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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The Facebook Quiz You'll Never See

Have you seen the explosion of personality quizzes available on Facebook? Which Twilight character are you? What is the theme song of your life? Which super-villain are you? Which love-language do you have? Who knows how many other quiz topics are available? Carl Jung read our cultural urges quite well a half-century ago when he said, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.”

There is another quiz we should be eager to take, but it’s not on Facebook. It’s in the other book:
“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
Mark 4: 14 – 20

Just because we have heard something before doesn’t mean we should pass it by. Watchman Nee observed that patience in the face of the familiar is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Let me tell you about the first time I ever heard this parable. The night after I became a follower of Jesus a speaker used this parable to challenge new believers with an admonition continue as Christians. I just naturally assumed that I was the good soil. How could I be anything else? Sitting next to me that night was a friend from high school who had also just turned to Jesus. After the message she wept and wept and wept. Finally she composed herself enough to sob, “I just don’t want to let Jesus down. I’m afraid I might turn out to be one of those other types of soil.” I had assumed that I was the kind of person who was naturally good and would bear fruit, while she was moved to tears, crying and asking for the grace to live up her calling. At that moment I realized that after just one day she was already way beyond me in her walk with Jesus.

Here’s a quiz that should be all over Facebook: Which kind of soil are you?

Jesus may have had more than one application for this parable. For example, do we think this parable refers only to the first time God calls to us? Perhaps Jesus was explaining the nature of every word God speaks to us. Each time God speaks all four possibilities are in play. Will his word penetrate my heart today? If he has a life-changing word for me today, will I let it take deep root? Will today’s cares choke it out? Or will the fresh word he speaks yield an amazing crop—today?

As a young Christian I thought Jesus was describing a fixed reality: too bad for those with hardened hearts, rocky soil, or lives full of weeds! Thank goodness I was the good soil! It never occurred to me that his words were a call for me to tend my own heart. I am never further away from the Kingdom than when I think that his words are for someone else, but not for me.

Another question: why do most people assume an even distribution of the different kinds of soil? So many commentators discuss each soil condition as if 25% of the seed fell on each type. Can you imagine anyone sowing one quarter of their seed on a walking path? The greatest difficulties are the conditions below the surface. The rocky soil or the type filled with weeds may well have comprised most of the field. Perhaps the North American church struggles with power and fruitfulness because the vast majority of our hearts are shallow or filled with other concerns like worry or wealth. Do we know what lies beneath the surface of our lives? Do we dare ask him for his assessment?

Finally, this isn’t just any parable. Just before his explanation Jesus asked his disciples, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v 13) Jesus cautioned his students that this parable was critical to receiving the Kingdom of God (v 11). These very famous verses can still speak with authority today if we will take time to tend the garden.

Monday's Meditation: Two Insignificant Verses

It’s just two weeks after Easter Sunday. We are still in that period of time when the resurrected Jesus remained on the earth, encouraging and teaching his friends about the Kingdom of God.

His final actions are recorded for us in Matthew 28: 16 - 20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

These are familiar verses to Evangelicals. We have even given this passage a name, “The Great Commission.” Most people who point to these verses begin at verse 18, when Jesus begins to speak, but the proper context begins at verse 16--and what a difference those two verses make!

Here are two quick meditations:

Verse 16 - The disciples obeyed. Jesus gave them instructions to return to Galilee. Apart from carrying out those instructions, they would have missed an encounter with the resurrected Lord. It’s a simple meditation, but challenging: obedience puts us in a position to hear God. Do my actions make it easier or harder for me to hear his voice?

Verse 17 - Some of them doubted. These words first hit me like a thunderbolt--some of those who had seen the resurrected Jesus, those who had “proof” of his glory, still doubted! Imagine the scene around Jesus: his best friends giving him worship in a private setting, yet in some minds and hearts there was still doubt. Here’s the good news: their doubt did not disqualify them. He still received them, and he gave the “Great Commission” even to those who doubted.

These two are worth turning over in our hearts today: disobedience may keep me from hearing his voice, but doubt will not. Happy Monday!

The Government of God

Students of Jesus are not simply students.  He invites is followers to live in his Kingdom.  It's not just a metaphor, Jesus is a real King his KIngdom is a real place.  The well-being of any people is largely a reflection of the government under which they live.

