Sunday, October 29, 2017

Standing Tall, Falling Hard (The Story)

Oct. 27/28     Standing Tall, Falling Hard
Select Readings From 1 Samuel

            Welcome once again to the Story. For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at the grand narrative of Scripture (creation, fall, redemption and restoration), and we’ll continue this study well into spring. Over the last two weeks, we’ve found ourselves in the period of the judges. Now, the judges were men and women God appointed for a limited time to shepherd His people through the Promised Land, people like Deborah, Gideon and Samson. But today marks yet another shift in the Story. Today we’re leaving the era of the judges and ushering in the era of the kings.

            Saul has the distinction of being anointed as the first King of Israel, but to really understand Saul’s story, we have to first understand the changes that are happening in the people of Israel. And here’s why: these changes can happen in us too, and they don’t just happen overnight. They are changes that happen to people who begin a journey, but struggle to finish it. They are subtle; sometimes we don’t notice them until it’s too late; They are sneaky; sometimes they creep up on us when we’ve let down our guard; and they are dangerous, because they pull us away from the heart of God. In fact, as we explore this story, I’m going to share with you three sneaky, spiritual traps that we need to know and, hopefully, avoid. So let’s get started.

            As the era of the judges begins to fade in to the limelight, 1 Samuel introduces us to two characters, Hannah and Samuel. We’re not going spend much time with these two, but they are important to understanding the story. Hannah is a young woman devoted to God but has trouble getting pregnant. In her desperation, and with great faith, she “pours out her soul to the Lord,” and soon gives birth to a young boy named Samuel. As Samuel grows older, he senses God’s call on his life, hears God’s voice as clear as the day, and dedicates his life to serving God as a priest. And under Samuel’s leadership, the last judge of Israel, Israel has sustained success and blessing.

This, I think, is the vision God had when he called the people out of Egypt. Remember what God was trying to do?  The exodus wasn’t just an event to change a zip code, but an act to change the heart. God’s plan was to form a people that he could call his own, a people set a part from the ways of the world, and sort of reshape them so that they would reflect his ways. That vision goes all the way back to Abraham, to whom God said, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” That’s what God is trying to do, to form a nation so that through that nation he can bless the world and counteract the curse of sin. But that nation and those people first have to be devoted and committed to God’s ways. And that’s always a major stumbling block. While Samuel is in charge, life is good. But as Samuel grows older, the people under his leadership grow anxious. Samuel’s sons are wild and prone to acts of injustice, so the elders know they can’t count on his sons to carry on Samuel’s wise leadership. And so the leaders of the community gather together, knock on Samuel’s door and say, “Do you have a minute? We think we would like a king.”

Let me just read to you Samuel’s response, because on the surface, this doesn’t sound like a request that’s out of bounds. Yet listen to these words, “This displeased Samuel, so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him, ‘Listen to all that that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you…” They have rejected me as king. You see God was forming a people own his terms. God was making and shaping a new people, so that he and he alone could be their God and their king, but they had wandering eyes and couldn’t help but notice what was happening all around them. “We want a king over us,” they said, “Then we will be like all the other nations.” And that’s the first spiritual trap we must name and avoid: the trap of conformity over commitment. God didn’t want them to be like all the other nations; God wanted them to be reflecting God’s way of doing life. And that’s what God wants for us. God wants us to reflect his life and his ways, because they are good, and holy, and blessed. So we need to name and avoid the first spiritual trap and daily choose commitment over conformity.

Well as the story continues, it’s clear that God’s people won’t settle for anything less than a human king, so God relents. He’s really good at redeeming our broken choices and fixing our haphazard messes, and centuries down the road God will provide a king named Jesus who will truly empower us to be “born from above,” but before Jesus there was a man named Saul. Saul is God’s first choice to become king over Israel. When we’re first introduced to Saul, there’s little doubt that he’s the right man for the job. Scripture describes Saul as “an impressive young man, without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.” As far as outward appearances go, he nails it (and that outward appearance will come into play for the next king we’ll talk about next week). He looks like royal material. And as far as his heart goes, Saul seems to have the right inward makeup. He doesn’t think too highly of himself. In fact, his biggest problem is probably too much humility; he doesn’t have a whole lot of self-confidence. He’s small in his own eyes. But God can work with that. That type of heart is malleable. And when Saul is anointed the first king, Scripture tells us that God changed his heart and God’s Spirit came upon him.

