Grieving, With Hope


charleston_service0741434744851One of the things that sets Christians apart from people of other religions or of no religion is the hope we have of life after this life. Because of God’s grace extended through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, those who believe in Him have life. Though we die, yet shall we live.

Of course there are people who believe in an afterlife besides Christians. Some think we will be reincarnated, but they don’t know for sure in what form they will be re-born, and of course they have no assurance that they’ll remember anything of their past life. So, in essence, they will be lost, swallowed up by a new life, one that may be better or may be worse. They simply do not know.

Religious Jews and Muslims both believe that there is life after this life, but they can’t be sure how they’ll be received. Both believe their rewards and punishments depend on what they did or did not do in this life. They have no assurance that the good they did outweighs the bad.

Only Christians can answer with any assurance about our destination when we leave this life. To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Elsewhere Paul calls death “gain” because it means departing and being with Christ (see Phil. 1:21-23).

Furthermore Psalm 116 tells us

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones. (v 15)

I immediately think of the Good Shepherd off hunting for the lost sheep, or the father watching for his prodigal son to return, then running to him, embracing him, and preparing a feast for him.

Death for the Christian is bitter-sweet. It means leaving what we know, saying goodbye, however temporarily, to those we love, but beginning an adventure with God—in His presence, with the veil pulled back so that we will know even as He now knows us.

It’s a sadness and a celebration.

Consequently, I honestly don’t know how to react to the shooting deaths of those believers gathered together for a weekday prayer service. Maybe because Elisabeth Elliot so recently died, I can’t help but compare the nine Christian martyrs in South Carolina to the five men who died all those years ago in Ecuador at the hand of men who feared and hated.

The deaths seem so senseless, the violence so heinous, the grief so palpable. These were loved mothers and fathers serving God, as those missionaries were husbands and fathers serving God. The only difference I see is that one group chose to go to another part of the world and the other group chose to stay as witnesses to their own community.

The loved ones of both groups grieve. Children did or will grow up without a parent. They lost much, and yet because they have the hope of heaven and the love of Christ, like Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the Ecuadorian tribe and told them about Jesus, family members of the nine South Carolina martyrs extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

In an emotional courtroom encounter here, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson, among others, spoke directly to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged Friday with nine counts of murder. He appeared for the bond hearing from jail through closed-circuit television.

. . . some said they forgave him, and, recalling the spirit of the venue where he staged his attack, pledged to pray for his soul. (“From victims’ families, forgiveness,” Washington Post

Only because Christians know our future is sure, that this life’s tragedies are not the end, that death has been defeated, can this kind of forgiveness take place. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so sad for their loss. They must now play the hard part, but their loved ones will not have died in vain because of their testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.

I can’t get over the fact that the hateful young man who wanted to start a race war went to a church. Not to a gang hang out. Not to the inner city streets. To a church, where people gathered to pray. How ignorant of him, to think that Christians everywhere who believe as Paul wrote, that there aren’t distinctions between Greek and Jew, religious law abiders and those who ignore the religious Jewish law, between people from one part of the world and another, between people of one economic class and another, would not rally behind our brothers and sisters. Because Christ is all and in all. You prick one, we all bleed.

So now, we grieve, but with hope. May the impact of the nine South Carolina martyrs have the same impact on this generation as did the deaths of the five missionaries in Ecuador on earlier generations.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Cinderella – Not A Review


Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

A Living Hope


toddler-in-leaves-631626-mThe Apostle Peter starts his first letter, after his greeting, with a statement about God. First he identifies Him as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” then as the One “who has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:2, emphasis added).

Hope is a noun but not something I usually think of as animate. So what does Peter mean, “living hope”? Some commentary anchors this phrase in what Peter says next: our living hope comes “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Almost this makes it sound as if Jesus is our hope! 😉

Such an idea fits with other passages in Scripture. Jeremiah refers to the LORD as “the hope of Israel (17:13a) and Paul referred to Jesus “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). But if this living hope comes through Christ’s resurrection, is He the object as well as the means? Through Jesus we have Jesus? There’s truth in that statement.

But what’s the “living” part? First, Jesus is alive. We don’t hope in a man who lived and died, merely leaving us an example to follow. Yes, Jesus is that, but He is a living example, a living Savior, a living Lord.

