What are your hopes and dreams?

I remember when I was a young girl, I had so many hopes and dreams for my future! When I look back I realize that although some of them came to pass in some form or fashion, most did not. I didn’t dream about my baby dying or my marriage falling apart. I didn’t think about the time when my then husband was unemployed for almost two years. I never once dreamed about being alone in my fifties, without a husband, a career, an education or the ability to take care of myself. No, those things were not on my agenda or on my radar. I dreamed about falling in love, being a stay at home mom, having children who grew up and growing old with my husband while seeing our grandchildren being born. Happy dreams and a happy life is what I thought about. But unfortunately, for anyone who’s been around on this earth long enough, we realize all too soon that life never happens quite the way we had hoped or dreamed. And when things happen that we don’t understand, it is easy to become angry and frightened and blame someone. Sometimes we blame other people, sometimes we blame ourselves and often we blame God. After all, doesn’t He have the power to fix all things, to prevent all things and the power to stop bad things from happening?

If ever there is a story in Scripture that shows us the devastating effect of a life that didn’t turn out quite the way someone had dreamed or planned, it is the story of John the Baptist.  When life takes a nasty turn, one we didn’t see coming, it can take even the strongest person down to a place of hopeless despair and complete loss of faith.

Now let me give you a little background about John. He was born after his father, a priest, had a supernatural encounter with the angel Gabriel while serving in the temple. His dad is struck mute by the angel because he didn’t believe Gabriel when he told him that he and his wife would have a baby. They were old and Zacharias, John’s father could not believe that they were physically capable of becoming pregnant. (You can read the story of John’s birth in Luke 1.) But sure enough, John was born and things seemed wonderful. Fast forward and John who is now about 30 years old is preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Israel. He sees Jesus and announces to everyone that Jesus is the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world. At this point, things must have seemed wonderful to John. He has a thriving ministry, thousands of people are being baptized by him, lives are being changed and at one point Jesus calls John the greatest prophet that ever lived. See Matthew 11:11. What could possibly go wrong you might ask?

John manages to offend King Herod and Herod has him thrown into prison (Matthew 14:3). This is where things begin to get tricky for John. We are not told how long John’s ministry lasted, but it clearly did not end the way John had envisioned.  John, now languishing in jail becomes thoroughly depressed and loses his faith. How do I know this? In Matthew 11:2 John is in prison and he hears about the works of Jesus so he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus the following question: “Are You the coming One, or do we look for another?” Say what? This is the same man who just months before tells people the following when he sees Jesus in John 1:29: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This man knew who Jesus was!  How could he possibly have fallen into such despair that he no longer believed?

Jesus Himself tells us the answer. In Matthew 11:5-6 Jesus answers John’s disciples with the following: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Did you catch it? Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me!! There it is. John is offended with Jesus and in that cloud of despair, anger, blame etc. etc. John loses his faith and doesn’t even know who Jesus is anymore. That’s sad, really sad.

So what can we glean from this story and how can it help us? Let me go back to the beginning of this post. Stuff happens in life, bad stuff, stuff we don’t expect, anticipate, dream about or hope for. Ministries are cut short, jobs end, marriage fall apart, people die or get sick, the list is endless of stuff that can and does go wrong. But just like John, when stuff goes wrong, we have a choice. We can choose to look at our circumstances and the shattered dreams and lose faith and become offended with God or we can choose to look at what Jesus has done in the past in our lives, what he is doing in other people’s lives and the promises that He has given to us, and we can choose to trust Him.  I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t take faith  while we are on the mountain, when things are going great. It takes faith when we are in the valley, when things are falling apart and nothing makes sense.

Trusting God is a choice. I have been in that valley far too many times in my life when all I could see was darkness. I had to choose each and every time to lift up my eyes and trust Him. Sometimes in my darkest hours, I would remind myself like Paul in 2 Timothy 1:2 “I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him… I would remind myself that God is good and He is good all the time. Like David I would encourage my soul and choose to trust my Father, my Friend and my Comforter.  If you are reading this and your dreams have been shattered, look up and choose to trust Him. He is a rewarder of those who do.

What is truth?

Jesus uses the word truth several times in the gospels. He tells us that He is the truth (John 14:6), He tells us that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32) and then He tells Pilate while waiting to be crucified the following in John 18:37

“…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Pilate then replies to Jesus in verse 38 “What is truth?” I am certainly no philosopher and I can’t possibly answer that question but I can share with you some things that I have personally learned about truth and how it has set me free.

Perhaps the truth has actually caused more harm than good in your life. Maybe you have found that speaking the truth has caused you to face rejection and loss. So how can it help you? In my own life and just from my own understanding I think that there are two kinds of truth. There is what I will call a general truth, which applies to all mankind and then there is a personal truth, one that is tailored to fit each individual.

The general truth is foundational and very simple. It is the gospel or the good news. God sent His only son Jesus to die for you and me on the cross. If you can accept that he died for your sins, and can receive Him as your Lord and Savior and confess this truth to others then you will be saved from your sins and spend eternity with Him. Although this is very personal I call it a general truth because it applies to all of us. It is His free gift to all mankind.

The personal truth also comes through Jesus Christ, but it is unique for each individual. Often times this kind of truth comes in stages and takes many years. For me it took most of my adult life before I was able to face truth in my life. I had to find inner courage to face some difficult things. For example, I had to face the truth that I had made denial an idol.

There were many painful issues in my life that I didn’t want to face, because facing them would force me to deal with them. It was easier therefore to deny them. So how did denial become an idol for me? I found comfort in it, I found security in it, I found peace with it, I found counsel from it, and I found strength with it. The funny thing with idols is that even though they may make you feel better for a season, they also require a sacrifice. That is the nature of idols. And unbeknownst to me, I was giving that as well. I had sacrificed the truth, my children, my happiness and myself in order to serve this idol. It did not want to let go easily however and I found it incredibly difficult to let go of it. It proved to be a powerful force in my life.

The truth that I had denied was that there were people in my life, people who were family and therefore should have loved and protected me, that did not. I had been neglected both as a child and later in a loveless marriage that I felt trapped in. But by denying the truth of my situation, I was in fact sacrificing both my right to be loved, and my children. That is a tough truth to come to grips with.

The process of finding  truth in my life also required me to come to grips with sin. There were sins  that had become a lifestyle for me and although at first they appeared to be small and insignificant,  they were issues that I needed to deal with so that I could get right with God. I needed to repent for those sins and ask for His help in overcoming them.

As I found courage to face various truths in my life, each one became a stepping stone towards being set free. First I had to accept Him as my Savior. Then I had to go through the inner journey of facing my idols and my sins and making Him Lord of my life. As I faced the painful truth of circumstances beyond my control, I found that each truth brought me closer to freedom. As I let go of my anger and my bitterness, I was able to forgive those who had hurt me. Forgiveness is never about the other person, it is always about setting you free from bitterness and anger which is like a cancer growing inside your soul.

Jesus was the one who gave me the courage and the love to face these painful truths in my life. Without His help I would never have been able to look at them and deal with them. But when I did, the truth did indeed set me free.