Cling to hope

1 Corintians 13:11 (NIV) When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

In January 2009, I sat down on the side of my bed and prayed in earnest to God for the first time in a couple decades.  I was finally sick enough of my life that I decided to go back to trying to do things God’s way and not my own.  Since then I’ve been reading my Bible and praying and actually trying to grow as a person and as a Christian.  It’s been by no means easy.  Thirty years has passed and it feels like trench warfare.  I’m still the same guy I was before – with one exception: I’m trying again.  I hadn’t really tried at anything since Dad died back in 1982 and when it feels like doors constantly close for you in life, it has a way of reinforcing that defeatist attitude.

I remember standing outside Dad’s bedroom door knowing he’s breathing his last breaths mad at God that Dad had to die and saying to God, “You’re not going to make me go in there and watch that man die.”  I carried the pain of that event around with me like a lodestone along with my defeat.  That wasn’t what God wanted from me then or now.  The lesson I wish to this very day that I had learned was this: God wants us to emphatically and completely trust him.  “Trust me, Justin.  I know what I’m doing with your life.”  It took me twenty-seven years to learn that fact.  You might think, “But, twenty-seven years…” and yes, my life would be completely different had I learned that December 23rd, 1982, but at least I learned it.

One of the first (and most hopeful) passages I read was Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).  It’s also one of my favorites.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. [b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

The whole passage is about restoration.  God loved Israel when Jeremiah wrote it and He loves it just as much today.  He loves each and every one of us equally as well.  As young people, we are filled with so much hope and optimism but often we let life run us down.  That’s life.  There’s highs. There’s lows.  How each of us approaches calamity in life is what defines our character.   I am one hundred percent positive that the reason why we suffer through calamities such as the loss of a parent or child or loved one is God wants to use that event as a catalyst to draw us towards Him and as a testimony on how we handled it when we do trust him through the hardship.  In the short time I’ve been going to CrossRoads Community Church, I’ve seen this act of trust displayed on numerous occasions.  It’s been people of good character trusting God through the hardships, clinging to their spouse and weathering the storm.  When asked, they can say, “We trusted God and we got through it.” Trusting God and the hope are like two tightly woven helicoids of DNA.  They are implicitly bound to one another.  Trusting God gives us hope.  Through hope we persevere.  Through perseverance, we gain character, we grow and we learn that our trust was not in vain.  That, in turn, reinforces our trust.

As we get closer to the day of Christmas and the closing out of the year, find someone to encourage.   If not for them, do it for you.  Be encouraged and be an encourager!  If you think the year has been a lost cause, remember God’s hope and promises.  Cling to hope.  Keep trying.  Don’t quit.  I’ll leave you with this one promise of hope: John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Wow, what hope!  Have a great Christmas and be safe this holiday season!

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Matt Stover

It was really cool to hear Matt come and talk on Sunday morning June 13th.  He talked about his walk with God and how that’s affected his outlook on his football career, his family, and especially last season when the Ravens never called him back.

During the summer, the Jets called him offering him his friend’s job.  Matt’s a very decent fellow.  He called his friend Jay Feely and asked how things were going over there.  Their kids played together, they’d hang out together.  After 19 years in the NFL, its natural to develop real friendships and relationships.  After Jay found out the Jets were negotiating with Matt, he spoke with the Jets and let them know he’d heard that they were looking to replace him.  Naturally, the Jets accepted Jay’s offer.  Matt’s told his manager afterward that he’d talked to Jay about the Jets job offer first.  Needless to say, initially, that didn’t go over too well.  Matt assured his manager that he felt like they’d be fine.   More weeks pass and it’s already the third week into the season when the Colts call him and ask Matt to visit.

There are two forms of commitment that a player can expect from a team: something monetary in the form of a signing bonus or something verbal.  Matt went to the Colts and kicked for them.   Matt named off all the shots he had to make (he only missed one).  Keep in mind, he hasn’t practiced with a team all season.  Matt let them know he was committed to them by saying he was ready to kick them into the Super Bowl.  They signed him the same day.  He went on to doing exactly what he said do.  Joe Flacco’s fourth quarter pick-off in the 2009 AFC playoffs made Matt’s previous field goal the game winner — which launched the Colts into the Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints.

Where’s the love?