This first trial run as king is off to a good start. With a changed heart and the Spirit of God leading him, Saul takes the reigns of the Kingdom and immediately picks up where the old priest Samuel left off. His first military battle is a scorching victory over the Ammonites, and after the victory, Saul gathers the people for worship and celebration and proclaims, “This day the Lord has rescued Israel!” Saul is quick to point to God’s role in his story, and quick to give God the credit. But the man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else soon comes crashing down.

The next time we see Saul, something has shifted in his demeanor. While he’s awaiting word for Samuel’s direction, another enemy, the Philistines, is drawing near. Now you need to something about the Philistines. They were ruthless pagans. Goliath is one of them. They would kill you and your family in a heartbeat and wouldn’t think twice about. So Saul sees this approaching enemy, starts sweating bullets, and looks off in the distance to see if there’s any sign of Samuel. Now, the usual routine is to check with God first, to present offerings as an act of worship- but that’s Samuel’s job. Saul didn’t have access to God like Samuel did, a divine form of checks and balances you might say. Saul needed Samuel, because God spoke to Samuel in ways he didn’t speak to Saul. But in a rush to make a decision, and not wanting to wait any longer, Saul moves on with his plans. Listen to Samuel’s reaction: You acted foolishly…and now your kingdom will not endure. It takes a little bit of detective work to see what exactly Saul does wrong, but here it is: He’s too busy to worship and to wait for God’s leading.

That’s trap number 2, the trap of being too busy to worship and wait for God. And it doesn’t take much to see how this happens. You don’t need me to list the ways we become too busy. Chances are you’re already thinking about them. So instead I’ll ask the question: Are you too busy? You see how this afflicts Saul? Little by little the busyness, the stress, the anxiety creeps up on him…and then worship becomes an afterthought, or better yet, one of those things he’ll get to if he has time. Are you too busy to worship God? Are you too distracted to wait for God’s leading and timing? It’s a real trap on the spiritual journey and sometimes we just need to name it.

Well, I wish Saul’s story would end there, because his is a difficult story, and it’s not fun. But it doesn’t end there. You see, when you’re too busy to worship and wait for God, your spiritual foundations begin to crack. That’s why what we do every week is so important. This act of worship reminds “whose” we are and who we are. Every time we get together, we’re remembering the God who has called us and redeemed us. And we’re remembering what life with God should look like. And Saul begins to loosen his grip on his spiritual moorings, ever so slightly. He begins to cut corners and gives about 90%, which is certainly an above-average passing grade for school, but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the spiritual life.

The last straw happens after a victory God grants Saul over a group of people known as the Amalekites. The Amalekites were not your ordinary enemy. They had a history with God, descendants of Esau. You might even say they were the archenemy of the Jewish people, the very presence of evil in God’s good world. So God’s directives are pretty clear: Saul, when I give you them into your hands, totally destroy them. Do not spare anything- human or animal. It was, in a sense, a strategy to purge the world of heinous evil. Yet somewhere along the line, Saul got the crazy notion that his ideas were better than God’s…and he spared the Amalekite king and the best of the sheep, the lamb and the cows. To make a long story short, Samuel calls him out, and in the midst of Saul rambling about his reasons, excuses and thought process, Samuel puts up the proverbial finger to shoosh him and gets right to the heart of the matter: “Saul, you were once small in your own eyes, but God anointed you as king…To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of the rams…Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” What happened to Saul? The man who was once “small in his own eyes” became too big to obey God. That’s the third trap we must avoid.

That brings us to the end of the king who once stood tall but fell so very hard. Saul’s story really is a sad story. It’s not the feel good story we’re used to hearing, but it is one we need to know. And if we receive Saul’s story as God’s word for us today, I think we’ll find ourselves following Jesus with a deeper passion. Because to follow Jesus is to live a different kind of life: It’s a life of commitment over conformity; a life of devotion where worship is central to our routines; and a life of humility that leads to obedience, even if that obedience doesn’t always make sense in our eyes. So let us fix our eyes on Jesus today and keep on following. Amen.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Faith of a Foreign Woman (The Story)

Ruth: The Faith of a Foreign Woman          Oct. 21/22, 2017
Scripture:  Ruth 1: 1-18, 3: 1-13

            Today we continue our journey through The Story, and we find our way to the wonderful, short like Book of Ruth. Last week we were in the Book of Judges, which is filled with stories of warriors. Today, we are making a blockbuster trade. We’re trading away our warriors and picking up some friends.