Second, our hope has a purpose: we hope as a means “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:5).

All those describers indicate life. Something that is imperishable is alive, something undefiled will not spoil, something that will not fade away is permanent, something reserved in heaven is everlasting.

Backtracking a bit, this living hope is something we have because God “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”

Birth yields life. Until God causes us to be born again, we are dead in our sins. When He causes us to be born again, we are alive in a new way. Old things have passed away. New things have taken their place.

An analogy of this new life might be the change that occurs when a baby learns to crawl, then walk. His life used to consist of lying on his back watching shifting shapes pass by and listening to the music or voices of those nearby. When he was hungry, he cried; when thirsty, he cried; when wet or poopy, he cried; when tired, he cried; when bored, he cried. He was about as dead as any living thing can be.

But one day, he learned to crawl, then to walk. Slowly his world expanded and he came alive to all that this world has to offer. Now he could follow his mom and dad and imitate them. He could discover beauty and kindness and faithfulness and love. He could aspire to more than watching the world go by and listening to the sounds around him. He could now do the things he saw his parents do.

In a nutshell, that’s what our living hope, our new life in Christ is all about. Colossians 3 says we have “laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the one who created him.”

In other words, our new birth enables us to walk so we can be like God, our Creator. The old self, the dead self, has no hope of becoming like Christ. It’s dead. It doesn’t become anything. Only a living being, someone born again, can become like God’s Son.

Our living hope is Jesus, the one who is the means by which we are born again and the one in whose image we’re being recreated. That’s now, and it’s an imperishable inheritance as well. Living and everlasting.

Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Hope And The Here And Now


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why Does God Engender Hope?


christmas-1412789-mWhy might be the wrong question here. How or in what way might be better. The question is this: we live in a world of disappointment, of division and strife, of failure and loss, and what we have to look forward to is old age and death. What can God do to bring hope to this mess?

First, He gave us an account of how things were in the beginning. When He brought into being this world, none of the not hope stuff existed. The only disappointment was that Adam didn’t have a helpmate until God custom-made Eve. From that point on, there wasn’t any division, strife, failure, or loss. And no disappointment.

The first people had a perfect relationship with God and each other. They knew their place in the world and what their purpose was. They were safe and secure in the garden God made for them, That’s the way things were supposed to be! That was God’s original design. What He has in mind for us is peace and joy and fulfillment and belonging and significance.

God’s original design gives me hope.

But that hope would be a sense of loss if I didn’t also see that God has promised restoration. Even as God pronounced judgment on Adam, Eve, and the serpent, He declared there would come a time when the serpent’s head would be crushed.

In other words, the lies he’d fed Eve would no longer be coming out of his mouth to put doubts in her mind. His plot to undermine what God had made and declared good, would ultimately fail.

Of course, God’s promise is only as good as God is trustworthy, so that’s the next great reason for hope. God declares Himself trustworthy, then shows throughout the Bible that He is, in fact, One who does what He says He will do.

Doing what He said He would do, of course, includes following through on His warnings: if you do X, then Y will happen, but if you do A, then B. One side of the equation is blessing and the other, a curse.

The choice is essentially between righteousness and wickedness: the righteous will inherit the land, but the wicked will be cut off. It’s the theme of Psalm 37. The fact is, God was faithful to His word.

He was faithful to individuals like Abraham to whom He promised a son, and nations, and a blessing on all the nations.

He was faithful to Moses who He would not allow to enter the Promised Land because he did not treat God as holy.

He was faithful to Joseph who came out of his prison to rule Egypt and faithful to Daniel to protect him from the mouth of lions.

He was faithful to Elijah and fed him during the three-and-a-half year drought. He was faithful to Gideon by giving him and his force of 300 men a great victory over the Midianites who numbered in the hundred thousands.

That’s not a tenth of those to whom God personally showed His faithfulness, but the truth is, He also showed His faithfulness to nations.

He was faithful in His judgment of Canaan, in His destruction of Sodom, in His conflict with Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, in His installation of Israel in the Promised Land, in His provision for them, protection of them, rule over them, judgment of them. He was faithful to Assyria in warning them of His coming wrath, then sparing them when they repented.

