- See how many ice cubes you can fit in your mouth at one time.
- Touch the electric fence to see if it is on.
- Speak like Elmer Fudd for the next hour
- Peel a banana without using your hands.
- Wear your pants backwards all day.
Some dares are dopy, but I have a dare that has the power to change your life: When your world is dark/confusing/overwhelming: DARE TO HOPE.
- When the world says give up, faith says Dare to Hope.
- When your heart says it will never get better, faith says Dare to Hope.
- When depression, frustration, disappointment consume you, faith says Dare to Hope.
“One man waiting in line at Walmart told me he lost everything – almost. He wants to rebuild, but it can’t be the same place because he was a caretaker and the house wasn’t his. He said he fixed it up and made a thousand improvements, but now it’s all gone. Totally gone. He kept pointing in the direction of where it had stood calling it “my place” and he acted like he wanted me to go see it. But that wasn’t possible…. But the amazing thing was that this man standing behind his Walmart shopping cart in a light blue windbreaker, this man who had just lost EVERYTHING. This man had a gleam in his eye. He had a story of victory. He had a story of reunion. And he wanted – he NEEDED – to tell me. In the aftermath of the storm he had no choice but to turn his two beloved bulldogs loose. He loved his dogs. But he had no way to care for them. Days, or maybe a week later he went back for his dogs. Day one: nothing. Day two: no sign of the dogs. Nine days straight he wandered the vicinity of his former home calling for his dogs. Day ten, he said he determined it would be the last day. It was pointless. He called for his dogs by name. Then he saw off in the distance, one of the dogs had heard his voice and came running. Both dogs were not only alive, but they’d been living like kings feasting on the food from refrigerators and freezers. He was thrilled to be reunited with his dogs – something real, something alive, something from his past. ///
Dare to HOPE!
Steve Frieswick was not able to be here, so I’m taking this opportunity to share a message from the book of Lamentations which has been on my mind for 25 years. One of my minor odd ball goals in life (which I’ll never complete) is to preach at least one sermon from each of the 66 books of the Bible. This is Lamentations… they think Jeremiah is the author, which is why it comes after Jeremiah. This fits into Chronicles because Jeremiah speaks more or less in the same time frame… Lamentations is several similar poems that form one long poem describing the mood of the people as they return to their beloved Jerusalem to find destruction, similar to Hurricane Katrina… They had been in exile for 70 years and now that they are back they are faced with a daunting reality of loss. Lam. 1:1 begins: READ. Verse after verse of desolation, destruction, weeping READ Lam. 1:16. Chapter 2 continues the lament, the cry of anguish: READ Lam. 2:9. On and on it goes….
In the middle ages, a wonderfully descriptive phrase was coined which captures the overwhelming sense of loss that visits our world too much, a phrase that captures the spiritual deprivation that consumes the downhearted, the disappointed, those periods of time when God seems so far away, when our belief in God is tested by the storms that never seem to end. It’s a captivating phrase: “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
To piggy back on Chad’s message last week, blind spots that shape the way we think and act, I think in America we are especially hit by the Dark Night of the Soul because in our culture we tend to think something is wrong with us if we have pain and suffering, if something bad happens to us. We are conditioned to think problems are resolved in half an hour because that is what happens on tv and books.
The Dark night of the Soul. What a great phrase, for those who are conflicted, disappointed with God, feeling he loves others but not me, he can do miracles but chooses to ignore me… The Dark Night of the Soul. Weigh the words of Lamentations on a scale and most words are doom and gloom. But not all. Like that man who stood in the middle of Walmart at Bay St. Louis, telling me about the rubble of his house that wasn’t even his, in a city that utterly flattened, I can still see his face, a portly man with a round face, a hat, a beard but no mustache…a leprechaun of a man, complete with a gleam in his eye, a HOPE.
Most of lamentations is about devastion, disappointment…but there are glimmers of hope. You want to know how big your God is… He can take you complaints. He can let the final word of the day be a question. Even at the end of the book of Lamentations, there is a back and forth of hope and despair, like the person who thinks they have the winning hand but have to wait for the game to play out, but not sure if somebody else will get to the finish line first….You want to hope, but are unsure.
The only thing worse than losing once, is to pick yourself up, trust God with your heart once again, only to be dashed a second time. This is why the depth of love in a relationship comes after problems, because to give your heart a second time, no longer out of innocence but out of disappointment, to become vulnerable a second time… at the end of Lamentations Jeremiah speaks of the confliction of wanting to hope but not wanting to become vulnerable only to be disappointed again. READ Lam. 5:13-22.
