? If you say no, then you are about to fall. We all have trials, temptations and struggles, but it is what we do with them that matters. For me it is prayer, exercise, and unfortunately also drinking. Now the Bible does not say we can’t. It does say let not any behavior become a stumbling block for other brothers or yourself. It also talks of nothing in excess or not letting something control you other than God. For some abstinence may be the only safe route. Perhaps the serenity Prayer and living it is indeed good counsel.
Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
Yes, Jesus is the answer to life and living one day at a time and enjoying every moment. I have chosen “Joy” as my spiritual trait for 2017. I am adding to it “Self-control.” They go together as you can’t find joy without self-discipline. This self-control comes from the Holy Spirit living in and controlling each of us. We find this help and Counselor when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. There is no other lasting or overcoming way. He is, “The way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). No matter what kind of earthly father you have or had, only the heavenly Father can guide you into salvation and a transformed life.

My personality changed and I was transformed when I accepted Jesus into me life on a late and lonely snowy night along Lake Superior in 1990. He changed me and will continue to work in me until I am complete. This completeness will not be perfected until I see Him face to face. But in the meantime He says, “Trust Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.” This Proverbs 3:5-6 passage tells us that we can’t do it on our own but only by trusting Him in all things, all the time. To do this we need to pray continuously and give thanks always or in everything because God is in everything. This is being conformed to His image one day at a time, one breath at a time. God has forgiven me for my failures by His Grace. It is faith in this inalienable truth that I give myself to Him to be guided, taught, counseled, comforted and convicted by His Holy Spirit to “walk in it.” My two-volume book, This is the Way, Walk in it” was written to speak to this life-long journey of faith. God spoke to me audibly in a Christian counselor’s office this verse from Isaiah 30:21 saying, “Whether you turn to the right of to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.”  God was calling me into ministry even though I was not fully changed as yet. Through the Holy Spirit I have the power to be transformed fully and I recommit my life to this walk again today in this writing and prayer for serenity to do it with God’s help.


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