Good morning everyone! I’m going to begin our time by reading just 5 words from a Bible verse. In Philippians 1:12, Paul is writing about something bad that happened to him, and he says, “What has happened to me...”
Before we see exactly how Paul continues, what about us? Has anyone here ever had something bad happen in your life? If you’ve been living on planet earth in 2020, then the answer is yes. We’ve all had the bad experience of a pandemic happening to us.
How do we respond to that? What do we say? We might say things like "What has happened to me/us…
- has messed up our plans"
- has messed up our finances"
- has stressed our relationships"
- has messed up our work"
- has messed up our entertainment"
- has messed up our sense of control"
My 5-year-old Stella has a way with words, and she says pretty much everything emphatically. She perhaps picks up on things she hears from her parents, but several times in recent months she has announced, “too many things are closed because of co-ro-na-vi-rus!” We may or may not say it quite like Stella, but I think a lot of us can relate.
In so many words, what has happened to us… stinks. We don’t like it. It’s messed things up.
Let’s go back to Paul in Philippians 1:12. When he writes "what has happened to me…,” we should bear in mind that what had happened to him was being thrown into prison with complete uncertainty about when – or even if – he would ever get out. Here’s what Paul says about the consequences of the bad thing that happened as we look beyond those 5 words “what has happened to me...”
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
In Christ, Paul shows, there is more perspective. What has happened to us is surely hard – we don’t need to pretend hard things aren’t hard. But in Christ hard things that happen to us can actually serve to advance the gospel, advance God’s hope!
As early as Joseph’s story in Genesis, the story of God’s people has been that what some intend for harm, God redeems and uses for good. Surely crucifying Jesus was meant for harm, yet God used it for good. Ever since, the story of Christ-followers is a story of living in a world where much harm occurs yet what happens to us actually serves to advance God’s hope.
“What has happened to me/us has actually served to advance the gospel”: very inspirational words! What I find thrilling, though, isn’t just these words on a page, great as they are; what’s thrilling is this reality lived out as a full organization on mission. These are not empty words for IoH; these are the shape of our whole organization.
IoH was founded by a family that was dealing with a young mom’s terminal illness and their conviction that hope for that situation should be shared with other families – what happened to them… actually served to advance God’s hope.
IoH’s mission has always been hope for families that have had their world rocked by illness – what happens to them, to us, terrible as it is, in a way only God can do, actually serves to advance God’s hope.
Just this week, even before the eRetreat officially starts, this hope has advanced in the form of friendly faces on Zoom calls, texting and social media that is genuine and loving, gifts mailed and notes shared, even playing online video games together as new relationships are formed! All of these are ways that what has happened to us actually serves to advance God’s hope! What Paul says in Christ, we are living!
Just to make sure no one thinks I’m puffing us up, just beating our own drum, here it is in the words of families served at our previous eRetreat, in April. Keep in mind these are words from families facing terminal illness AND pandemic.
- "I am so grateful that we were welcomed with open arms and we all felt deeply cared for throughout our experience. I believe that the Inheritance of Hope organization is one of the true gems out there that truly cares for people."
- "I just want to thank them from my heart. It's the best and most helpful organization I have come across."
- "Their mission statement is exactly what families in our situation need, and for many of us, something we may not have even known that we needed."
What has happened to us… has actually served to advance God’s hope.
Thrilling! What I find more than thrilling, and honestly, a little scary, because it’s so dynamic, is that stories like this aren’t just happening at IoH – they are happening more than ever before!
By July this year we had delivered more family services than in any previous full year. By July! In the year of the pandemic, more families than ever before are having experiences like those I just quoted. What has happened to us… has actually served to advance God’s hope.
And we are not done y’all – not by a long shot! Deric has dreamed for years of an IoH family reunion, and this year it’s happening, and already 155 families are registered. That’s not a verbal typo – 155 families are already registered. We are gonna have some fun in November!
We are gonna have fun today too! Thanks to everyone on this team, and many more, responding to deeply challenging circumstances with even deeper conviction that God is working for good, what has happened to us... has actually served to advance God’s hope.
I am so thankful for how each of you is part of this story, and I encourage you to not just be part of it yourself but invite others to be part of it more and more. If you have a friend or family member who you think would enjoy seeing some of this hope-inspiring experience, all you have to do is share the Zoom link to our Closing Service – anyone can be invited, all are welcome!
To wrap up: Our world has a lot of harm; it needs to see a lot of God creating good. Too many families are harmed by terminal illness; they need to see God creating good. May we keep living into God’s story, of bringing good from harm, so more and more and more can join us in saying – What has happened to us... has actually served to advance God’s hope.
Let’s pray: Lord, we marvel at how you bring good, even when there is much harm. We are so grateful and so humbled to be part of the hope you inspire. Thank you for all you have in store for these precious families this weekend. May your love shine brightly as we welcome them into the IoH Family. Amen!
Aaron is Inheritance of Hope's COO. A version of this devotional was first shared with the August 2020 eLegacy Retreat team. See more about eRetreats >>