The Dark night of the Soul is to be conflicted, wanting to believe but not wanting to be hurt again. I got news for you: Deep questions are normal. When you experience internal spiritual turmoil, doubts, you may feel alone, but you are not. Deep questioning is normal. Spiritual questions may be the deepest pain you’ll ever sense: where is God? Why this or that? What is wrong with me that God would allow such confusion?
The Dark night of the soul is an opportunity to grow in your faith. Most of Lamentations is conflicted questions. I’ve chosen not to read the most disturbing parts. But there is a glimmer of hope, like a gem that is unearthed out of the rubble.
One morning we were walking along Bay St. Louis near the beach with bits and pieces of belongings everywhere. Something caught my eye. I was standing on a beach that during the height of the storm was 20-30 feet under water. I noticed, mostly buried, a book. I unearthed it. It was once in somebodies home on a shelf, which made it holy. It was a book by Erma Bombeck: Aunt Erma’s Cope Book: How to get from Monday to Friday….in 12 days.” Perfect title. The Cope Book. How to Cope.
Wouldn’t that make a great sub-title for the Bible! The Cope Book. How to make it through the day. Isn’t that one reason we need Christ: to cope. To make it through even if it is by the skin of our teeth. READ Lam. 5:21-22.
In the middle of this Lamentation is a gem. It’s easy to miss. It’s hidden in the middle of the the aftermath of the storm. Scan the horizon. There is a lot of rubble: READ Lam. 3:19. I like the way the NLT says it, “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.” Extended unsettledness is exhausting. Homelessness, for some it is a literal reality, for all of us it is a great description for the times you feel like you just don’t fit it anywhere. “My soul is downcast” it says in Lam. 3:20. What joy when you spot the gem, in the middle of the rubble, READ Lam. 3:21. I love the way the NLT says it, “Yet I still dare to hope, when I remember this:” DARE TO HOPE.
It takes courage to hope. In the middle of a world of stress and despair, Dare to Hope. The natural thing is to give up hope. That’s Satan speaking. Your mind tells you: Don’t risk your heart again. Don’t become vulnerable. Don’t have any expectations and you’ll never be disappointed. Something kept telling that man in Walmart to go day after day after day to call for his dogs: DARE TO HOPE. Most of lamentations spells out the disappointment, yet there is a treasure in the middle of the rubble.
Jesus is the treasure this world must find. Dare to Hope! Lam. 3:21 is the prelude to the next verses. You can DARE to Hope you bring to mind the Lord: his character, his ways.
God can use the dark night of the soul to draw you closer to him. One person says it this way: “The purpose of the dark night…is to strip us of our futile attempts to find God on our own terms and awaken us to a much simpler desire for intimacy with God” (Chuck DeGroat). Get rid of the lot of baggage that complicates our lives.
How do you Cope? How do you Dare to Hope? Remember God, his character, don’t overthink the world, but be awakened to a simpler desire for intimacy with God. These verses in the middle of the lament are a precious gem.
FACT #1 about God: READ Lam. 3:22a. No matter the world around, God loves you more than life… The quote in the bulletin: “God does not love us because we are valuable, we are valuable because God loves us” (Fulton Sheen).
FACT #2 about God, Lam. 3:22b, “His compassions never fail.” Many translations: “his mercies.” Be like a pitbull when it comes to remembering God’s mercies. He never gives up on you. If that isn’t freedom I don’t know what is… If we could see with absolute clarity the ways of God, Daring to Hope is no risk because God never fails… our short sightedness may depress us, we may wonder how he will overcome the mess of the storm, but he is unfailing. It’s a fact that is greater than our feelings.
FACT #3 about God: Lam. 3:23a. “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.” I love this. The word of God is practical. You wonder how you are going to make it through the day: the rising of the sun brings light to our souls. Using a similar image, Rom. 13:12 says, “The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here” (NLT). When the day wears on, making you weary, remember, the sun will shine again tomorrow. I tend to worry at night, overwhelm myself with how I’m going to fit everything in the day, then morning comes and somehow I see with fresh eyes. God’s mercies are refreshing each day.
The 2nd half of Lam. 3:23 is a summary, recognizing the amazing character of God: GREAT IS YOUR FAITHFULNESS.”
In the middle of an overwhelming world, what joy to discover the life giving, life affirming faithfulness of God. Perhaps it is something as simple as the sound of a bird singing in the morning. Perhaps a kind word. Perhaps an open door. God is faithful. Any thoughts less than God’s faithfulness is a lie of Satan. The temptation is to give up, to accept despair and brokenness. Dare to Hope, keep returning to call the dogs, there is a treasure in the rubble.
God loves you so much he sent his son to die on the cross to forgive your sins.
God never gives up on you.
God renews his mercies every day.
Dare to Hope: May the Dark night of the Soul be replaced by the Light of Jesus Christ. He is faithful. Amen.