The current difficulties with pirates off the coast of Somalia highlight the leaderless condition of that country. Most of sub-Saharan Africa groans under the weight of corrupt leadership. I have a friend who lives in Peru, where she regularly experiences interruptions in telephone-service, electricity, and even water. In the United States, despite tempestuous political clamor, we enjoy the benefits of good government: the phones work, the water runs, and the mail is delivered. When natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina shred the infrastructure Americans are up in arms over the shortcomings of their government--without ever considering that in most places around the world the government is incapable (and sometimes unwilling) of providing any assistance at all.

When an outsider looks at any nation, he can see the effects of leadership. Are the people safe, happy, and prosperous? Is there justice in the land? Do the people live in freedom or fear? The scripture affirms that good government is a blessing: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29: 2)

Followers of Jesus live not only under the government of their native land, we are invited to live also under the government of God. Listen to these words from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with
justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9: 6 - 7
(You might consider these passages from Isaiah as well: 11: 1 - 9; 32: 1 - 8)

Unlike the worldly governments around us today, the government of God is not coercive. Jesus, the King, invites us to come under his government, to honor him as King, and to experience the blessings of the perfect Ruler. The promises of his Kingdom rule are largely dependent upon our choices--will we receive him as King?

If a fireman rescues me from a burning building, no one expects that I will live the rest of my life under his oversight. It would be silly: he saved me but he is not my master. Jesus serves us not only as Savior but also declares he is Lord. He is able--willing--to save, and still he calls us farther up and in to receive him also as Lord. The benefits of his government, the Kingdom of God, are for those who will submit to his rule.

Look at just a few of promises from Isaiah of a life lived in obedience to King Jesus:

Wonderful Counselor: Jesus is the Master of living, and is eager to give the best counsel available. What counsel do I need? Parenting, business, marriage, relationships, career, education? As Dallas Willard has pointed out, Jesus is the wisest person who has ever lived, and his counsel is available to those who will listen to--and do--his will.

Mighty God: Generations of believers and unbelievers alike have discovered that strength does not lie in military might or economic power. All of creation is held together in Jesus Christ. He has power to save, not only from the eternal destruction of Hell, but also from our circumstances here and now. Do we see Jesus as the source of our provision and rescue in everyday life?

Everlasting Father: Fathers on earth are imperfect and increasingly absent in our day. In Jesus we have a family identity that will never be severed. For those who have suffered loss of identity because of broken family relationships, the Everlasting Father is a reality for all who will come to Him.

Prince of Peace: Jesus wears this title not as some honorary degree, but as the one who can bestow peace on us right now. It is his to give. Consider this promise from another chapter in Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (26:3) As we come to trust in Jesus in practical, daily ways, we experience the peace he has to give.

And there is more in this passage from Isaiah 9: it encourages us that there is an unending increase of government and peace. He invites us to experience justice and right relationships capable of impacting others around us.

Unlike government programs from earthly nations, we are assured that "the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The counsel, power, belonging and peace is accomplished not by human programs, but rather by humbly and intentionally submitting to the gentle yoke of discipleship. After he saves us, he wants to rule us, if we will allow him.

The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is this: his government is available for everyone, but it is still a government. We must choose whether we will live with King Jesus, or simply settle for Fireman Jesus.

Monday's Meditation: The Kingdom of God

Easter Sunday is eight days gone, but we would do well to remember that the resurrection was not a one-time event. Forty days after his resurrection Jesus remained on the earth and appeared to his closest followers time and again. While many of us may be familiar with the details of Easter Sunday--the empty tomb, the fear and confusion, the bewildered joy of seeing Jesus alive again--most of us are a bit fuzzy on the forty-day stretch after his resurrection.

The gospels only hint at this passage of time. They report that first in Jerusalem and later in Galilee, Jesus encouraged his friends but we get only a glimpse of what Jesus said or did. In Acts chapter one we are given eleven short verses about the things on Jesus’ mind during those resurrection days.

