It’s been a roller coaster of occasions over the last several weeks.

There have been so many things to celebrate.

I’ve had two kids finish degrees and I’ve passed another birthday. We’ve celebrated the baptisms and the growth of our faith family. There have been great blessings and sweet victories. I’ve seen relationships restored and new ministry projects succeed. I celebrated the passing of another year of life and yesterday marked twenty-six years of marriage with my favorite human.

What an array of occasions I’ve had the privilege to celebrate with people I love.

But…

I’ve sat with friends as they wrestled with the changes of parenthood and prayed with others for answers that have yet to come. I have prayed against the dreaded cancer and cried with the unwilling divorcée and struggled to make sense of the mind losing its grip.

I left a great ministry activity to drive a couple of hours to be with family in the turmoil, fear, and agony of a precious child that died before it had even taken a breath. I tried to speak words of comfort and hope amidst the indescribable sorrow of such a loss.

The celebrations and the sorrows seem unevenly commingled like a salad with way too much of that one vegetable you simply cannot stand to eat. The celebrations, rich with joy, are yet tainted by the inescapable brokenness of life. The sorrows, with all of their gut-churning sting, are still somehow endured by clinging to the promise that this brokenness is truly temporary.

It’s not supposed to be this way… but it’s broken.

It was all created and made very good… but it’s broken.

There shouldn’t be litter in the beauty of the Grand Canyon… but it’s broken.

We shouldn’t need nursing homes and hospitals… but this world is broken.

There shouldn’t be commercial demands that squelch the creation of art and we shouldn’t have to choose the lesser of evils… but it’s broken.

Love shouldn’t be so painful and marriage shouldn’t be so hard… but it’s broken.

Laughter ought not be tainted with tears and offenses should not wreck families… but the whole thing is broken.

We shouldn’t have to bury family pets or be laid off from long-held jobs… but it’s all just broken.

Babies shouldn’t die and young men shouldn’t get cancer… but it’s all broken.

This world is not what it was made to be.

But it’s also not what it one day will be.

But, in big and small ways, in beauties amid the tragedies, in pleasures among the pains, in the joys mixed in with the burdens, in the hope stirred through the despair, in the celebrations alongside the sorrows… there is an innate sense among us that there must be something more.

The beauty is so rich that we know there must be more.

But the brokenness is so profound that there simply has to be so much more.

He told us there is something far greater yet to come:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21.4)

A number of years ago a young songwriter expressed this idea beautifully in his song, “Beautiful, Broken World.” I encourage you to give it a listen and that you join me in looking for the beauty amid the mess, the joy amid the pain, the celebrations amid the sorrows.

I’ve been praying for little girls for about 25 years.

You may know that I only had one daughter born to me, my One and Only SweetPea. But even before I had her, I was praying for little girls.

Four years ago today, the fulfillment of many of those prayers came to pass as my oldest son took vows to love and protect and provide for one of those little girls for whom I had been praying day after day for his entire life. You see, when you love your kids, you pray for the most important and powerful provisions for their lives.

As I look back on that day four years ago and wish Mickey and Jessica a happy anniversary, I remember a day just a few months later when we met another one of those little girls for whom we had been praying for so many years. We knew who she was when we met her and I believe it is because of the uncountable hours we had spent praying for who she would be and how she would grow and how passionately she would love Jesus.

Mickey and Jessica on their wedding day!

One month from yesterday, my Lion Heart will take a similar vow to pour out his life in sacrificial love for his precious Kathleen. Tori and I will sit on the front row and see that beautiful girl walk the aisle and make that boy with the biggest smile and over-the-top hugs absolutely melt with her very appearance at his side.

These precious little girls, all grown up into beautiful, godly young ladies, have added such depth and love to our family that overflows with rowdy, messy, boisterous love. They just seem to belong. Perhaps it’s because of the ways we have prayed for them over and over and over again for all of these many years.

Of course, you may be wondering if we were really doing all that praying for someone we did not even know. I was out for a walk a few days ago, thinking, praying, reflecting, when the soundtrack in my brain pulled up a song I had not heard in many years. It sounds just as cheesy and 80s-ish as you might imagine, but I remembered the many moments over the years that I have watched these growing boys and wondered where that little girl for them might be.

I encourage you to give it a listen.

Those words so often worn out in Proverbs 31 ring out:

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

To my two oldest sons I must simply say, well done. You’ve found her – now love her well.

To my two newest daughters, know that I have loved and prayed for you far longer than you have known my son and I am so immensely grateful for you.

To the rest of my sons, run to Jesus… that’s where you’ll find her.

Today we come to the end of what has been a very encouraging and inspiring journey through the book of 1 Thessalonians. I hope it has been a blessing to you.

The underscore of this letter is, quite simply, hope. I have called this series, “A Real Life Faith,” because I believe that faith is about embracing hope. When we are reminded of our great and glorious hope in Jesus’ promised return, our faith surges, our endurance strengthens, and our determination to see through the temporary trials and rest in the promised deliverance is built up.

You see, Paul makes very clear that, at the end of our days upon this earth as it now stands, God will finish the transforming work he began when first we believed. In chapter 5, he repeats a phrase used earlier in the letter:

“…And may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5.23.b).

What a glorious thought, isn’t it?

When that day comes that Jesus returns and calls us up and out of this sin-cursed world, the transforming of out lives that started when we put our trust in him will be fully and finally completed. And, as Paul taught us in chapter 4, “and so we will always be with the Lord.” I don’t think we can quite grasp the significance of that statement. We will be with him… never separated again, never to ache for his presence because we are in it.

My brothers and sisters, in this is hope.

Whatever life throws at us, it is only temporary. The eternal is sure. This is a real life faith.

And a real life faith is hope for the future.

Father, thank you for your promises that provide a hope beyond our ability to fully grasp. May that hope stir and strengthen and motivate our faith until that day comes.