He was faithful to carry word of His work in the world to nations far beyond the Middle East, both during Biblical times and during the two thousand years since.

So I have hope because God has proved Himself over and over. Of course, His greatest act of faithfulness was sending His Son to earth, not so He could understand us better—He made us, so He has no trouble knowing what we’re about. No, He came to do what we could not do for ourselves. He came to deal with sin once for all. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations.

Christ’s crucifixion paid the debt I owed for my sins. But He didn’t stop there. He also rose from the dead. He is the “first fruit,” showing the way for those of us coming behind. As He has a new spiritual body, one day those of us who believe will also have a new spiritual body and live with Christ forever.

“Forever” is such a big word, it scares some people. But part of the hope God gives is in this forever. As He intended life to be in the beginning, this forever we will enjoy with Him will be better.

That’s so great, it should be enough, but the thing is, God gives us hope for the Now. He sent us His Holy Spirit to give us joy and peace. To fill our hearts with His love, to comfort us when we deal with the disappointments this life brings. In other words, He gives us a taste of what is to come so that we aren’t scared about the unknown or so distant from Him we don’t recognize His voice. It’s actually another one of His acts of faithfulness. He said over and over He would not leave us or forsake us, and here He is, taking up residence in our hearts.

What a great God we have. What a great Hope is ours!

Published in: on December 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

The Foundation Of Hope


AdventCandles

I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the lead-up to the Big Day. Until lately my church didn’t do much, if anything, with Advent.

So this year we are forging a new tradition. Apparently liturgical churches have certain Scripture readings that go with the each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We aren’t a liturgical church, so instead we’re receiving devotions centered on a particular weekly theme. Any guess what we’re focusing on this week? 😉

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope in preparation for writing my blog posts. To be honest, this is new territory for me. I’ve studied faith and thought a great deal about love and grace and trust. But hope?

Now I’m alert to the topic and have begun to see how frequently Scripture addresses it.

The thing that keeps coming back to me is that line from Romans 5 about hope not disappointing. I looked at Hope And Disappointment yesterday, but in the devotion my church sent, the contrast came up again. The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did is disappointing, or that she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

Published in: on December 2, 2014 at 6:58 pm  Comments Off on The Foundation Of Hope  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hope And Disappointment


AdventSome things we hope for and they don’t pan out. For example, I hoped the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl last year, but they lost in an embarrassing fashion.

Some things we hope for and they don’t happen right away, but they eventually come about. After I graduated from college, I hoped to get a teaching job. I didn’t one that first year, but the following year I got the job I would stay in for over thirty years.

Some things we hope for but we learn they will never happen. I had a friend who lost three babies. Eventually the doctors discovered she had trouble carrying infants to term because of a drug her mother had taken when she was pregnant with her. No matter how much my friend hoped for her own child, she was not able to give birth.

And then there are the things we hope for and we are still hoping. They haven’t happened yet, but we have every reason to continue hoping. We’ve been hoping for rain here in SoCal. All last year we hoped but received little precipitation. This year we again have hopes we’ll at least see a normal amount of rainfall. It’s reasonable to think this drought will come to an end, so we hope.

In the first instance and in the third, hope dies. In the first, we hope for a single event, a specific something—Mr. Tall and Charming will ask me to the prom, or I’ll get both Christmas Eve and Day off of work. There’s a definite period of time when we know if what we hoped for has happened or not.

In the third, a door closes. The divorce is finalized and the spouse remarries; the university you hoped to go to doesn’t accept you. These are the ends of dreams.

The second and fourth scenarios are hope that doesn’t disappoint. Many, many writers hope to find an agent and hope the agent will sell their manuscript. They may wait for years and years, but eventually, these writers see their hopes come to fruition. These are people who fall into the second category.

What about the fourth? These are people still waiting. They have done their job faithfully, waited for an opening for promotion, and are still waiting. For some reason, they have been passed over a time or two, but they have no reason to believe it is a situation that won’t change. Their time will come. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers was in such a situation when he waited behind Brett Favre for his chance to start.

But here’s the thing about hope. If you’re in scenario number two or four, it’s easy to think you’re headed for scenario one or three. It’s easy to think you’ve hoped in vain and that you’d be foolish to keep on hoping.