Acts 1:3, however, reveals that the subject most important to Jesus during that time was the Kingdom of God. This should not surprise us. Before Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist declared that the Kingdom of God was close at hand. In his earthly ministry Jesus himself preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Now, with just a few days remaining with his friends, the Kingdom of God is still his passion. Years later as the book of Acts closes the connection Jesus and his Kingdom is still the primary message of his followers (Acts 28:31).

Have you ever had to give last-minute instructions? Imagine you were leaving (as Jesus was) until an undetermined day of your return: what would you say? What important words could you leave with your best friends? Jesus chose to remind his friends about the message he had announced from the very beginning: the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

If the words “Kingdom of God” seem awkward when they appear after the word “gospel” perhaps it’s because in our day we have shortened the gospel to mean exclusively redemption from sin and going to heaven. The rediscovery of the gospel of the Kingdom, along with Jesus’ commission to “make disciples and teach them to obey” stand as the greatest need in the North American church today.

What will you do with your time in the forty days after the resurrection? Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God during that time. Perhaps he still wants us to embrace his teaching.

NOTE: here’s one place to start.

What if you got to live forever but you didn’t like the life you got to live?

As a new believer I had conflicting thoughts and emotions about eternal life. Those who led me to the Lord told me I could go to heaven by trusting Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins. I hadn’t thought much about heaven, and what thoughts I did have ran more to the negative—hell sounded like a pretty bad place. If there were only two choices, then heaven seemed like the better alternative.

Someone told me that in heaven we would spend all eternity worshiping God. This presented a problem because most of the worship services I attended were boring. Could it be true? Would heaven consist of an unending songfest directed toward the Almighty? I enjoyed singing Amazing Grace in church but one of the verses gave me cause for concern:
    “When we’ve be there 10,000 years
           bright shining as the sun
     we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
           than when we’ve first begun.”
With a strong measure of guilt I tried to imagine myself happily singing for 10,000 years only to consider that we had just begun. It was not appealing.

Popular images of heaven include the idea that we will inhabit celestial mansions, waft upon fluffy light clouds and worship eternally. These images certainly beat the idea of eternal torment and suffering but do they truly present the activities we would choose to do forever, especially given the activities and tastes we have right now?

Here's a question: What if you got to live forever but you didn’t like the life you got to live?

The difficulty flows from two misunderstandings. First, popular images of heaven may not be correct, and secondly, “heaven” and “eternal life” are not the same things.

Jesus himself provided a reliable definition of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Nothing about clouds, songs, or heaven. Eternal life is knowing the Father and knowing Jesus. The Father has given Jesus the authority to grant eternal life, and Jesus’ definition is simply that we would come to know the Father and the Son.

So when does eternal life begin? If we can adjust our view to what Jesus has revealed, the answer, of course, is now. When we first turn toward God, we are entering into eternal life. When we turn away from our selfish choices and orientation and choose Jesus, we are entering into eternal life. When we grow in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are growing into eternal life.

When does a child know its mother? At birth? From within the womb? As a teenager? Earlier in the same gospel Jesus tells us that we cannot see or enter the Kingdom of God unless we are “born from above.” (John 3: 3 – 8) His choice of birth imagery is instructive: a child begins to perceive light and dark before birth. A child intuitively knows its mother’s voice and heartbeat before birth. Yet after the trauma of labor and delivery a child is characterized by what it does not know: the entire process of growth and maturity could be considered “getting to know” its parents.

This process of growth and knowledge continues even beyond childhood. Most adults realize that with each passing decade they come to “know” their parents more and more. I knew my father more fully after I became a father.

Our life in God is made possible by Jesus Christ. That life has its beginning when we are “born again,” and John’s gospel reminds us from the very beginning we are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (John 1: 13) As we are born of Him, his intention is that we would spend every moment of eternal life growing in the grace and knowledge of Him.

So what about heaven? As we begin to experience eternal life through our walk with Jesus, he begins to work heaven into us even now. I may not know the details of what heaven “looks like,” but I have come to understand that heaven feels exactly like the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruit of coming to know the Father and the Son, through living in the Spirit each day (see Galatians 5: 16 – 25)

I’m no longer troubled by the thought of heaven. Whatever it looks like and whatever he has for us to do, I can rest my relationship with him. As I cooperate with the Holy Spirit he is making fit for heaven, whatever that is!