DEEPER HOPE

Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings

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Monday's Meditation: Daydreaming on the Expressway

I have a recurrent daydream about the greatness of God. When I am driving on an expressway I watch the endless stream of cars going the other direction. They flash by in an instant. In each car is another person, perhaps two—perhaps an entire family.

I try to imagine who these people are. Each one has a life, just as I do. Each car contains someone going somewhere. Each person has a history, a story, and a destiny before them. In a moment, I am overwhelmed by the vast numbers of people in the city, and my mind cannot grasp the fullness of each life that flashes past me. But God can.

I am confident that God knows me and cares about me. He not only knows the circumstances of my life, he knows my thoughts and wants to dialogue with me every moment of my day. As I’m driving, I think, “How can God know each person? How can he keep track of it all?” In fact, he cares about each one, he loves them; he’s not just “keeping track of” them.

Sometimes we unconsciously think God is just like us, only bigger and better. As I watch the endless stream of cars going the other way and try to think of every person I realize that God isn’t just a bigger version of me, he is something—some One—completely other than me. The vast numbers of people in my city, my state, my country, worldwide only demonstrate his greatness. He knows and cares for every one of them.

Do you want to be overwhelmed by God’s greatness? Consider that God not only cares for you, but about every person alive or who has every lived. How much does he care? “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 7)

Five Passages I find Hard to Believe

One night I had this discussion with some people I respect: is there anything in the Bible that you find difficult to believe? It was a get-real conversation. Kind of like the guy who begged Jesus to heal his son: he said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9: 22 – 24)

Honestly, I’m not sure I would trust someone who said they cold wrap their mind around everything revealed in the Bible. So “un-follow” this blog if you must, but I’m going to put my weakness on display. God is way bigger than my intellect, and to prove my point, I present five passages I find difficult to believe.

1 AND 2). “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:40) After describing incredible heroes of faith, the writer of Hebrews concludes the chapter with two astonishing nuggets. God has planned something better for us. I’d kill to have the faith of any one of these people, but apparently there’s more, and it’s better, and it’s for us. AND only together with us would they be made perfect. Are you kidding me? Something is lacking in the experiences of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and well, the whole list—and they are looking to us for the fulfillment of their experiences. No wonder there is a great cloud of witnesses looking on. They are counting on us! Like the guy said, I believe, but help me in my unbelief.

3). “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 3:10) To begin with, I have no clear idea who the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" are. I suppose when the Almighty wants to chill at a celestial Starbucks (think Job, chapter 1), these are the guys he hangs with. That’s strange enough, but while they are waiting for the java to cool down and God wants to put his multifaceted wisdom on display, he says, “Hey, take a look at the church.” Are you kidding me? I love my local church, but it hardly reaches the level of manifesting all of God’s wisdom.

4). “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) OK, I know Jesus is going to chide me later, but for right now, holy cow! First of all, Jesus uses really strong language. When he opens up with “I tell the truth” it means, “read my lips, I’m not kidding.” Second, it’s in the singular: “anyone” and “he.” My favorite cop-out on this verse used to be that it was the aggregate works of all believers in all times but there’s no way you can read it like that. He means me, and then he means you. Since I’m being honest (and it’s the last time you’ll ever read this blog) I’ll admit I’d settle for just doing the stuff he did.

5). “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1: 3 – 4) The reason I have so much trouble with these two verses is that they lay so much responsibility at my feet. He’s given us everything we need. Well then, go get ‘em. It’s a one-two punch: Peter also says that through God's promises we may participate in the divine nature. What do you think the "divine nature" is? I don’t know, but it’s got to be good!

BONUS ROUND: This one isn’t mine, but it’s too good to leave out. My friend has trouble with Judges 15: 4, “So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs.” It’s from one of the Samson stories, and it stretches one of my good friends. “300 foxes?!?” he said. "Do you know how hard it is to catch just one of those critters?"

How about you? Care to share any passages that stretch your faith?

Monday's Meditation: Waking Up

When I was young I depended on other people to wake me up.

My mother would tip-toe into my room and call my name softly, with a voice that was more of a question than a command: “Ray?” . . . Pause. “Ray?!?” . . . Another pause. “It’s time to get up, Darling.” Quiet pause. “Your breakfast is ready.”

My father, on the other hand, didn’t even use the doorknob. The door would burst open, hit the wall, and vibrate in place. He snapped the light on. It shone like a spotlight. With the voice of a thousand waters my Dad would say, “Get up! We’re leaving in ten minutes!”

Now I am older, and most mornings God is there to meet me as I open my eyes. I am beginning to experience what Isaiah wrote:
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
These words come from Isaiah 50:4, which are surely about Jesus.