The Jewish people were in that situation in the first century. They’d been hoping for the coming of their promised Messiah. They looked at the political arena, and they knew they needed Him to come and set them free from Roman rule. He’d come, they were sure, and put Israel back on the map as an independent nation. He’d rule in justice and righteousness.

And they waited. And waited. And waited.

At some point you’d have to begin to question. Did he come and we missed him? Was the promise nothing but a lie? Did God change his mind?

That’s where Christmas comes in. God fulfilled His promise . . . sort of. He fulfilled it and He is fulfilling it. The Messiah came and He is coming.

Right up to the point of the resurrected Christ’s ascension into heaven His followers were still wondering about the completion of their hope:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Not for you to know when your hope will be complete, Jesus answered them. Then He gave them another promise—one they would see fulfilled immediately which would give them assurance while they waited for that for which they hoped. He promised them the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came.

Consequently Paul could write to the church in Rome

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

There are so many passages in the Bible about hope. Together they paint an exciting picture—one of assurance yet longing, of joy and love about to be experienced in their fullest some day soon.

This kind of hope—God’s gift to us through the process of tribulation which brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope—does not disappoint.

We’re not hoping we go to heaven. We have God’s assurance. We are reconciled with God, we do have everlasting life, we have been saved. But salvation is just not something we have taken possession of yet—not completely.

We hope for what we know we have, reserved in heaven for us. Though we do not see it now, we hope for that which the Holy Spirit confirms is ours.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom. 8:23-25)

Advent season is one of those memorials that help us in the waiting. We remember Christ’s birth and we hope for that day when He will come again in power and glory. It’s a stepping stone that reminds us our hope does not disappoint.

Published in: on December 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

God Is Greater


Mountain_Stream_Sun_ValleyRecently I’ve been made aware of corruption in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

Published in: on August 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm  Comments Off on God Is Greater  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Difference The Christian Worldview Makes


The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2-PosterThree particular works of fiction, two on TV and one on the big screen, have me thinking about the difference the Christian worldview makes. SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON

The movie I saw was The Amazing Spider-man 2, the surprisingly well-done remake of the recent Spiderman series with Toby McGuire. This new, and very different, version stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

As you might expect from a superhero movie, Spiderman must confront Evil intent on wiping out all of New York City and/or dominating the world. The thing is, Spiderman himself is under scrutiny and criticism, but in the guise of Peter Parker, reveals the movie’s theme: Spiderman gives people a reason to hope.

In the end, though, I’m left wondering—are most people leaving the theater and thinking, Yes, Spiderman gives me hope? I doubt it for one simple reason: Spiderman is imaginary.

In reality, if very many people think about it, their plight is similar to the little boy facing the mechanized and weaponized criminal in the movie’s denouement. He’s alone and small and void of any means of defeating the adversary.

Nevertheless, standing in his little Spiderman costume, he faces the criminal down, his only hope being that the real Spiderman will return. And since we know Spiderman is imaginary, where does that leave us in the real world?

As a Christian, though, I have a different view. I can look at that movie and think, Spiderman may be imaginary, but Jesus is real. He gives real hope, eternal hope. Consequently, I’m uplifted, reminded that I’m not alone, that one greater than the evil I see in the world has taken it on and triumphed.

Yes, the defeated enemy is trying to do as much damage as possible in his final throes, but victory over him is sure. Therefore, I can stand against him confident that I am not alone, that at the right time, the soon and coming King will return.

The second bit of fiction that has me thinking about the difference a Christian worldview makes, is the new version of the Fox hit TV show, 24. Monday the season finale aired and as promised it held some shocking twists. As I’m watching these characters mourn unspeakable loss, all I can think is, this hurts them so much because they have no hope. Their whole life and purpose for existence were wrapped up in this relationship that has been taken from them, and now they have nothing to live for. On top of that, they have no hope of ever seeing that person again. For them, the person they love is forever gone.

In contrast, the Christian grieves death, but for two reasons our grief is different. First, even when a loved one is gone, the Christian still has, through Jesus Christ, the sure relationship with God, who will not fail us or forsake us, and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who gives us comfort.

Second, we have the hope of being united with believers who have gone on before us:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Those with a different worldview have no such comfort.

