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TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. – Romans 12:12 (NLT)

On Monday, I wrote the first of what I envisioned to be a series of six daily entries exploring key concepts embedded in Romans 12:12. My best-laid plan was to write about joy, hope, patience, pain and struggle, faithfulness and prayer – all over the course of a single week.

I posted my first installment of the series late Monday night, then sat down at the microphone in my home studio to produce the accompanying podcast. Satisfied with the end result but exhausted, I crawled into bed and made a mental note to publish the podcast first thing Tuesday morning.

Just after 1 a.m., my cell phone vibrated violently on the nightstand. I reached through the darkness, pressed the phone to my ear, and even in the fog of being roused from a deep sleep, I knew immediately something was terribly wrong.

Death had quite unexpectedly claimed a friend. I sprang from my bed, fumbled to get dressed in the pale glow from the outside security light, and drove through the night, halfway across the state, to the hospital emergency room.

Thus began four days of unspeakable grief on the difficult journey to Friday’s funeral. Sleep was fitful at best; tears were plentiful and persistent; and unanswered questions swirled in my brain. Why does God allow pain and death to claim people who are so faithful in giving sacrificially of themselves to others?

In my grief, my newly-created blog and podcast, then only one week old, quickly faded from my list of priorities. This project barely crossed my mind for four days until I found myself sitting in a church pew alongside other pallbearers as the pastor began delivering the eulogy.

The central theme of the pastor’s sermon was HOPE. In one of the most compelling funeral messages I have ever heard, the minister reminded all of us that our beloved family member and friend was at peace. His physical body had died, but his spirit was in the presence of God. Our loved one’s eternal life was assured because he had professed his faith in Jesus and in the redeeming power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Tears began streaming down my cheeks as I listened to the pastor’s reassurance. He preached that even in the shadow of death, the light of hope remains – hope in an eternity without pain and worry for all who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I didn’t count how many times the pastor uttered the word HOPE, but over and over again, the refrain was repeated in his comforting admonition to those of us left behind.

I found myself amazed as, for the first time in many hours, I suddenly thought of this blog and my overdue plans to dig deeper into Romans 12:12. My next entry on Tuesday was to have been on the subject of “hope,” but of course, those plans had fallen away. Here, in a moment that felt as if God was speaking through the pastor directly to my heart, the eulogy for a lost friend was teaching me about the enduring hope available through Jesus Christ, even in times of tragedy and loss.

God’s timing is always perfect, even if our finite human minds cannot comprehend why good people experience pain and death. At that moment, in that place, I and all others attending the funeral needed to be reminded of the unwavering love and hope offered by our Heavenly Father.

That eulogy gave me a fresh perspective as now I ease back into my blogging and podcasting. Instead of writing about some abstract concept and quoting a few supporting Bible verses on the topic, I sat down today and began tapping on my keyboard with a very personal renewed appreciation for hope.

As inherently sinful creatures living in a broken world, we human beings are going to make mistakes, and far too often we will be arrogant and disobedient to God. In our pain and struggle, we will make choices that hurt others and at times, damage ourselves. The unvarnished truth for all of us is that our time here on earth someday will draw to a close.

Still, in the inevitability of human pain and death, it is comforting to know that one solid-as-a-rock reality remains. As the cherished old 19th century hymn proclaims, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” (Edward Mote, 1834)

With God firmly at the center of our lives, even the worst pain, struggle and death are no match for hope through Jesus Christ.