I like to imagine how Jesus woke up each day. I imagine that he began his day with the voice of God in his ear. Not as a some structured discipline, where he would drag himself into the Father’s presence. No, I like to imagine that Jesus opened his eyes, and immediately tuned his ear to hear the one voice that mattered more than any other.

It’s the voice I want to hear first each day.

Someone More Accessible?

At this blog site we discuss the call to discipleship, the call to take the yoke he offers to anyone who will cooperate with him. Jesus has a goal in mind for this kind of discipleship: for each of us to be become conformed to his image. Some might say it is an unattainable goal. Perhaps they are correct. Attainable or not, Jesus is still the one to aim for. He’s the center, the bullseye. Even if I believed that hitting the bullseye was an impossibility, I would still aim for it. Why shoot for anything but the center? If I miss, at least I miss in the right direction.

If we are overwhelmed by the call to imitate the Lord Himself, we begin to think, "perhaps I could find a more accessible role model?" We might be tempted choose another mentor: a pastor, a friend, a celebrity, or an “older brother.” Many of us might lower our expectations because the idea of becoming like Jesus seems impossible. If you’re inclined to choose another model, the letter of James has a remarkable suggestion: consider Elijah. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5: 16b – 18) James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, surely must have struggled with the disparity between his actions and those of Jesus, yet he closes his letter with a suggestion that would seem unattainable by most believers today. Who is greater, Jesus, or Elijah? Of course we know the answer. Shouldn’t Elijah’s life of faith and practice be more attainable than that of Jesus?

“Elijah was a man just like us.” How many of us believe that? Elijah’s life story involves a supernatural prayer life capable of changing weather patterns. Elijah was a man like us? He was subject to uncertainty, perhaps even bouts of depression. These similarities resonate with us, but he also miraculously multiplied food, called down fire from heaven, and raised the dead. If James is attempting to lower the bar by suggesting we look to a mere human as a mentor, we are still left standing and staring at the height of the bar. Elijah’s life certainly has the authority of scripture, but how are we to understand, interpret or adapt his life to our experience? What would be the response of family and friends if we maintained that we were just like Elijah? And yet--we are called to follow Jesus, not Elijah. Are we aiming for the center, or have we lowered our expectations?

As we read James’ instructions to the early church—and the church through the ages by extension—what level of expectation should we have? The record of the early church in Acts shows their level of expectation was high. These were normal people: working class types who were most definitely not a part of the religious establishment. They were aware that Jesus, their Master, had been killed and they, too, might die. At the same time they constantly called on God’s dynamic intervention into their affairs:
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
" 'Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4: 23 – 31)

In his excellent work, Hearing God, Dallas Willard observes that one key to developing a vibrant, conversational relationship with God is to put yourself into the place of Biblical examples. The men and women of the scripture were not pressed into God’s service out of merit, they were simply people God selected and used. Elijah really was a human just like us. Can we imagine ourselves having the same conversation with God he did? All of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 were normal everyday people who simply heard God and entered into dialogue with him. Be warned: if you don’t want your life changed forever, don’t talk to God. He can be very persuasive!

Monday's Meditation: Burning Heart Road

When is the last time your day was interrupted by impossibly good news? Most of us suffer interruptions all the time. We plan our day, set to our tasks, and the interruptions come along one after another. Yet some interruptions are a good thing: Luke 24 reminds us that when we least expect it, Jesus himself would like to break into our schedules and priorities.
Two guys, despondent over the death of Jesus, make the long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are leaving the big city and their dreams of something better. They dared to place their hope in someone else, and those hopes have been crushed. I think they were returning to the routine and the mundane, convinced that they should never let their hearts get carried away again.
The text tells us that Jesus approaches them as they walk down Despair Way. They don’t recognize him, though—perhaps because when we are caught up in our disappointment nothing looks right. Now the three of them continue walking, but as Jesus begins to interact with them, they find their hearts lit up with new possibilities and hope renewed. Finally, as they reach their destination, they make an important decision. Despite their own sadness and disappointment they invite the Stranger to share a meal. They welcome the interruption.
You know the rest: Jesus reveals himself. They are amazed. They recognize the old burning in their hearts, and they head back to Jerusalem to deliver impossible, ridiculously good news. They had walked down Despair Way, but now they raced up Burning Heart Road.
This burning heart is only possible by walking with Jesus—or rather, by inviting him to walk with you. Jesus was content to join them as they went their own way. Yet when they finally recognized him it totally changed their destination! Of course, here’s the catch: they didn’t know it was him. They had to welcome the interruption. They had to look past their disappointment and open themselves up to something beyond themselves.
How will Jesus interrupt your day? You won’t know it until after you welcome the interruption.