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: , , , ,

The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee


HobbitonOne of the things that I love about Lord of the Rings is the truth that the characters live out. Merry feels useless but slays the King of the Black Riders. Boromir feels powerful but falls to the temptation of the Ring.

How true to life they are. Those feeling weak and insignificant are often the ones who do great things simply because of their faithfulness, and those who see themselves as great often stumble over their own reach for greater glory.

Of all the characters that offer up truth in Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Samwise Gamgee, companion to the Ringbearer, might be the best. First, he is faithful. He is devoted to his master and willing to go where otherwise he would not dare to set foot.

Second, he recognizes his own propensity to get things wrong. Such awareness of his own weaknesses keeps him from stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction. He’s quick and willing to make corrections.

Third, he refuses to let the darkness squelch his love for light, and consequently, even when he doesn’t feel hopeful, he acts as if there is hope. When he cannot see his way, he remembers the Shire, his garden, the elves, the lady of Lorien, grass and growing things, stars, and light. His mind dwells on the pure, lovely, honorable, and right even when all around is evil, cruelty, hatred, violence, and death.

There’s more Sam Gamgee wisdom, but those are three pretty good traits to learn from and hang onto in 2013.

Published in: on January 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm  Comments Off on The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee  
Tags: , , ,

Fantasy Friday: The Reality Of Hope


Novel cover collage2Christian fiction isn’t realistic, or so some charge. After all, there’s no cussing, no sex, and everything turns out happily ever after. The last point actually isn’t true, depending, of course, on what kind of “happy” a person is talking about. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Today at Speculative Faith our guest blogger, Shannon McDermott (yes, the same Shannon McDermott who is up for this month’s CSFF Award), wrote an inspiring post entitled “The Echoes of Christmas” in which she discusses what a story would look like if it were written as an expression of Christmas-all-year-long. She pulled out three responses that Christmas generates: joy, wonder, and hope.

For some reason, that triplet rang true to me, but especially hope. In some ways the world this year seemed more prone to despair. The US supposedly is hurtling toward a fiscal cliff, children were gunned down in their school, and no one seems to have an answer for our ailments, or at least one we can agree on.

Stories seem to reflect this kind of harsh reality, whether novels like The Hunger Games or TV programs like Revolution. And in many ways, Christian writers are being told to get with the program. If feels very much like a Job’s-wife kind of admonition–curse God and die. Except for the dying part. But curse, cuss, swear–let the world know that Christians see the way things really are.

Oddly, I don’t hear those same voices saying Christian writers should show the reality of abortion in their stories, or homelessness, or drug trafficking or gang violence or illegal immigration or homosexuality or corporate fraud or government corruption or divorce or an almost endless list of “real.” Instead we’re told, in the same manner as a dripping faucet, that Christian fiction needs to use cussing or cursing or swearing in order to be real.

And sex. Once in a while we’re told that sex ought to get into the stories, though no one seems to think graphic sex scenes are OK.

I have to say, I’m stuck on the definition of “real.”

Over and over I read from Christians in the writing community that the Bible is one of the darkest books around, that it didn’t sugarcoat such things as rape or adultery or murder. That look at the Bible, however, isn’t comprehensive. The Bible doesn’t have a “The End” after the story of David having Bathsheba’s husband killed after he’d slept with her. There isn’t even a “The End” after Judah gets led away into exile or one after Jesus’s crucifixion. There isn’t one after Stephen was martyred or Paul was arrested.

In truth, the Bible is all about hope–in the Old Testament, God’s chosen people hoped for the coming Messiah. And guess what the New Testament is about? The first coming and now the expectant waiting of the Church for the return of that same Messiah.

We long and we hope. We suffer and we hope. We sin and we hope.

As far as I’m concerned, stories that show or engender hope are real stories.

Cussing/cursing/swearing is not what a story is about. There are lots of ways to make a story seem real as far as how characters are painted. And people don’t generally pick a novel to read because they like the cussing/cursing/swearing. The choose a book because they believe they’ll like the story.

I suggest stories with hope will ring the most true and seem the most real.

Published in: on December 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , ,

Groaning


This world is groaning. It’s the weight of sin that causes it, and it’s been going on for … well, since Eve believed Satan over God.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we as human beings aren’t more aware of the groaning than at any point in history. Terrorism has people across the globe on heightened alert. War and rebellion are tearing nations apart. Famine is on the increase, and the economy of the rich countries is in a shambles. Add to all this the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and Japan; the tornadoes and flooding in the Midwestern US, the recent hurricane on the East coast; the tsunami that devastated an already devastated area in Japan.

We’re groaning.

Professing Christians are leaving the church. Government — democratic government that was supposed to have the necessary checks and balances — is self-serving if not corrupt. Marriage is being redefined. In other words, civilized institutions are crumbling.

We’re groaning.

The weight of sin is too big. Drug addiction isn’t lessening. Anxiety isn’t disappearing no matter how much we medicate. Neither is depression. Interpersonal conflicts haven’t ceased. In fact divorce is still a growing problem no matter that so many people now practice at marriage before making “lifetime” vows. Abuse continues or perhaps is on the increase. Child slavery and sex trafficking are problems that seem without end.

We’re groaning.

Worst of all, who can we trust? The person we love the most is the person who shatters our hopes and betrays us by their unfaithfulness.

We are indeed groaning.

Should I go on to mention cancer or AIDS or the fears of a worldwide pandemic? I suspect it’s not necessary.

At every turn, we’re groaning.

Like any number of crises recorded in the Bible, God is standing with open arms saying, Your way leads to destruction. My way leads to life.

Over and over stiff-necked people ignored Him or shook their fists in His face, denying His right to rule. So it seems, we’re doing today.

We think if we just get the right person in the White House, if we only raise taxes or cut spending, if we only marry the right guy or girl, pass this piece of legislation or that, solve one key problem then another, use this green technology or drill that oil well, then, at last, the world will come round aright.

In that foolish thinking, we are ignoring the One who wants us to fix our eyes on His Son.

“See to it,” Paul said to the Colossians, “that no one takes you captive through philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of this world, rather than according to Christ.”

The philosophy and empty deception of our day says we can solve our own problems, that we don’t need anything outside ourselves. We have the power within us.

And yet, with all this great power within ( 🙄 ), we don’t seem any closer to bringing the groaning to an end. We’re looking in the wrong places.

There isn’t a chemical high or an alcohol-induced haze that will mask the pain long enough, there isn’t a movie or video game or concert or ballgame that will distract us sufficiently, there isn’t a better relationship that will heal our shattered heart.

Except the one God offers through Christ Jesus. He is our Hope, and He is our Salvation.

In Him the groaning will one day come to an end.

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: