The Sweetest Frame…

I have several friends who are really great at photography– some have made it their profession. One of the hallmarks of a great photograph is “framing.” I’m not talking about choosing a frame for a printed photograph, but choosing natural elements that draw the eye to a focal point. It include perspective, focus, lighting, and even composition– which elements make it into the picture, and which ones are excluded. After all, photos, by their very nature, only show part of the whole reality. Even a panoramic picture cannot show everything at once, and the photographer chooses where s/he wants to place the focus and framing.

Photo by S Migaj on Pexels.com

We have a tendency to “frame” our lives in a similar way. We focus on only part of the whole reality of life. We choose to “frame” our present situations, our past memories, and our future hopes– even when they are out of focus! We can do this in both positive and negative ways. At one point in my life, I felt I had found “the perfect job” as a youth services librarian at a local public library. It was pleasant work that made use of my skills, talents, and interests. It included a mixture of social interaction and self-directed projects. I loved the job, my co-workers, our patrons, the work environment–it was a pleasure and an honor to work there.

Library Story Time

But I was viewing my job (and myself in that job) through a frame. There was more happening in the wider picture of my life and development. After more than a dozen years there, things had changed. I still loved the work, and while some co-workers retired or moved, and the staff changed a bit, the work environment was still mostly peaceful and friendly. I still found the job challenging and rewarding, and I had gotten to know people in the community over the years who truly felt like family. But, as my role changed, so did some of the relationships. As new leadership came, so did new directions and new priorities. And I had become “comfortable”– and somewhat complacent as well.

In time, it became clear that my “perfect” job was not only not perfect, but becoming a source of frustration, stress, and unhappiness. And there were other things happening that demanded my focus. I was preparing to become a wife, and move to a new community. My mother’s health was deteriorating, demanding more of my time and energy (though my Mom remains feisty and independent in most matters!). My future husband wanted to open a shop– someone would have to work there, and we couldn’t afford to hire anyone, even part-time. That meant working a second job at the shop while trying to maintain my efforts at the library.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As the “frame” of my life shifted, I felt confused, even angry, with God. Why would He allow something so good to turn sour? Why did I feel like I was losing myself? Didn’t He want me to be happy and fulfilled? Didn’t He want me to use my talents to help others?

Now, after a few years’ perspective, I can see some of the “rest” of the picture. I had begun to see myself through the lens of my job, and I was depending on that vision, rather than focusing on what God was doing in, around, and through my life. There was nothing “wrong” with my job, per se, but God needed me to be willing to let go and move in new directions.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I write all this, knowing that there are people going through much more traumatic “shifts” in their lives– the loss of a job, and a change of career is a disappointment, but it is not the same as the loss of a spouse or child; or the sudden loss of a home to fire; or an unexpected diagnosis of cancer or other health issue. But the principle is not so different. God’s ways are eternal. Sometimes, we see the trauma in front of us, or surrounding us, and it becomes a frame for all of our thinking and emotions. But the “picture” is much bigger than just our immediate situation. God calls us to trust Him in all circumstances, knowing that His love for us is not just for this life, but for all eternity. Whatever we (or our loved ones) go through here is but a snapshot– one of millions that God will put together in a Glorious and Perfect collage.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Moreover, God gives us the privilege of listening to us when we call out to Him. We need not be afraid to ask, “Why this?” or “Why now?” or even “Why me?” But when we ask, we need to be willing to shift our focus, and remember where our Hope is Built– On Christ the Solid Rock. Even the sweetest “frame”– our career, our relationships, our identity, our happiness in this life– cannot compare with His faithfulness and eternal Sovereignty.

These Three Remain.. Hope

I have to start this by saying I don’t feel particularly hopeful right now as I look around and hear all that is happening. There are a lot of reasons to be discouraged, even depressed. Riots, plague, disasters, anger, death, and evil surround us at nearly every turn. I can say that my Faith sustains me, and it does, but I still feel beaten down and exhausted by all the chaos and hurt and anger and misunderstanding.

Photo by Ken Ozuna on Pexels.com

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul talks about things that are temporary– possessions, knowledge, gifts, prophecies– and three things that remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. Last time, I wrote about Faith. But Hope is a more difficult and more nebulous concept. The writer of Hebrews defines Faith for us– “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But there is no substance or evidence for Hope. Hope is not an anchor; it is not a realization. It is a wish, a dream; at best, it is an expectation. Yet Paul says it “remains,” even when other things pass away.

Photo by 3Motional Studio on Pexels.com

How is this possible– that a Christian should Hope after all else has been lost, abandoned, or destroyed? Isn’t Faith more solid, more important, than Hope? Aren’t knowledge, obedience, and perseverance more important and more tangible? Isn’t hope wispy, fleeting, and conditional? Lately, it sure seems so. I say that I hope we all get through these tough times; that we will come through all this stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more just, more prepared, etc., but what am I really hanging on to? Where is my Hope?