Which brings me to the third piece of fiction, the old TV show called Numbers. I’m convinced that’s one of the best shows ever made, and one reason has to do with the fact that the writers were consciously exploring spiritual themes. No, they certainly weren’t doing so from a Christian point of view, but neither did they take a position that ruled out God, such as the writers understood Him to be.

Their main characters were of Jewish heritage. One took a hard line against the existence of God, another accepted some of the Jewish tradition void of belief, the third came to a point where he thought there had to be something more in life, so he began attending temple.

A station that specializes on “previously viewed” shows, is airing Numbers a few times a week. In the episode I recently saw, the character who’d started going to temple, an FBI agent who had survived a near-death attack, was contemplating his life. He said the attack made him realize how fragile humans are—that we are little more than a bag of bones and blood.

He also wondered about God in light of his attack. If He existed, why had He allowed this attack? The character thought perhaps the message of it all was that perhaps God didn’t exist after all.

While I appreciate the show bringing up the question, I was a little surprised with the juxtaposition of these two thoughts, coming from the same character. Stripped to their bare essentials, he was saying, Humans are weak and therefore, there is no God.

It’s a pretty honest assessment, apart from a Christian worldview. Man is weak. Humans are just like that little boy in Spider-man, in futility facing down insurmountable evil.

The stunning part is the conclusion that there is no God. As a Christian, I would praise God for staying the hand of the attacker so that the blow he dealt didn’t kill me. But to the character who thought there had to be more to life, God allowing the blow at all was proof, or at least a strong bit of evidence, that God didn’t exist after all.

I don’t know if there’s a more depressing conclusion: humans are weak and we are alone.

Those of us with a Christian worldview, of course, agree that we are weak, but we revel in the fact that we are NOT alone. Consequently, we have hope. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on The Difference The Christian Worldview Makes  
Tags: , , , , ,

Happy New Year


I have to admit, as a teacher, I rarely saw January 1 as a new beginning. For me, the start of the school year marked the start of another year. Consequently, January 1 was more of an anti-climactic holiday, a Christmas after-thought, noted mostly for the last breather before heading into the long stretch before Easter.

Now that I’m no longer tied to the school calendar, I find myself freed up to think about New Year’s Day in a new way. Frankly, I’m more mystified than anything. I watched the celebrations summary on the late news which recapped the festivities around the world, and I couldn’t help but think, What’s the big deal?

Seriously.

What exactly changed between December 31 and January 1? And why would we think this is something to celebrate?

I have to say, I’ve sensed a stronger note of hope and expectation in the references to the new year, mostly from members of the media, and I can’t help but wonder if some of this undercurrent of excitement might not be connected with President-elect Obama. The media critiquing the media even notes that he is referred to as a messiah.

Be that as it may, the truth revealed in Scripture points to One Hope, and one only—the long awaited arrival of the once Suffering Servant, now as the Eternal King. That’s something to hope for, look forward to, be eagerly expectant about.

The New Year? Not so much. In this world I can confidently predict 2009 will hold political corruption, corporate greed, personal crime. Individuals will steal from friends and from strangers. Gangs will war against each other. Terrorists will plot against people who have no evil intent against them. Husbands will break their vows. Wives will nag their husbands. Children will disobey their parents. And God will be dishonored in any number of ways by any number of people.

So why would we put hope in the passing of one day and the coming of another with a different numeral attached to it when nothing else has changed? I can only surmise that this idea of hope in a new year, a new President, a new collection of governmental advisers and division heads comes from those who don’t have a sense of what constitutes true Hope. The eternal kind that provides a permanent answer to the human condition.

To be honest, I’m sad for those who today look ahead with excitement for the wrong reasons. They have disillusionment waiting for them, and eventually, despair. Would that those of us who know what Hope really is, use 2009 to widely disseminate the truth.

Selfishly I want to say, Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus. Yet, doesn’t He delay for the very purpose of bringing all those into His family who belong there? I can’t want His return to come a moment earlier than what He has planned. I can want revival in His church, though, with accompanying testimony to God’s greatness and goodness.

May 2009 be a year in which many come to Christ and in which God’s name is glorified throughout the world, in times of suffering as well as in times of blessing.

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 12:15 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: