Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Yes. Our country is in crisis. What can we do about it?

As I sweat it out on the treadmill, watching the latest stories run across the screen, I tend to get disgusted by the flashy but inconsequential, limp responses to the crises: polemics, marches, demands for tougher laws, and ‘vote the bums out’ just to name a few. I sense growing hopelessness as these crises hit faster, closer together and strike at the foundations of our way of life in America.

Many of us, including many of those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, wrestle with these feelings. That many of these crises are heavily politicized only complicates a clear understanding of the problem and the solution. At their core, these national crises exist because they were individual crises first. This is where I am focusing my comments in this article. What hope do WE have? What can WE do to purvey that hope to people around us?

The Problem and The Solution

As Christians, we know exactly what the problem is in each of these crises: man’s sinful, glory-gobbling heart at war with his Creator—a war that has only one lasting solution and we know what that is: redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ! Man’s “solutions”, however, tend to be heavy on symbolism and light on substance, weak on long-term effectiveness and therefore usually have the effect of eroding hope for and confidence in any solution, especially the only effective solution.

In saying all of that, I do not mean to be simplistic. I am simply cutting to the chase. Obviously, our problems are usually complicated and require long-term, practical attention. But real hope ultimately comes from matching the core problem with its real solution. The often long, rocky, uphill road of lasting change is guided by clearly defined hope that addresses the real problem.

Are We Part of the Solution?

Tragically, we can forget the Good News and its power to change lives. When we do forget, it is not long before we ourselves get sucked into the vortex of fear and vitriol. Worse, it keeps us from seeing—and entering into—the suffering of individual people many of whom live right next door to us. Perhaps the crises on T.V. don’t touch them directly, but they don’t have to. Indirectly, they tear away at a sense of security that undermines their confidence as they struggle through their own—crises.

Think About Your Neighbors

Our elderly neighbors have lost their health. Their son who is dealing with job loss and is physically limited by a chronic back condition. He has been commuting from two hours away each weekend to clean and shuttle clothes and meds to a rehabilitation facility where this couple has been now for eight weeks.

By worldly standards, the future is not looking too good for this family. Gut-wrenching decisions are ahead. Incredible sacrifices will have to be made. Much of what this couple built for 40 years of marriage will likely be lost. There is fear and a lack of hope.

So what is one to do? We have sought to minister hope explicitly and practically by helping with late night errands and visits. We have prayed with the son and his parents several times for wisdom, financial provision, and healing. We seek the right opportunity to share God’s plan of salvation more completely. In the meantime, we try to season our conversations with a few carefully placed reminders of God’s truth; his goodness and his work even in distressing situations. We have had him over for some meals when he was in town. During these meals, we learned about him and his family. An auto mechanic, he very graciously helped us with some needed car maintenance.

Do WE Remember Our Hope?

I do not believe in coincidences. I have great hope that God is doing something powerful in this family. In some very simple puny ways, moved by the love Jesus continues to show us in our own mess, we have the privilege to be part of what God is doing in the story of this family. But our focus has to be on the hope: the confident assurance that guides even though the circumstances appear hopeless.

Brothers and sisters! We have hope! Yesterday we celebrated Easter, we wore our Sunday best and watched our children hunt for eggs in the backyard. What did we celebrate? What does Easter represent? Victory! We know a completely triumphant, risen Savior! We have confidence! We need to act with the confidence that comes from the certainty that we know the fundamental problem and its solution. There is no guesswork here on our part. Consider that. God has said that we are his witnesses.

This is real encouragement for us and for others who may not know Jesus. The infallible Scriptures tells us this. We have a unique and blessed opportunity to speak of hope with confidence to people who are watching the same news… and are likely looking for some answers beginning with hope.

What You Can Do

  1. Do not be swept away in the fear and hopelessness of the headlines. Remember the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ.
  2. Get to know your neighbors and ask about their struggles. I find that people are usually quite willing to share. Pray with them about their concerns. Pray for them as a family. God is good. God is sovereign. We can trust that God delights in bringing redemption through challenging situations.
  3. Be intentional with your neighbors and the crises they are dealing with. Enter into those with them with the power and hope of the Gospel that is secured by the resurrection we celebrated this weekend.

Practical Thoughts on Ministering to Neighbors, Part 3

Person Doing Shopping For Elderly NeighbourPart three: Be Willing to be Taken Advantage of

Read part two here.

My sweaty neighbor was standing in my garage asking to borrow a drill. (It had something to do with his daughter’s swing set). Turns out, the battery to my Ryobi cordless drill was dead as a doornail –as usual. But then, I remembered that I had another drill, a much better drill. A Craftsman electric drill to be exact. I was about to offer it to him when the thought hit me, “Will I ever get it back?”

While I don’t believe for one moment that it was in my neighbor’s heart to take advantage of me, was I willing to suffer loss in order to demonstrate the gospel through this act of kindness? Let’s suppose this neighbor’s motives were of a devious nature. Let’s also suppose that I even knew he had the type of project that could cause harm to a drill, and although he had a drill, he chose to ask to use mine in order to save the wear and tear on his own drill. If you were in my situation, would you still loan it out?

Perhaps the issue is not loaning. Perhaps there’s resistance to simply give something away. Or, perhaps the situation calls for you to buy something for them that you feel pretty sure they could buy for themselves?

I remember a moment when a neighbor needed cat litter. (I don’t have cats, but have you ever checked into the price of cat litter? It isn’t cheap!) Can I afford to spend $ 50 on cat litter? Was I willing to do it whether or not he paid me back? If we’re honest, in our worst moments, we do these mental calculations.

No one wants to be taken advantage of. But are we willing because we will be taken advantage of—eventually. Jesus was willing to be taken advantage of. He fed thousands of hungry people who came for the bread, but not the Bread of Life.

Jesus was willing to go far beyond being taken advantage of; he died for us, the Bible says, “while we were still sinners”. When Jesus died, he was shown absolutely NO sense of appreciation by the people he did it for. He knew this and did it anyway…and did it with joy.

If we’re going to reach our neighbors for Christ, we need to be willing to be taken advantage of. It is as we first find our own joy in what Jesus has fully accomplished for us, despite how we’ve taken advantage of him, that we will be willing to serve others, at great cost to us.

Practical Thoughts on Ministering to Neighbors, Part 2 of 3

Perhaps it is better to throwPart Two: One Thing You Must Forget When Ministering to Neighbors

Read Part One of this series here.

In my last column, I suggested that we need to remember Christ’s love as the key to ministry to our neighbors. Indeed, without Christ’s love compelling us, we will fizzle out if we ever take a step. So, remember Christ’s love for you. This time, I’m going to tell you the one thing you should forget: convenience.

It was barely 8:00 am and my neighbor was standing at my front door. Pajama clad, she said that she feared her husband was dead. I ran over to see what had happened. Indeed, something was wrong with her husband and we called 911. So, began our Tuesday at the Emergency Room. (Thankfully, her husband was not dead and he did in fact recover from a stroke).

You’ve heard it said, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.” Same is true for outreach. We expect it to be easy; to fit within a nice, scheduled block of time in our overloaded schedules. But usually, the most meaningful service is also the most inconvenient—and costly.

Should we be surprised? Jesus was not only willing to be inconvenienced, he was willing to die. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

If we’re going to be effective, we’re going to need to come to grips with the fact that effective ministry is usually inconvenient. I doubt this is a newsflash. We have been sensitized to personal inconvenience and conditioned that we don’t have to put up with it. (If we don’t like the wait, we can always go to another store.) But God’s love was willing to be inconvenienced.

Are we prepared to be inconvenienced in order to reach our neighbors and the world? This is why we need to marinate in the truths of who we are in Christ. When we see how “inconvenienced” Jesus was for each one of us –and the wealth of what He has so freely and graciously given us because of his “inconvenience”– it gives us the strength to actually lay aside convenience to help others.

Continue to Part three.

Practical Thoughts On Ministering to Neighbors Part 1 of 3

Part One: The Key To Reaching Our Neighbors

“You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” (Acts 1:8). We are witnesses for Christ—first—right where we are. Certainly, this includes our neighbors. Does the thought of that scare you? Perhaps you don’t even know your neighbor’s names. My hope is that this mini-series on ministering to your neighbors will be of encouragement to your family.

The first point I’d like to make is that the love of Christ must compel us to reach out to our neighbors.

We Are All Busy

We are all very busy. We are often busy doing “good” things; things that seem or may in fact be necessary. But many good things we do will not survive the fire of judgement (1 Cor. 3:13) and each of us under the Holy Spirit’s direction needs to judge what we’re busy doing to make the wisest choices possible.

Because we’re busy, we often don’t want to do outreach. So, we do it under duress. We risk undermining our purpose through half-heartedness or we just plain fizzle out.

Christ’s Love is the KEY Motivation

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14 how important Christ’s love is as a motivation for service. The love of our Savior is seen in his death and resurrection and the glorious riches that are ours because of his finished work. Ephesians 1 and 2; and Romans 1-8 are just several of many, many excellent passages that describe what we have in Christ.

A Practical Example of Christ’s Love 

For several years now, my family has been helping one of our neighbors through stage 4 Alzheimer’s and other health issues. The help they’ve needed has been multi-dimensional and intensive. Our primary assistance has been periodic usually in response to various medical emergencies. One morning not long ago, I was tired and had too many other things to do, and frankly, I had no strength in me to do anything for them. The conversation around the breakfast table was not one I would want repeated. It was pretty sad and what’s more sad is that this was not an isolated incident.

Then the Holy Spirit, as He has done before in this situation, reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:14. I shared it and discussed it with the family and we were able to do what needed to be done…with a joyful heart. This was no work of my own. No set of steps about how to minister could have changed my heart and moved me to action. This was the Holy Spirit alone in me, bringing the gospel to mind. I was a recipient of God’s love in Christ! What he did for me was far more difficult than what I needed to do for this couple. Because I had received God’s love, I could love, too.

If we are struggling to reach out to our neighbors, we should resist knuckling under to a sense of duty and instead, dwell on the great love that we’ve been shown in Christ (Phil. 4:8). His love for us is causative. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Dwell on The Love of Christ!

Dwelling on his love as demonstrated in all that we’ve been given in Christ will convict us and lead us to repentance which then frees us to reach out to our neighbors.  It’s not our normal default to think about God’s love. But we must be intentional in doing this.

Continue to Part two.