I’m not much of a tv guy anymore. I hear stories about This Is Us and still enjoy an episode of The Big Bang Theory every now and then, but I’m more of an older shows kind of guy. If you grew up in the 1990’s like I did, chances are pretty good that you’ll recall a show called “The Wonder Years.”  Ever see it? My brother and I used to hurry home from the bus stop to catch the latest episode, and I still catch him watching re-runs of a show that had it all- romance, suspense, more than a touch of reality, and the sense that the twists and turns of young Kevin Arnold, the star of the show, could happen to any 13 year old kid in America.  During the pilot episode, Kevin learns that a young soldier, who happens to be the big brother of his love interest, Winnie, is killed in the Vietnam War.  From this point on, Kevin, Winnie and another friend, Paul, learn to navigate a difficult world by walking together as friends who sometimes agree, sometimes disagree, but in the end, as their Beatles-composed theme song suggests, “They get by with a little help from their friends.”

            That’s what drew me the show. It had less to do with the quality of the show and everything to do with a group of friends that found a way to be present with each other. Despite an ever changing world and the natural ebb and flow that come with growing up, these friends were present for each other- and that was something I craved- and still need- for my own life. 

            I’ve become convinced that of all the good gifts God has given us, the gifts of companionship and community might be the greatest of them all.  It was in the beginning that God, according to the Scriptures, recognized the importance of relationship for his creation.  All throughout Chapter 1 in Genesis, God creates, takes a step back and proclaims, “It is good.”  And when creation is complete, God puts down his tools, looks around at the amazing work of his hands and says, “It is very good.”  But then we come to chapter 2, and in chapter 2 God looks at Adam, the first man, and sees that Adam is alone.  He has no one with whom to share life; no one with whom to come home, or share his dreams or dry his tears.  Adam is alone.  And for the first time in Scripture, God proclaims that something is not good.  “It is not good for man to be alone,” says God, who then sets out to make Eve, who in the Hebrew language is for Adam more than a wife.  She is a helper, a companion, and a partner for life.  And never is that more necessary and more welcoming than when life seems to fall apart.

Our Scripture for today comes to us out of book named “Ruth,” but it could easily be called “Naomi.”  It is Naomi’s story of suffering dominates the first part of this book, and it’s her bitter reality that sets the scene for God’s redemptive activity. The only problem is that Naomi can’t see what God’s up to. And that’s not surprising. It’s hard to see God when life falls apart. We know what it’s like to be Naomi. You have to feel for Naomi. Life threw at her several unpredictable, and you might say, unfair twists and turns.  And she didn’t ask for any of it.  In fact, Naomi’s role in this story is that of one who is on the wrong end of several factors outside of her control.  A famine in her homeland; the decision to move to a foreign country; the untimely deaths of her husband and sons- Naomi did nothing to deserve such horrible circumstances, but here she is, a woman who feels the dark cloud of despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. At one point in her story, she asks people to quit calling her Naomi, which means “pleasant” and instead call her Mara, which means “bitter.”

            I used to think that love was the only language common to the human experience, but I think there’s another language we all know at one point or another: suffering.  It’s a common thread that weaves its way into all of our lives.  And no one is immune. For many of us, Naomi’s story doesn’t sound like an ancient tale from a foreign land.  Instead it sounds like a story that hits a little too close to home. It was hard to write this sermon without thinking about all the Naomi’s that dot our world, all the people who suffer on the inside and out. Specifically I’ve been thinking about all the women who are now coming forward after the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, saying, “Me too.”  Those are the words that are dominating the headlines today. Women I know, some in my own extended family, are now publicly confessing, “I was abused. I was touched. I was made to feel uncomfortable.” And so many questions about those events remain unanswered.  Why do some use their sexuality as a power play? Why do so many women feel compelled to remain silent? Why has it been easier to turn a blind eye and create an environment where so many ask, “Am I the only one?” Why has this happened to me?