My Hope DOES have substance and a sure foundation–in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I may have wispy dreams and half-formed wishes of what I would like to see in my life or in the world around me tomorrow, or next year. I may have dreams and visions of what Peace and Justice and Health look like– and I may never see them materialize in my lifetime. I may have to adjust my vision within the temporary world of possessions, and gifts, prophecies and human systems of government and society. But I can remember the life of Christ; in spite of His circumstances, He remained true to His purpose. In His death, He remained compassionate, humble, and loving toward those who hated Him. In His resurrection, He brought eternal Hope to all who choose to trust Him. I can Hope because He brought Hope. I can be inspired by the dreams and hopes of other Christians throughout the years, even if their dreams have not been realized. I can be inspired by the prophecies of others, even if they don’t match my visions. And I CAN see beyond the darkness of the moment (or the year) to see that people (even I) can change; situations can change; circumstances can change; rhetoric and tone can change for the better. Painful valleys and unexpected upheaval may not be what I would want, but sometimes, it serves to clear out the “sinking sand” where dream houses would otherwise be built.

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

And Hope is necessary to Prayer– Faith tells us that God hears, even when we can’t see Him or hear His answer. Hope tells us that God cares. He is not aloof in hearing our prayers. He doesn’t answer us out of some worn sense of duty or obligation. He doesn’t just give us His law or even His forgiveness– He gives us restoration and Hope and abundant life! Hope for change in our own lives; hope for progress and healing in our world; hope for victory over sin and evil. Most of all, hope for eternity. God is just and merciful, but He is also gracious and loving beyond all measure. I can cry out when all other hope is gone– His Hope Remains! His Hope is a Solid Rock. His Hope comes with an eternal guarantee.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Sinking Sand

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27 ESV via biblegateway.com

I’ve been thinking on old hymns lately, and one that has gotten stuck in my head is the one often called “The Solid Rock”, or “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” While slight variations of the lyrics exist, the words follow here:

1My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
 On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
  All other ground is sinking sand.
2When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
3His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
4When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
In Him, my righteousness, alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

For more on the history behind this hymn, see this link:https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-my-hope-is-built

While the song speaks of anchors, frames, and trumpet sounds, its inspiration comes from Jesus’ parable of the houses built on rock and sand, found in Matthew 7. We understand the wisdom of building our house upon the rock, on a solid foundation; we may even agree that Christ is the only solid foundation, and our only hope of salvation. We confess that Jesus is Lord; we say all the right things, and do many good works, believing that we are building on the rock.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But there are days when I build a temporary summer house on the beach–days when I plant my bare feet in the sandy shoreline, while the gentle waves tickle my toes and slowly cover my feet with glinting sand. My “main” house is safely sitting on the rock, but I am living at the beach. If the storm comes, I might run back inside, but I am lulled into thinking that the storm will never come, and I will only need the shelter and the solid ground in times of distress and obvious danger.

Slowly, the tide and sinking sand can pull me in– I slide into the sinking sand, until the water covers my ankles, and knees. I am still standing, but I am farther from the solid ground, and more vulnerable to the next big wave. It doesn’t take a storm to make me fall over and start thrashing in the surf. I don’t have to rush toward danger, or ignore clear warning signs. I just have to stand in the sinking sand, idly enjoying the scenery, and trusting in my own ability to run to safety at the last minute.

Photo by Clement Eastwood on Pexels.com

“All other ground is sinking sand.” There is nothing wrong with enjoying some time at the beach (although I wouldn’t recommend the beaches in my area in November, when the waves are treacherous and the wind slices through several layers of clothing!). There is nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings God has given us in this life. But we cannot plant ourselves in comfort and complacency and hope to build a solid foundation. I cannot trust in my circumstances when they are pleasant and only look to God when I am half-drowned and far from shore. Not because He can’t or won’t rescue me– He is still my hope and my firm foundation– but because I will forget how to stand and where to turn to regain solid footing. My house will be on solid ground, but empty and useless to me on the shifting, sinking sand where I am actually spending my life.

But when I live on solid ground, the storms of life cannot pull me away from safety. “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.”

Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Recently, this old hymn has been updated and revised. The message still remains– My Hope is Built on Nothing Less: Christ alone is my Cornerstone and sure foundation. I dare not trust in my circumstances, my own wisdom or feelings, my family, my finances, my health, or any dreams or hopes apart from Christ. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy any of these things. I do, and I thank God for all He has given me. But I pray that I never drift away from the solid and eternal foundation that only He can bring and be in my life.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