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Hope in a Not-So-Easy World - By Pastor Thomas Engel

In sales, when it is difficult to persuade someone to buy something, they call it a “tough sell.”

An example can be when a cable company is trying to convince you about the benefits of all the fees that it is charging you.

A cute commercial has a couple who get their cable bill, and with its long list of fees, they think it is a ransom note.

Do you think telling others about Christianity is a “tough sell?”

If we think about the “job” description of a Christian, we see that it is far from “cushy” work.

As a person joins a church, and with things to be done, he will find that we are always short-handed, for Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

And when we plan events, all that we get a lot of times are small numbers. Jesus addressed the low turn-outs when he said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.”

Of course, I like that Jesus is with us, even in a small group. But, I wish he was speaking figuratively here when talking about when only two or three people show up, for so many times, the number of people who turn out to church events is literally two or three people.

When a person becomes a Christian, they should expect some conflict. He might lose connections with other people because of his new beliefs-a loss might even be a separation from a family member.

A young Muslim woman became a Christian. After her baptism, the pastor asked if she was going to tell her family. She said, “Yes, and I am expecting a tense time.”

The way a Christian thinks of joy is so different from how the world thinks of it.

After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples were suffering persecution from spreading the Gospel, but they counted this suffering as joy. They figured that they were doing good work because they were suffering as Christ had suffered.

To sum up the Christian life, we have a lot of work with few hands to do it with, we do not often see any big numbers responding to what we are doing, we will have more conflict than peace, and others might react with hostility towards us.

So, who will sign on the dotted line to become a Christian?

Going about living as a Christian is an “odd” way of life. I’m using “odd” here as a different from the “ordinary.” And with “ordinary,” I am talking about the usual ways of the world.

The world does everything to make life easier. I do have to say I love my laptop, and I do not know how Charles Dickens wrote his beautiful long novels by hand.

Looking at our many problems, the world does everything that it can to solve issues. Our ability for critical thinking is the most needed skill, for we always need to be asking what is working and what is not.

The world thinks that the human spirit has no limits. If a person is given a chance to do well, that person will do well. A growth mindset that overcomes obstacles can take a person a long way.

At first glance, these positives all sound good. If we are thinking from a completely human point of view, an easier life, solving problems, and the power of the human spirit, this all seems like the way to go.

But if we think deeper into these subjects, we see that we have to get “real.”

We know that just from our own lives that life never gets easier, not all problems get solved, and people can really do “bad” things.

Scripture has something to say about each of these subjects.

For an easier life, Jesus says, “In the world, you will have tribulation.” Life is one problem after another-isn’t it?

About solving problems, “Trust in the Lord... and lean not on your own understanding.” Well, problems may get solved, but solutions will not come always from what we know and do. At times, circumstances just have a way of working out, and for some problems, we just have to learn to live with them.

And about the human spirit, “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” For me, I will say that I have done things that cause my head to hang in shame, and if I do not admit I have done wrong, I am only fooling myself.

Sunday after Sunday, we are in church with confession, forgiveness, and grace and power to start over again.

Day after day, we go into the world where we are “odd” and do not “fit” in.

The world does not “get” us, but we do not “get” the world, either.

Jesus says that the wheat-people of faith- and the weeds-those who want to do evil-are so close together that there is no way to separate them.

Those who are against us are all around us and are here to stay as long as this world keeps going.

After centuries of existence, can we have expectations that this world will ever be an ideal place?

Although we do try to make it better-after all-Christians are God’s workmanship and are made to do good works.

I get upset by two kinds of people-those who predict the future with a total gloom and doom attitude and those who say everything is coming up roses.

Both have visions about the world, but no one can say anything specifically about the future. As a matter of fact, we are not able to control much of anything in the world or our lives, except maybe when I look in my refrigerator and choose to drink a glass of O.J. or apple juice.

After all of Job’s troubles, he has questions for God about his difficulties. God comes back with His answers in the form of questions that spoke to the heart of who is in control-Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?”

By His questions, God is making the argument that He is the creator of all things, and He did not need any human to help Him to make everything.

But God is not a controller like a tyrant or an authoritarian. God did make all things and gives order to all things, but He wants us also to understand how much He loves His creation-so much that He sent His Son to save the world.

In the movie, Rudy, a true story of a young man trying to go to Notre Dame to play football. Rudy meets a priest on his arrival in South Bend. This priest, Father Cavanaugh, says to Rudy, who at the time is feeling frustrated about his slow progress towards his goals, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I've come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I'm not Him.”

I like the phrase, “I got this.” It gives me so much of an air of confidence, but it is about this time that I have to get back to reality.

If we get down to mere humanness, we see only futility. This place is actually a good place to be, for we can turn to God the Father who has everything under His feet.

In the ups and downs of life, we can trust that our Lord is an all-powerful and loving God. And when it comes to looking at this chaotic world and are often unsettled lives, we can have a hope that all is going well.

When we live by faith, we can be assured that we are well right now in our present circumstances.

St Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

With no doubt, we have our trials that cause us pain, sorrow, and heartache, but we have hope that it will not be like this forever.

This hope is a certain hope because God promises that salvation is ours. We will be going to heaven one day and have all of its glories forever-no more tears-no more pain-only complete peace and joy.

Now, going back to our present circumstances, we do have hope in every moment that all is well, for we have a God who keeps his promises.

We know all things work for the good-a good work has begun in us, and it will be completed-God will not leave us or forsake us-we are mounted on wings like eagles-God’s mercies are new every morning.

Scripture at every turn encourages us that we are well and will always be well.

This verse from Isaiah sums up what we have as Christians, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.”

We do not know what is going to happen next in the world or in our lives, but by faith, we know that God knows, and we put our trust in Him.

In trusting our God, we have a sure hope that all will work out all the way to our salvation.

The main symbol of the Christian faith is the cross-an instrument of death used for the punishment of the worst of all criminals.

Why we use such a symbol of a cross as a way to identify us has some good reason that goes deep into what we believe.

As Christians, if we are to share in the glory of Christ-his resurrection and victory over sin, death, and Satan, we are also to share in his suffering that he endured for us on the cross.

The world is no rose garden, it is complicated, and it never gets easy.

As hard as it is at times, Jesus tells us not to worry, for he also tells us that he has overcome the world.

So, we go and live in this world, and we know that it is not-so-easy. But, we have a hope that looks through any present trouble into all of eternity.

This certainty of all things going so well for us is the kind of hope that only Christians can have.

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