            That’s the question Naomi asks. And her response to this question is probably no different than ours. She has no good reasons, no explanations, no answers. All she has is a shattered faith and a brutally bitter life. And for reasons that escape her best logic, Naomi can only conclude that her suffering is proof that God is angry with her.

            In the wake of recent devastation left by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I’ve been thinking a lot about an experience I had in 2005. In that year, Hurricane Katrina ripped through several southern states, leaving behind a wake of death and disaster.  And many took a Naomi approach to interpreting the devastation as evidence of God’s wrath.  Well-known televangelists asserted that God was wielding his anger-infused retribution in response to the practices of abortion and homosexuality.  And I’ve hard similar sentiments this year. A year after Katrina, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to participate in rebuilding efforts.  As we drove through the deserted towns I saw an image that will never escape my mind. Every building had a number spray-painted near the main entrance.  Some were single-digits; others numbered into the teens and twenties.  But they all told the same story. They all indicated the number of dead bodies that were found- men, women, children, babies, pets.  And I saw casinos and porn shops whittled to splinters.  But I also saw homes, schools and even churches obliterated to pieces.  And I remember thinking, “I don’t think this was God. Everything I know about God is one who enters our messes and rescues and saves. And I just don’t think God concluded that horrible, unthinkable suffering was the best way to teach America a lesson.” So, I came to the highly sophisticated conclusion that the cause of the devastation was a hurricane named Katrina- but God was there, because everywhere I looked, I saw people of God all over the country- mission teams, churches, volunteers- lending their hands, their vacations and giving their time as away of saying, “New Orleans, you are not alone.” And the same outpouring of love and support is happening today.

            Naomi has a hard time seeing God in the midst of her suffering.  What Naomi doesn’t need are easy answers that provide very little comfort. Sometimes when we should just be silent and listen, we find ourselves saying things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God must have a plan,” And while there may be some nuggets of truth in those, to hear those words in the midst of suffering doesn’t offer much help. A few months after my father died, I was able to look back and see just how much my faith grew because of that experience.  I became a better father, a better husband and a better son through my dad’s battle with cancer and eventual death.  But to say that the reason my father died was for the purpose of growing my faith would be a gross misrepresentation of a God who is full of love and grace.  Some day Naomi will be able to look back and see how the redemptive hand of God had been actively working behind the scenes, but she’s not ready to hear that now.  And she’s not ready to see that now.  What she needs more than anything is a little help from a friend.  What she needs is Ruth.

            The first chapter of this book is dominated by Naomi’s grief and despair, but what we can easily overlook is that Ruth has been there all along.  The text doesn’t say this, but I think Ruth has been with Naomi this entire time, holding her hand, listening to her confused, grief-stricken questions, and simply offering her quiet presence.  And to help shoulder the burdens of others is a wonderful ministry.  We need Ruth’s in our lives.  Battle-tested warriors like Moses, Joshua and Gideon are great at overcoming obstacles, but it’s Ruth who provides a different sort of spiritual hero. She’s the one you can call when no one else is around. She’s the one who will persevere with you when you can’t go on. And she’s the one who will have faith for you until you can believe again.

I wonder who your Ruth is? You need a Ruth or two in your life. They help you see God when you can’t see anything. And it’s beautiful and redemptive. But the redemptive work of God really begins when Naomi tries once and for all to pull away- to pull away from Ruth, to pull of away from God, to pull away from the world (which is what we try to do when we are angry and confused)- and Ruth emphatically says, “No.” And in a stubborn, loving manner, Ruth utters the words that have become famous for everything they say and everything they mean:  “Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.  And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.”  With these words, Ruth is no longer offering her friendship for a long journey; she is offering her very life.