I was thinking about Pete recently when I was feeling melancholy one day wondering why I had lost my love for baseball.  Here I was a guy who positively loved the Orioles of the ’70s and ’80s and today, I could care less about the sport.  Where’s the love gone?  As a kid, I had a pretty good arm.  Dad and Mom let us play Little League throughout our elementary school years.  Like most kids, I didn’t usually get up to full speed until the end of the season.  We’d all get those cheapo trophies that all kids love after playing a tournament each season.  If you grew up in Maryland, any kid worth his salt that could throw dreamed of being Jim Palmer.  I remember once over at church during a fall harvest festival, I threw a beeeeautiful curveball to a buddy of mine.  The thing broke a mile.  I knew I threw it right because my elbow hurt afterward.  So what happened?  I mean we’d root for Mark Belanger, Don Baylor, Bobby, Grich,  Al Bumbry, Jim freaking Palmer, Eddie Murphy, Rick Demsey, Boog Powell, and last but certainly not least MR. Brooks Robinson.  The list goes on and on.  These guys are baseball icons.  They’re men who made the sport great simply by going out there and doing it day in and day out, by playing with integrity and grit.  Somewhere along the way we lost that in big salaries and somewhere in there, I lost the love of baseball.

Whatever you feel about Pete Rose, I think we can all agree that Pete’s a baseball icon.  He wasn’t the first dumb guy to walk into the game and he’s certainly not the last.  We’ve heard tons about the steroid doping investigations that still plague the locker rooms of all of today’s major league baseball teams.  We’ve got guys allegedly taking guns into locker rooms, other guys allegedly fighting dogs, and yet other guys allegedly brutalizing women, and yet further still, other guys cheating on their wives.   Controversy after controversy across the broad spectrum of sports.  As sure as my butt’s glued to this chair, I’m certain a lot of those guys will make the Hall of Fame in their respective sports.  I can’t help but think: where’s the forgiveness for Pete?  Hasn’t he paid his dues for the mistakes he’s made?  It’s been twenty years since he was coach of the Reds.  Pete’s 69 years old now.   He’s done jail-time for the tax stuff, been sacked by periodical after periodical and lambasted by every talk show on the planet.  The Reds will never retire his jersey due to the permanently ineligible from baseball status that’s tattooed squarely on his forehead.  I wonder if the league’s plan is to let the guy die then posthumously give him a Hall of Fame nod?  I think it’d be a damn shame if that’s the route they take.  It’d be nice if someone in the Commissioner’s office had the stones to stand up and work to heal the wound between Pete and baseball before he leaves this good ol’ Earth.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Where’s the love?  I just don’t know where it went, but it’s gone.  I lost the love for something that was once great and I don’t know why.

Psalm 70.

1 Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.

2 May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.

3 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.

4 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “Let God be exalted!”

5 Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.

—–

I always love how you can simply flip open a Bible and find hope, encouragement and peace no matter where you turn.

They’re at it again.

IsraelApparently, things are bad.    How bad?  Real bad.  During a recent visit to Israel, El Vice-Presidente Biden visited Israel to see how things were going with the middle east peace process during which Israel approved development of 1,600 Israeli homes in the West Bank.  From the article, I think it’s quite possible that someone within the Israeli government timed this to discredit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or it could simply be a case of good cop, bad cop.  In the article, he’s quoted as saying:

Mr Netanyahu has tried to play down the unusually bitter diplomatic row between the two allies. He said the announcement was a “bureaucratic mix-up” and that he “deeply regretted” its timing.

What’s always bothered me about this whole process of peace is that it always ends up with Israel giving up concessions.  The news services never talk about the Arabs having to give up anything.  In 1948, Israel agreed to the UN’s plan to split the land into two areas, but the Arabs didn’t.  Next, Israel is attacked by their surrounding neighbors after being formally recognized as a nation.  Israel effectively wins the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and eventually give up territory to their attackers (e.g. West Bank to Jordan, Golan Heights to Syria, Gaza to Egypt).   Israel wins, but then it loses the territory it secured in concessions.  As a result of the cease-fire, Israel gets formal recognition by the United Nations.

I wonder what the price tag on all the munitions and arms that’s been sent in to aid the PLO, Hezbollah, etc. amounts to be over the years?  If the surrounding Arab states were serious about peace, couldn’t they have simply encouraged immigration by aiding all of their Arab cousins in the conflict zones with all the money they’ve given these organizations to fight Israel?

Historic Palestine is a geographic area, not simply local to the borders of Israel.  It covers parts of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and ALL of Jordan.  Israel’s approximately the same square miles as the state of New Hampshire (9,350 sq miles) weighing in at 8,522 sq. miles. It seems to me that the Palestinian people already have recognized Arabic governments (e.g. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc.) in place to support them. There are millions of Palestinians living in those countries, yet the Arab community continues to push Israel for more concessions, and continue to call for its destruction.

And finally from deep in left field: one thing I’m sure of is there will be peace in Israel. It will come on the herald of the return of Jesus Christ, redeeming King and Lord of heaven and earth. At least then, we can count on this whole mess being straightened out. 😉

Hope you have fun keeping up on all this political ballyhoo!