            In many ways, the Ruth’s of the world remind us of Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this,” said Jesus, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  What a beautiful statement, one that I think we desperately need today. For a culture like ours that places so much significance personal happiness and satisfaction, Jesus seems to be making the case that that the truest form of happiness and satisfaction is found in the life that is poured out, laid down and given away so that others can live. Sometimes we try so hard to be Jesus for other people. But what I’ve learned is that we can’t be Jesus for the world, but we can be Ruth. We can be the lovingly stubborn friend who won’t let you alone to travel your road of suffering.  And I can’t think of any better way to live out Jesus’ command to love one another. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Few Good Men...and Women (The Story)

Oct. 15th, 2017           A Few Good Men…and Women
Judges 2: 8-19, Judges 7: 1-15

            Today we continue The Story, where we are journeying with Scripture- from the beginning of God’s beautiful creation to the glorious vision of God making all things new. We pick up today in the Book of Judges, which signals a new season for the people called Israel. For years they had been searching for the Promised Land, grasping for the life God had for them, trying hard to believe that Moses, and then Joshua, would lead them well. And now they have it. They are in the land of Promise, living in the very place God said he would give them…but even after receiving God’s gift, that old story of sin and disobedience just won’t go away.

            Times have changed for the Israelites. A generation of faithful leaders and followers has died, leaving a serious spiritual void in the community. Moses is dead. Joshua is dead. And it seems as if there are few, if any, who are paying attention to God. The Scriptures tells us that a new generation has risen, but this new generation seems to remember nothing about the old days…nothing about the escape from Egypt, nothing about Moses and Joshua leading them into battle, and nothing about God’s role in any of this. It’s as if they are back in Egypt, where no one remembered they ways in which Joseph had rescued the world from severe famine, where no one remembered the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It’s that old story of God-forgetfulness all over again, a story that keeps repeating like a bad country song.

            We probably don’t care to admit it, but this is a common spiritual struggle. We find ourselves paying faithful attention to God’s work for a season, and then, for whatever reason, the sheen wears off and the intensity of our commitment begins to lessen. Maybe it’s because once we set foot in the Promised Land, or once we achieve what we thought was the goal, we begin to rest on our laurels. Ryan Benson was the first contestant to win the popular dramatic weight-loss show The Biggest Loser. As a contestant in 2004, Benson’s first weigh-in listed him as 330 pounds. He went on to lose a stunning 122 pounds, with his final weigh-in listing him at 208 pounds. But in an interview this past summer, Benson admitted that he was now heavier than ever before. Why? He slipped back into old habits real quick.[1] In a sense, he had stepped foot into the Promised Land and had achieved his goal…but he wasn’t inwardly transformed.

            We need to know when we are prone to God-forgetfulness, especially in a world that changes as quickly as the blink of an eye. For the Israelites, life had changed, and over time, the world was changing around them. And little by little, they picked up new habits and left behind old ones, and it affected their spiritual awareness. It doesn’t take rocket science to see how this plays our in our culture. We get hungry for Jesus, then life gets busy, and we say yes to another job and another commitment, then we don’t worship for a month, or pick up our Bibles for two months, and then all of a sudden we sit up one day and ask, “Where did God go?” Because that’s how it feels. It feels like putting back on the weight we worked so hard to lose. It feels like putting chains on again, even after we’ve been set free. And it’s hard to take. Gideon’s question makes a lot of sense to us: If God is with us, why is all this stuff happening? It’s like the old footprints poem. We see one set of footprints and ask, “Why did God abandon me? Why is God making me do this alone?” But the truth is that God has never moved from God’s position. He’s never been absent, and he’s been there all along, it’s just that He doesn’t push his way into our plans. He waits for us to cry out.

            Now, to be clear, not all of our suffering and struggle can be traced back to a lack of our faithfulness, but much of it can. And very clearly Scripture indicates that Israel’s physical condition is somehow tied to their spiritual condition. Because of their God-forgetfulness, they “did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord,” and it led to “great distress.” And if this was our story, we would probably, “let them cry, because they’ve created a mess for themselves!” But again, this is God’s story, and not ours. And for reasons only God truly knows, his compassion overrides whatever anger or regret he experiences and time and again steps in to save the day. Just like in Egypt, God hears the cries of those who have forgotten him, and he sees the mess they’ve created and instead of simply letting them die and drown in their mistakes (or ours), he goes into rescue mode.

            I had a chance to meet some real-life rescuers on Saturday when we celebrated the work of our area first responders. Some of them even attend our churches. And I learned a lot about the nature of God by talking with these men and women who fight fires, answer police calls, and show up in our driveways with an ambulance. They don’t have the luxury of sifting through phone calls to see which ones are more “worthy” of rescue than others. They don’t have the time to ask if a fire was caused by carelessness or if a 911 call is truly life threatening. And there is certainly frustration on their part when they work so hard to save lives, only to see those same lives harmed in the same fashion down the road. But their job is to hear the cries and answer the calls and go. If there are questions, they’re asked later. I think that’s a beautiful picture of the nature of God, who hears the cry of the innocent newborn and who hears the cry of the addict and rescues the same way. When we cry out, God hears and God rescues…even if we’ve been forgetful. So I wonder where you’re crying out? Maybe it’s for a marriage that’s struggling…or a job that’s not working out…or for a child whom you can’t seem to help. When you cry out, God will rescues. But the way God rescues us, however, is interesting.

            There’s old saying that goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” And that’s indicative of the way God rescues. He uses ordinary people who are willing to stand out in a monotonous, God-forgetful culture, and equips them to get the job down. Now, what stands out about these people, and in this case, the judges, is not their superpowers or their more-than-human skills and talents; it’s their willingness to be put on God’s path. What stands out, above everything else, is their attentiveness to God. In the Book of Judges, we read about God raising up people like Ehud, Gideon, Samson and Deborah- and they are far from perfect people. In fact, most of them have some pretty serious flaws. But what they do have is attentiveness to God. In a spiritually complacent world, they are spiritually alive, and that’s what God seems to look for. And if you were to ask me, I think that’s the work of the church. We are called to be the people, who in our spiritually complacent world, pay attention to God. We are among those who cry out and need rescued, but we’re also among those who need to proclaim to the world: “I know it’s dark, I know it’s dreary, and I know it doesn’t make sense, but God is here, God is active and God is on the move. So let me ask you: Where are you spiritually complacent? And where are you spiritually attentive? Are you more likely to ask Where is God or Where is God in the midst of this moment? Those are two different ways to live out faith.

            Gideon was a man who had to learn the difference between those two narratives. And I think his story is meant to speak into ours. When he was first called by God to rescue the people, he was certain he was the wrong choice. Listen to these words: “Why has all this happened to us…The Lord has abandoned us (Do yo see how easily even God’s people can become forgetful?)…How can I be the one to save Israel? My clan is the weakest…and I am the least in my family.” At this point in the story, it’s clear that God needs to help Gideon see the big picture. Gideon’s family and people are suffering, oppressed by a group of people called the Midianites. And Gideon is slowly losing hope, slowly succumbing to the fake news of the day. He’s not a man of deep faith; he’s fearful. He’s not a man full of hope; he’s timid. He’s not a man of confidence; he has significant doubts the job can be done. And into that hopelessness, God speaks five words that have the power to breathe new life into any situation: “I will be with you.”  And over time, Gideon allows that promise the carry him and God’s people forward. Even when God causes Gideon’s army to be dwindled down to embarrassing numbers, Gideon needs nothing else, because his faith was restored. All because of five words that change the story.

            Centuries later those five words will be embodied in a baby. And born into the midst of a hopeless people, surrounded not by Midianities but by Romans, and pushed to the margins of society, will be a child that some refer to as Emmanuel, which means God is with us. And those words will change the course of history. I know many find yourselves in a spiritual battle today, and there seems to be no way forward. Your marriage is falling apart, your loved ones are just barely hanging on, your children are moving away, your employer know longer needs you, your community is being flooded with drugs…and you wonder sometimes aloud and oftentimes quietly within your heart, “Where is God?” And this answer is this: He is with you. When John Wesley was lying on his deathbed, suffering and preparing to let go, he looked up at those caring for him and found the energy to say, “The best of all, God is with us.” And I have a feeling those words became strength and vision for those who loved him most.

In this world, we will have suffering, challenges and struggles. There’s no other way around it. But let me leave you with this. It’s both a challenge to keep and a hope to hold on to, from 1 Corinthians 4: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. May we be people who fix our eyes on what is unseen allow those five simple words to transform us: I will be with you. Amen.